The Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) is a California-based anti-gay group that was recently caught fabricating a story about a transgender student harassing other students in a female restroom. The revelation is just the latest in PJI's history of manufacturing horror stories about efforts to protect LGBT youth in California schools - stories that are regularly touted on Fox News.
PJI was established in 1997 by the organization's current president, Brad W. Dacus. According to the organization's website, PJI specializes in "the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties."
While PJI bills itself as a generalist religious liberty advocacy group, the organization specializes in combating efforts to protect LGBT youth, especially in California's public schools. Since its inception, PJI has worked to stifle even the most modest efforts to make schools more welcoming environments for LGBT students, including:
PJI's focus on LGBT youth is likely a product of Dacus's leadership. According to a 2009 profile on the group in the East Bay Express:
Such issues are of special interest to the institute and Dacus, who with his wife Susanne is the author of a book informing public-school teachers, students, and parents of "strategies to practically and legally evangelize your school." Titled Reclaim Your School, the book calls separation of church and state "the big lie" and covers everything from pastor visitations to special school-hours Bible study through which, Dacus writes, "a large number of students ... make commitments to receive Christ by the end of the year." [emphasis added]
Dacus gained notoriety during the 2008 battle over California's Proposition 8. While acting as an official spokesman at a "Yes on 8" rally, Dacus was filmed comparing the defeat of marriage equality to the defeat of Nazi Germany:
Since then, Dacus has become a mainstream voice of anti-LGBT fear mongering, peddling his beliefs to whatever major news outlet will have him. His commentary ranges from mere conservative misinformation - like claiming that overturning the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) might legalize incest - to outright homophobia and transphobia. He's called homosexuality "dangerous" and "destructive," claimed that "ex-gay" therapy is necessary to save youth from a "path of death and destruction," and asserted that LGBT History Month is a "serious propaganda month" to "market homosexuality" to young children.
Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes urged listeners to donate money to two anti-gay hate groups that routinely accuse gay men of being pedophiles.
The Family Research Council (FRC) and American Family Association (AFA) are two of the most extreme anti-gay hate groups in American politics. They regularly peddle smears about LGBT people, including the myths that gay men are more likely to engage in pedophilia and are responsible for the Holocaust. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC):
Together, the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Association (AFA) may comprise the most important anti-gay lobby in this country... The FRC and the AFA are certainly among the most powerful groups on the American religious right.
They are also among the chief purveyors of lies about LGBT people. They have both regularly pumped out propaganda asserting that gay men molest children at far higher rates than their heterosexual counterparts -- a claim that has been debunked by virtually all the recognized scientific authorities in the field. The FRC has claimed that gay activists "work to normalize sex with boys," seek to "abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order," and support anti-bullying programs solely in order to promote homosexuality. The AFA has declared that "homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler ... the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews," suggested that gay sex be punished like heroin use, and said that the "homosexual agenda" endangers "every fundamental right" in the Constitution, including religious freedom. Both groups have enthusiastically promoted "reparative therapy," which claims against the bulk of the evidence that it can "cure" gay men and lesbians and make them heterosexual, but in fact has left a string of people behind who were badly hurt by the process. [emphasis added]
On the October 23 edition of FRC's Washington Watch radio program, FRC president Tony Perkins invited Starnes on to once again falsely accuse the military of persecuting Christian groups because of their opposition to homosexuality. At the end of the segment, Starnes - who has acted as a de facto mouth piece for AFA and FRC on Fox - encouraged listener to "pick up that phone and throw a few dollars into the cause" by donating to the notorious anti-gay groups:
STARNES: Tony, I want to thank American Family Radio. This is a share-a-thon.There's a reason why we need groups like Family Research Council, why we need folks like American Family Radio. Get the word out there, airing my daily commentaries. So folks, pick up that phone and throw a few dollars into the cause.
This isn't the first time a Fox News employee has solicited donations for an anti-gay group. In August, Fox News contributor Erick Erickson encouraged his supporters to give money to the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group working to criminalize homosexuality abroad.
Fox News attacked efforts to restrict school bullying by describing them as attempts to limit conservative free speech and misrepresenting a study on the effectiveness of certain anti-bullying programs.
During the October 20 edition of America's News HQ, Fox's resident pro-discrimination crusader Shannon Bream invited Fox News contributor David Webb and radio host Mark Levine to discuss whether efforts to combat school bullying "suppress" conservative students' right to free speech:
Several Fox News personalities wore purple to show their support for Spirit Day, despite the network's ever-growing track record of promoting anti-LGBT bullying and fear mongering.
