For years, efforts to pass laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination in employment and public accommodations have been derailed by the right-wing myth that sexual predators will exploit those laws to sneak into women's restrooms. In 2014, that myth finally began to lose steam.
Anti-LGBT activists have had tremendous success defeating non-discrimination protections for LGBT people by fearmongering about women's restrooms. The typical talking point goes like this: If it becomes illegal to discriminate against LGBT people, male sexual predators will pretend to be transgender in order to enter women's restrooms and commit crimes with impunity.
That horror story, as absurd as it is, has been around since the inception of the modern fight for LGBT equality. It's a wildly popular tactic on the right, largely due to its effectiveness. It's a talking point that touches on concerns about privacy, child safety, and sexual assault, and it's been extremely useful in persuading even moderate voters and politicians to vote against legal protections for the LGBT community.
It's also a talking point that's been thoroughly debunked by law enforcement experts, advocates for victims of sexual abuse, and government officials in states and cities that have had LGBT non-discrimination laws in place for years.
But given the public's general lack of familiarity with transgender people and their experiences, it hasn't been hard to get voters more concerned with the prospect of wig-donning criminals sneaking into public bathrooms.
The myth has been used to attack all kinds of pro-LGBT protections -- city non-discrimination ordinances, federal employment law, and school diversity policies. It's not unusual for anti-LGBT conservatives to simply rebrand broad non-discrimination laws as "bathroom bills" - phrasing that was unfortunately often adopted by news outlets.
That trend was strong in 2014, with conservative media outlets like Fox News regularly peddling "bathroom bill" talking points to attack non-discrimination laws like the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance.
Cleveland.com, the news portal for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Northeast Ohio Media Group (NOMG), is grossly misrepresenting an ordinance that would protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, falsely claiming the measure will open public restrooms to both genders.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would close a loophole in the city's non-discrimination law that currently allows places of public accommodations to deny transgender people access to restrooms and other facilities.
The ordinance would bring Cleveland's non-discrimination law in line with those of dozens of other major cities - including nearby Columbus -- by essentially removing an exemption in current public accommodations law which allows businesses to refuse bathroom access to transgender people based on their gender identity. That exemption reads:
(g) Nothing in this section shall be construed to establish unlawful discrimination based on actual or perceived gender identity or expression due to the denial of access to bathrooms, showers, locker rooms or dressing facilities, provided reasonable access to adequate facilities is available;
Removing the loophole is a common sense solution aimed at alleviating the discrimination and violence that transgender people often face when using restrooms that don't correspond with their gender identity.
But Cleveland.com has repeatedly mischaracterized the ordinance in its reporting, claiming that the measure will open all restrooms up to both sexes.
A former Fox Sports analyst-turned-hate group spokesman couldn't bring himself to disagree with a radio show caller who suggested that gay people who file discrimination complaints against business should be killed.
In September of 2013, Craig James was fired from his job as a football analyst on Fox Sports due to anti-gay remarks he made during a failed 2012 Senate run. His termination made him a celebrity among anti-gay groups, and he was eventually hired as an assistant to Tony Perkins, president of the extreme anti-LGBT hate group Family Research Council (FRC).
During the December 12 edition of FRC's "Washington Watch" radio program, James spoke with a caller who suggested that gay people who filed discrimination complaints against anti-gay business owners should be put to death. "I don't know," responded James, before adding that Christians "have to be bold and firm and much stronger" in their opposition to LGBT equality:
JAMES: Thank you Phillip. You know what, that part there, I don't know about the executing, but I do know that we have to be bold and firm and much stronger. God doesn't tell us and calls us that we have to be timid and to stand for our straight -- our beliefs. I'm doing a course right now in seminary and it's the history of the early church and it's fascinating, there's been lots and lots and lots of men and women who have died for their Christian beliefs since the beginning and now we are in a time in this country and in this world where we must be bold and stand for God and His truths.
James' ambivalence about whether gay people should be put to death is - shockingly - not totally unprecedented at FRC. The extreme hate group previously praised Uganda's notorious "kill-the-gays" law for upholding "moral conduct."
The Duggar family - made famous by TLC's popular reality television show - just helped repeal an ordinance protecting LGBT people from discrimination. What responsibility does TLC have for the work being carried out by its reality TV superstars?
Since the debut of their TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting in 2008, the Duggar family has slowly evolved from a television novelty to a prominent icon in Republican politics. Their religious fervor, opposition to abortion, and emphasis on conservative "family values" have helped transform them into champions for social conservatives who now make frequent appearances on the campaign trail for GOP candidates. Many have noted the disturbing and ultra-conservative radicalism that lies beneath the Duggar's "family values" - namely the family's extreme views on women's and LGBT rights.
But the Duggar family has maintained a largely symbolic role in right-wing politics - acting more as champions of a socially conservative ideal than as actual players in the fight against social progress.
Until this week.
On December 9, the city of Fayetteville, Arkansas, voted 52 to 48 percent to repeal its recently-enacted Ordinance 119, a measure that would have prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and several other categories.
National news outlets correctly credited the Duggar family for helping repeal the measure. Michelle Duggar, the matriarch of the Duggar family, recorded a robocall earlier this year urging voters to oppose the ordinance, falsely claiming that it would allow male sexual predators to enter women's restrooms. The family donated $10,000 to the campaigns of three vocal opponents of the ordinance. Josh Duggar, who is Executive Director of FRC Action - the political arm of the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council - used his position to urge voters to repeal of the ordinance.
The margin for repeal was less than 500 votes. Given the amount of even local media coverage the Duggars' involvement received, it's not a stretch to suggest that the family played a significant role in helping repeal the ordinance.
Conservative media are criticizing the Minnesota State High School League for adopting a policy that will allow transgender student athletes to play on the sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, warning that the policy will cause gender confusion, inappropriate behavior in locker rooms, and unfairness for female athletes. But officials from athletic leagues across the country haven't reported problems since enacting similar trans-inclusive policies.
On December 4, the Minnesota State High School League voted overwhelmingly to adopt a policy that would allow transgender students to participate on the athletic teams that correspond to their gender identity.
The policy was approved despite a right-wing misinformation campaign which tried to derail the measure by stoking fears about female locker rooms and student privacy. That campaign was led by the extreme Minnesota Child Protection League, which produced ads warning that trans-inclusive athletic teams would cause the "END OF GIRLS' SPORTS" and allow boys to take showers with girls. Those talking points were echoed by conservative media outlets including Fox News, Townhall, and WorldNetDaily. An unhinged article in The Federalist warned that the policy would be "psychologically destabilizing" and "encourage children to reject their bodies." The policy's adoption has only fanned the flames of conservative media outrage.
But Minnesota is hardly the first state to allow transgender student athletes to play on the teams they feel comfortable with. School athletic leagues across the country have had similar policies for transgender students in place for years without experiencing the problems predicted by conservative activists.
Several of Cleveland.com's editorial board members misrepresented a proposed non-discrimination ordinance that would prohibit discrimination against transgender people in public accommodations - including the use of restrooms and locker rooms - by peddling the myth that sexual predators will be allowed to sneak into women's bathrooms.
Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would prohibit places of public accommodation from denying transgender people access to restrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity. The ordinance would remove a loophole in existing civil rights law, which explicitly allowed businesses to deny access to restrooms based on a person's gender identity.
On December 4, Cleveland.com - the news portal for the Northeast Ohio Media Group and Cleveland's Plain Dealer - published an editorial board roundtable several writers criticized the ordinance, claiming it would give "both genders... access to all bathrooms and locker rooms." Many of the editorial comments warned that the measure would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women's restrooms:
Sharon Broussard, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
I am not comfortable with a broad, gender-neutral bathroom ordinance that would make it easier for heterosexual men with criminal intent or just kinky habits to gain access to bathrooms used by women and children. And they are out there.
Peter Krouse, editorial writer, Northeast Ohio Media Group:
I don't think opening up all bathrooms to both sexes is the answer. That would deny people, males and females, the privacy they deserve and possibly put them in uncomfortable or compromising situations. It could also create a fertile environment for predators to strike.
Kevin O'Brien, deputy editorial page editor, The Plain Dealer:
Just go by the external appearance of the plumbing the good Lord gave you and keep your "expressions" to yourself.
Few anti-LGBT groups get as much media attention as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the right-wing legal organization best known for defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to comply with nondiscrimination laws. But while ADF's "religious liberty" work generates plenty of headlines, few media outlets have highlighted the most extreme facet of ADF's legal agenda: criminalizing homosexuality.
ADF is a multimillion dollar Christian legal organization that's garnered national attention over the past several months thanks to its work defending anti-gay business owners who refuse to serve same-sex couples. It's been described as "the 800-pound gorilla of the Christian right," and media outlets are increasingly reporting on the group's legal efforts. ADF has become a fixture on Fox News, but its involvement in crafting Arizona's license-to-discriminate law in early 2014 attracted coverage from other networks as well. In October, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat apologized after he spoke at an ADF fundraiser.
But aside from a handful of examples, media outlets have failed to highlight just how extreme ADF's anti-gay agenda really is. While the group prefers to talk about its "religious liberty" work when in the media spotlight, ADF is actively working to promote and defend anti-sodomy laws that criminalize gay sex.
ADF's formal support for anti-sodomy laws dates to at least 2003, before the Supreme Court made its landmark decision in Lawrence v. Texas. ADF, which was at the time still known as the Alliance Defense Fund, filed an amicus brief in the case, defending state laws criminalizing gay sex. In its brief, ADF spent nearly 30 pages arguing that gay sex is unhealthy, harmful, and a public-health risk:
[S]ame-sex sodomy is far more effective in spreading STDs than opposite-sex sodomy. Multiple studies have estimated that 40 percent or more of men who practice anal sex acquire STDs. In fact, same-sex sodomy has resulted in the transformation of diseases previously transmitted only through fecally contaminated food and water into sexually causes diseases -- primarily among those who practice same-sex sodomy.