October 17 is Spirit Day - a day during which millions of Americans wear purple to stand against anti-LGBT bullying and show their support for bullying victims. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which organizes the event, confirmed that Fox News had been sent information about participating in advance. And, as in 2012, a number of Fox News personalities wore purple throughout the day's broadcast.
Fox & Friends First hosts Heather Childers and Ainsley Earhardt:
Fox Business Network host Stuart Varney:
Fox Businesses Network reporter Lauren Simonetti:
Fox News contributor Gerri Willis:
Fox Nation promoted a story claiming that a transgender student was "harassing" female students in the school bathroom, citing wildly inaccurate reporting from a conservative Christian news site that has been debunked by the school's superintendent.
On October 14, Fox Nation touted an article by the Daily Mail which stated that a transgender student in at Colorado's Florence High School was "harassing female students in the girls room." According to the report:
A male student at Florence (CO) High School who claims to be transgendered has caused controversy by harassing female students in the girls room, but will not face any discipline - this despite vocal protests from the girls' parents.
According the school's superintendent, however, CBN's story is based on the complaint of a parent opposed to allowing transgender students to use appropriate bathroom facilities - not on any actual reported incidents of harassment. In an interview with The Transadvocate, Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti stated:
VENDETTI: Nothing has actually been verified with us. This is one parent basically bringing their viewpoint about this situation to the media because they weren't getting the responses that they hoped they would get from the district, from parents of students at the high school, or from the board and myself. So I think it's just an attempt to elevate the situation to a point where maybe some more attention can be drawn to that in the hope of having a different outcome. But to our knowledge and based on our investigation, none of those things have actually happened. We do have a transgender student at the high school and she has been using the women's restroom. There has not been a situation.
Vendetti's comments aren't surprising - fears about harassment or misbehavior in schools where transgender students are allowed to use appropriate school facilities have proven to be overblown.
But right-wing commentators, and especially Fox News personalities, have been desperate to promote the myth that equal treatment for transgender students will increase rates of sexual abuse in schools, even going so far as to cite their own alleged desires to harass women in restrooms. Citing a completely fabricated example of harassment as proof that their transphobic fears are justified is par for the course.
Fox News contributor Sandy Rios made several extreme anti-gay remarks during her speech at the 2013 Values Voter Summit, including calling the murder of Matthew Shepard a "total fraud" and touting the existence of "ex-gays."
Speaking at this year's Values Voters Summit on October 11, Rios, a Fox News contributor and host of American Family Radio Talk's "Sandy Rios in the Morning," repeated the right-wing myth that the brutal murder of openly gay Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard was actually motivated by drug use and not anti-gay bias. According to Huffington Post reporter Christinia Wilkie:
The Daily Caller accused President Obama of "contemptuously" allowing a government shutdown on the first day of National Bullying Prevention Month, seemingly oblivious to its own history of actively bullying LGBT teenagers.
In an October 2 article, the Daily Caller's Eric Owens attempted to blame the president for allowing the federal government shutdown in the midst of National Bullying Prevention Month, writing:
President Barack Obama contemptuously chose to allow the first federal government shutdown in almost two decades on the first day of National Bullying Prevention Month, according to a press release sent to The Daily Caller by the National Education Association (NEA).
The NEA has announced that a group of researchers, policymakers and other key players in the education industry will convene on October 8 for a summit in Washington, D.C. for a National Bullying Prevention Month summit to talk about how to prevent bullying and make schools across the country safe environments for every student.
It's not clear if the current shutdown of the federal government will have any effect on the National Bullying Prevention Month summit.
The most common form of bullying remains the spoken kind. Physical torment is also too widespread. Cyber-bullying continues to be a growing concern.
Owens' attack is just the latest in the conservative media's desperate attempt to blame Democrats and the Obama administration for the government shutdown, but it's especially perplexing given Owens' own penchant for actively bullying transgender students.
Fox News has reported on a number of alleged cases of Christian persecution in the military, relying heavily on the claims of a San Antonio pastor with a history of peddling misinformation about efforts to protect LGBT people.
On September 30, Fox News Radio reporter Todd Starnes published an article warning that the Air Force is "punishing evangelical Christians" - a right-wing myth he's been peddling unsuccessfully for months.
His article relied largely on statements made by Steve Branson, pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. According to Branson, persecution of Christian service members is on the rise thanks to the growing acceptance of gays and lesbians in the military:
"There is an atmosphere of intimidation at Lackland Air Force Base," said Steve Branson, the pastor of Village Parkway Baptist Church in San Antonio. "Gay commanders and officers are pushing their agenda on the airmen. There is a culture of fear in the military and it's gone to a new level with the issue of homosexuality."
"The religious persecution is happening," the pastor said. "It's getting bigger every day. Gay and lesbian airmen can talk about their lifestyle, but the rest have to stay completely quiet about what they believe."
Starnes primarily relied on the case of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk, who baselessly claims he was reprimanded for opposing marriage equality despite repeated denials by the Air Force, to support this conspiracy theory.
Aside from Monk's story, Starnes' only evidence of a military-wide anti-Christian conspiracy is what Branson claimed to have been told at a private meeting with "at least 80 airmen" at his church:
Branson tells me at least 80 airmen attended a private meeting at the church where he heard them voice their concerns about religious hostilities at the Air Force base. It was a standing-room only crowd.
"They're getting mirandized several times a month - but most of the accusations never stick," Branson tells me. "Branson said he's getting email and letters from military personnel across the country - telling him their stories of religious persecution - and asking for help.
National Review Online reporter Katrina Trinko criticized mainstream media outlets for characterizing the homophobic head of Barilla Pasta as "anti-gay."
In a September 28 article titled, "The Gay-Marriage Double Standard," Trinko defended recent comments made by Barilla Chairman Guido Barilla in which he stated that he would "never" run an ad with a "homosexual family," adding "Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role." Barilla went on to say that if gay customers "don't like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand."
Trinko criticized media outlets for describing Barilla's comments as "anti-gay," asserting that other anti-gay comments had failed to generate similar condemnation:
The mainstream media is giving widespread -- and negative -- coverage to comments made by pasta king Guido Barilla.
Just check out these headlines: "Italian pasta baron's anti-gay comment prompts boycott call" (Reuters); "Pasta maker Barilla under fire for anti-gay comments" (CNN Money); "Pasta Barilla boycotted after CEO's 'homophobic' remarks" (MSNBC); and "Barilla pasta executive in hot water for anti-gay comments" (New York Daily News). Even a post on the Los Angeles Times website that has a more neutral headline ("Guido Barilla says pasta maker will never show gay families in ads") goes straight for the anti-gay accusation in the first sentence: "Is Barilla pasta taking a page out of the Chick Fil-A anti-gay playbook?"
So what exactly did Barilla, who heads a huge pasta company, say that was so awful? Did he propose that gay relationships be illegal? Did he make hateful comments about gays and lesbians, like movie star Alec Baldwin, whose July homophobic tweets such as "I'm gonna find you George Stark, you toxic little queen, and I'm gonna f**k you . . . up" not only didn't get him axed from his Capital One spokesman role, but also didn't prevent him from getting hired to host an MSNBC show? No. What Barilla did was to announce that he doesn't approve of adoption by gay couples, and he doesn't plan to feature a family with gay parents in Barilla ads. That's it. In fact, Barilla even added that he supports gay marriage.
However, supporting gay marriage, but not gay adoption, isn't good enough to suit the mainstream media, which has a long history of ditching objectivity when covering LGBT issues. [emphasis added]
According to Trinko, comments can't be accurately described as "anti-gay" unless they explicitly include hate speech or call for the outright criminalization of homosexuality. It's an absurd standard, meant to whitewash the homophobic content of Barilla's statements.
In his comments, Barilla suggested that gay people aren't fit to be parents, and families headed by gay couples aren't real families. To Barilla, the mere existence of same-sex parents is so objectionable that it deserves to be censored from his company's advertising. That's not a mere disagreement about adoption policy; it's an example of clear anti-gay animus.
A U.S. airman is facing a formal investigation for allegedly falsely claiming that he was punished for opposing marriage equality - a statement widely promoted by Fox News. Now, Fox News is citing the investigation as further evidence that the military is cracking down on anti-gay Christians.
Hoping to advance the right-wing myth that the military has an anti-Christian bias, Fox News has aggressively touted the case of Air Force Sgt. Phillip Monk. In August, Monk told Fox News that he had been relieved of his duties for vocally opposing marriage equality - a claim that the Air Force flatly denied, saying he was simply at the end of his assignment.
Now, Monk is being investigated for providing false statements about the incident, prompting further outrage from Fox.
During the September 23 edition of America Live, Fox's Shannon Bream - who's made a career of trumpeting bogus religious liberty claims - spoke to hate group leader Tony Perkins about Monk's case. Bream and Perkins framed the investigation as further evidence of anti-Christian bias, asserting that Monk was being punished for advocating for his "First Amendment right":