The issue under rational-basis review is not whether Texas should be concerned about opposite-sex sodomy, but whether it is reasonable to believe that same-sex sodomy is a distinct public health problem. It clearly is. [emphasis added]
In 2003, ADF president Alan Sears co-wrote a book titled The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today, which warned that eliminating anti-sodomy lawswould lead to the overturning of "laws against pedophilia, sex between close relatives, polygamy, bestiality and all other distortions and violations of God's plan."
The Supreme Court disagreed, striking down state bans on gay sex in its Lawrence v. Texas decision. But over a decade later, ADF continues to argue that Lawrence was wrongly decided. In 2011, ADF senior counsel Kevin Theriot criticized then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for making the case that "the freedom to engage in homosexual behavior" is a "basic human right." Theriot also wrote that "claiming a legal right to engage in homosexual behavior comes at the cost of religious freedom."
But while ADF has largely run out of options for promoting the criminalization of homosexuality in America, the group has taken its anti-sodomy agenda overseas. ADF's "Foreign Threats" page urges supporters to contribute to ADF's international efforts to "help stop devastating rulings" against religious freedom like Lawrence, which ADF claims "fabricate[d] legal protection for homosexual sodomy":
An NBC affiliate in Arizona aired a softball interview with Cathi Herrod, the state's leading anti-LGBT culture warrior. But while the segment depicted Herrod as a victimized Christian activist, it ignored her history of peddling extreme smears about the LGBT community while fighting against basic legal protections for gays and lesbians.
On November 7, NBC's Phoenix affiliate Channel 12 News aired an interview with Herrod, the president of the right-wing Center for Arizona Policy (CAP). A promo for the segment described Herrod's critics as being "hypocritical," depicting her as a "Christian catching hell" because of her religious beliefs.
The interview itself, conducted by Channel 12 anchor Lin Sue Cooney, similarly painted Herrod as a victim of "hate" from LGBT activists. The segment, which highlighted Herrod's Christian faith and upbringing, described her work as "protecting traditional values":
But Channel 12's description of Herrod's work glossed over the extremism that motivates her and her organization's anti-LGBT work.
An article published on Cleveland.com falsely suggested that the city's proposed gender identity non-discrimination ordinance would be exploited by men who want to sneak into women's restrooms and showers.
The Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would expand the city's non-discrimination law to prohibit business from denying transgender people access to restrooms or facilities that correspond with their gender identity.
In a November 6 article published on Cleveland.com, Northeast Ohio Media Group (NEOMG) reporter Leila Atassi claimed the legislation would "open all public restrooms and showers to both sexes":
In an effort to help transgendered people feel more comfortable using public restrooms, Cleveland City Council is considering an ordinance that would require businesses to make their restrooms, showers and locker rooms available to both sexes.
And barring one gender from using a facility designated for the other would be a crime punishable by a $1,000 fine.
The measure, which will be discussed at a Workforce and Community Benefits Committee meeting Wednesday, is part of a package of ordinances that update the city's existing anti-discrimination laws to include the transgender community. (Read the legislation in the document viewer below.)
Councilmen Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone, who sponsored the legislation dealing with the "public accommodations" of private businesses, said in interviews Thursday that the measure is designed to give transgender people the power to use whichever restroom aligns with their gender identity.
Texas conservatives failed to submit enough valid signatures to put Houston's city-wide non-discrimination ordinance up for a public vote in November. Now those conservatives, led by Fox News, are pressuring the city to accept signatures determined to be improperly collected or otherwise irregular in order to "let the people vote" to repeal the measure.
In August, opponents of Houston's recently enacted Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) reportedly submitted more than the seventeen thousand signatures needed to qualify put the measure on the November ballot. However, upon review of the petition under the City Charter, City Attorney David Feldman determined that thousands of the signatures failed to meet the legal requirements set by local and state law for a voter referendum. As explained by the Mayor's office:
"The Charter requirements are in place to ensure a fair and legal process, absent of fraud," said City Attorney David Feldman. "In this instance, there are too many documents with irregularities and problems to overlook. The petition is simply invalid. There is no other conclusion."
"I fully expect the petitioners will want to fight this decision at the courthouse," said Mayor Annise Parker. "I am confident the courts will agree that the rules set out in our Charter and state law to protect the integrity of the process should be followed and that the results of our review will be upheld. The judicial review will provide additional assurance to the voters that the process has been fair."
On November 2, thousands of conservatives met in Houston at the "I Stand Sunday" rally to demand that the city government allow for a public vote on the ordinance, despite the failure of the repeal petition. The event, which was hosted by the anti-gay hate group Family Research Council (FRC), was widely promoted by Fox News and featured speeches from Fox's Todd Starnes and Mike Huckabee.
At the rally, speakers demanded that the city of Houston "let the people vote" on the ordinance, accusing openly gay Mayor Annise Parker of violating the religious liberty of HERO's opponents by refusing to count their improperly collected signatures: