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The extremist Christian legal giant Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) -- known for spearheading the anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ fight in state legislatures, nationally, and abroad -- just named a new president. Here’s what you need to know about ADF’s new leader, Michael Farris -- an experienced fearmongerer and fundamentalist lawyer who will lead the group's assault on LGBTQ rights.
Established as the “Alliance Defense Fund” in 1994, much of ADF's "religious freedom" work has long consisted of anti-LGBTQ activism. As part of the group’s mission “to recover the robust Christendomic theology of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th centuries,” over the past two decades, ADF has supported criminalizing same-sex, consensual sexual activities, opposed anti-bullying efforts in public schools, and labeled the hate crime that led to the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard a “hoax” to advance the "homosexual agenda."
Recently, ADF has been behind the national push for so-called “religious freedom” laws (RFRAs) that attempt to legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination under the guise of “protecting” religious liberty. The group laid the groundwork for these laws by peddling the myth of “Christian persecution” -- the idea that Christians are under attack by the "homosexual agenda." ADF is also leading the nationwide campaign to pass “bathroom bills” -- like North Carolina’s House Bill 2 (HB 2) -- that ban transgender people, including students, from accessing bathroom and locker room facilities consistent with their gender identity.
ADF has also taken its extremist agenda abroad through ADF International, a project of ADF that's trained “thousands” of lawyers that has, among other things, worked in Jamaica, Belize, and India to support laws that imprison gay people for having sex. They’ve also been actively involved in the U.N. and the Organization of American States in order to advance their anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice agenda.
Michael (Mike) Farris is a veteran of the religious right, dating back to his opposition of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and role as the Washington state director of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In 1983, Farris founded the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), a self-described “Christian organization” that aims to defend “the constitutional right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their children and to protect family freedoms.” Farris has a long-standing history attacking LGBTQ people and their families, which includes:
More recently, Farris been fighting human rights declarations at the U.N. He’s also spoken out against “radical feminist proposals” and “homosexual and transgender ideology” for disrupting the “idea that gender is a distinction made by God.”
A 2015 investigation by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news organization, profiled HSLDA’s “frightening” and “highly influential” lobbying power, even against basic forms of homeschool regulation. HSLDA has fought against required annual tests and evaluations of home-schooled students’ work, such as a 2009 bill in New Hampshire. The organization has opposed laws that would require criminal background check for parents who want to homeschool children, calling them “draconian.” They also aggressively lobbied against mandatory reporting laws in instances of suspected child abuse. HSLDA advises its members not to tell neighbors or families that they are homeschooling “for fear one of them would call social services.”
Building on HSLDA’s success, in 2000 Farris founded Patrick Henry College (PHC) partly due to what he described as “a demand from homeschooling parents for a college that promoted courtship culture, in which male students ask female students’ fathers for permission to ‘court’ with marriage in mind.” One out of only a handful of colleges in the U.S. that eschews federal funds in order to avoid complying with government regulations, PHC has an “outsized influence as a training ground for the religious right and a pipeline to conservative jobs in Washington.” During the George W. Bush-era, the school had more White House interns than Georgetown University. In February 2014, New Republic ran a profile of PHC, titled “Sexual Assault at God's Harvard,” about the mishandling of sexual assault cases at the evangelical school. As detailed by reporter Kiera Feldman, the investigation found “the administration treated sexual assault perpetrators with impunity, discouraged women from going to the police, and blamed victims for dressing or behaving immodestly.” In response to a sexual assault report filed by a student, a dean at PHC replied, “If you were telling the truth about this, God would’ve kept you conscious.”
Fearmongering was an integral part of HSLDA’s success in cultivating an active and involved membership base. Under Farris’ leadership, ADF will likely ramp up its campaign to convince supporters that any gains in LGBTQ equality will lead to widespread persecution of Christians or an influx of “bathroom predators.”
Fitting with ADF’s vision of an American legal system rooted in 3rd century Christian theology, Farris has long advocated for a cultural change to shape American politics towards the far religious right. Farris also founded another organization, Generation Joshua, a 7,500 member organization that seeks to train teens to be the “next generation of Christian leaders and citizens.” While ADF already has a vast domestic and international training program to recruit lawyers and law students to provide pro-bono hours for anti-LGBTQ legal work, Farris’ work with K-12 and undergraduate students could lay the groundwork for ADF expanding its training to younger ages.
In addition to his work training the “next generation” of far right leaders, Farris has already led legal fights on the international front. ADF’s biography of Farris spotlights his international work, both through HSLDA’s international arm and his “successful opposition to various United Nations treaties designed to control American domestic policy.” This “success” includes Farris’ opposition to ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a landmark human rights treaty that all U.N. countries have ratified -- except the United States. ADF already has “special consultative” status at the U.N., which allows ADF lawyers “virtually unfettered access to U.N. missions during key convention and treaty-drafting meetings.” Instead of simply opposing the United States ratifying human rights treaties, Farris will now be in the position to convince other member states to dangerously advance anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice positions.
* Image courtesy of Sarah Wasko
When Texas’ 85th legislative session officially kicks off on January 10, anti-LGBTQ extremists in the state will be well into their campaigns to pass a slew of laws attacking LGBTQ equality.
Lawmakers in the state have already prefiled an avalanche of anti-LGBTQ laws. On the first day of the prefiling session, in November, a Republican filed a North Carolina-style bill to undermine local nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Another prefiled bill would require public school teachers and counselors to out LGBTQ students to parents. And on January 5, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) announced the filing of another North Carolina-style “bathroom bill.”
A number of anti-LGBTQ extremists with high-level government connections are behind these and other regressive bills that will arise over the 140-day state legislative session. They include:
Jonathan Saenz is the president of Texas Values, the lobbying arm of the Plano-based Liberty Institute, an organization notorious for peddling malicious misinformation to stoke fears about threats to religious liberty, including warning about a “reverse Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy for Christians in the military. Saenz gained some notoriety in 2014 after it was revealed that he founded Texas Values after his wife left him for another woman in 2011.
Saenz has high-level allies in the Texas government, including Gov. Greg Abbott’s outreach director, Ben Taylor, who called Saenz a “good friend.” A year and a half ago, Taylor emailed Saenz a copy of the governor’s statement regarding the 2015 Texas Supreme Court decision allowing a same-sex divorce, to which Saenz responded, “Maybe we need a special session to make same sex divorce illegal.”
Saenz took credit for both drafting and pushing through Texas’ “Pastor Protection Act,” which became law in 2015; it allows clergy to refuse to perform marriages that violate their religious beliefs. Previously, he was a vocal supporter of keeping Texas’ unconstitutional, defunct anti-sodomy law on the books and a proponents of denying benefits to same-sex spouses of government employees, even if the benefits were offered to opposite-sex spouses.
In addition to pushing anti-LGBTQ extremism, Saenz has lambasted evolution as a "left-wing ideology" that "any respectable scientist" should see through. He's also a strong proponent of having Bible classes in public schools, accusing opponents of such classes of being "enemies of religious freedom."
In 2003, extremist Texas pastor Dave Welch founded the Houston Area Pastor Council (HAPC), which is described as an "affiliate" of the national U.S. Pastor Council (USPC) and Texas Pastor Council (TXPC), though it's unclear if the organizations are actually distinguishable. As HAPC/USPC/TXPC’s spokesperson, Welch routinely espouses hateful anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, including reffering to gay people as a "morally depraved special interest group" and people who support LGBT rights as part of the "forces of spiritual darkness."
In 2009, Welch joined an anti-gay smear campaign against Annise Parker, then Houston’s city controller, warning voters of a “gay takeover” of city hall. After Parker was elected mayor, Welch declared that her election, along with President Obama’s, were signs of America's "cancer of the soul." In a 2010 newsletter, Welch attacked Parker for supporting the city's pride parade, calling her a "sodomite" and a leader of “amoral depravity.”
Despite his extremism, Welch’s group frequently hosts high-level politicians and policymakers in Texas. In October, Lt. Gov. Patrick held a special conference call with members of TXPC to discuss faith-based improvements to the state’s foster care system. Texas Monthly investigated Attorney General Ken Paxton’s first two years in office and found that Welch successfully lobbied Paxton’s office to file an amicus brief in defense of a bishop accused of violating campaign finance laws. Before Welch got involved, Abbott, who was attorney general at the time, declined to file an amicus brief in defense of the bishop, whose ministry is recognized as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Dr. Steven Hotze is the CEO and founder of the Conservative Republicans of Texas, a group that SPLC has designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group for spreading malicious lies about LGBTQ people. Hotze has been an anti-gay activist in Texas since the 1980s. After the U.S. Supreme Court made its 2015 marriage equality decision, Hotze urged Paxton to fight the “illegitimate SCOTUS ruling,” saying that the justices “hate God and want to let the Sodomites queer our country.” Hotze later kicked off his own multicity tour of Texas in protest of the marriage equality ruling by brandishing a sword to an audience while vowing to “fight the homosexuals” and the “satanic cults” that drive them.
While speaking at an anti-LGBTQ extremist conference this year, Hotze compared LGBTQ people to termites and warned that LGBTQ equality is part of a long-term communist plot to take down America. Hotze, who has a medical degree, also dabbles in questionable medical practices -- a 2005 investigation into his “alternative” practices found that his literature made unsubstantiated claims that birth control makes women “less attractive” and that men who lose their testicles “have difficulty reading a map, performing math problems and making decisions.”
Despite his extremism and dubious medical practices, Hotze has long been an influential figure in the Texas conservative movement, with Republican candidates seeking his endorsement. Hotze was also touted as a hero on Fox News in 2014 for filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. Hotze also released a series of auto-tuned songs with titles like “God Fearing Texans Stop Obamacare,” one of which included the refrain “We will defeat Obama and the socialists.”
A board member of Texas Values Action and previous Harris County GOP chairman, Jared Woodfill currently serves as president of Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Texas. Along with Hotze, Woodfill previously helped lead the campaign against the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Woodfill successfully defeated the comprehensive nondiscrimination ordinance by fearmongering and peddling the debunked “bathroom predator” myth.
This past summer, Woodfill and the Conservative Republicans of Texas launched a campaign to boycott Target for its transgender-inclusive restroom policy. The “Campaign for USA” website smears the word “transgender” as a “euphemism, a weaker alternative, for the term pervert.” It also accuses the “LGBT homosexual political movement” of wanting to make it “mandated that this wicked lifestyle be taught to children in school” so that children can be “recruited into the homosexual lifestyle.”
Conservative Republicans of Texas has infused $1.6 million into Texas elections over the last five years. While he doesn’t have the same high-level government connections as Welch and Saenz do, Woodfill is frequently featured as a guest commentator on Houston’s Fox 26, the TV station that helped fuel the repeal of HERO with its unique and aggressive peddling of the "bathroom predator" myth.
Editorial Board: HB 2 Is “Based On The Specious Notion That Transgender People Are Sexual Predators”
The New York Times' editorial board slammed North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory for his “desperate” offer to repeal the state’s anti-LGBT House Bill 2 (HB 2) on the condition that Charlotte, NC, drop its LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. The board called for McCrory to “come to his senses” and “admit ignorance and error and repeal the law.”
In the immediate aftermath of the NCAA and ACC pulling events out of North Carolina because of HB 2, McCrory proposed a widely condemned “compromise” to repeal the discriminatory law. McCrory called for the Charlotte City Council to first drop the city’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. If Charlotte were to comply, he indicated, the General Assembly might call a special session to repeal HB 2 -- which, among other measures, requires transgender people to use the bathroom of the gender listed on their birth certificate.
On September 21, the New York Times editorial board lambasted McCrory for having “some nerve” in his “desperate” move to propose a compromise on HB 2. The Times called out the “specious notion that transgender people are sexual predators” and debunked the talking point that’s been used by McCrory and the North Carolina GOP to justify HB 2. The board noted that HB 2 was never even enforceable, as police can’t “reasonably be required to inspect people’s genitals” outside of all public restrooms, highlighting that the “point of the law was to harm and humiliate L.G.B.T. citizens.” The board called for McCrory to repeal the harmful law, writing that it’s “not too late for Mr. McCrory to come to his senses” and admit his “ignorance and error.”
From the September 21 edition of the New York Times:
Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina has some nerve. Alarmed by the rising financial fallout from the discriminatory law he and Republican lawmakers hastily passed in March to bar transgender people from using restrooms that match their gender identity, the governor seemed desperate for an off-ramp last week.
It was a desperate move by Mr. McCrory, who appears likely to lose his re-election bid in November, in large part for championing a measure based on the specious notion that transgender people are sexual predators.
Mayor Jennifer Roberts of Charlotte sensibly refused. Although she was under pressure from some in the business community, including the North Carolina Restaurant & Lodging Association and the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, it would have been wrong to cave in to Mr. McCrory’s demand.
It’s not too late for Mr. McCrory to come to his senses and take the only way out — admit ignorance and error and repeal the law. While he and lawmakers are at it, they can acknowledge that no one has been made safer by preventing transgender people from using appropriate public restrooms, the ostensible reason for passing the law. The rule was never enforceable, since police officers can’t reasonably be required to inspect people’s genitals outside bathroom stalls. The point of the law was to harm and humiliate L.G.B.T. citizens, and for that all North Carolinians are having to pay an ever growing price.
A recent ruling by a federal judge shut down right-wing media’s anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth, writing that there is “no indication” that a sexual predator could “claim transgender status” as a “defense against prosecution” for sneaking into a women’s restroom to commit a crime.
On August 26, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder issued a preliminary ruling barring the University of North Carolina from enforcing a portion of North Carolina’s discriminatory "bathroom bill" against three transgender people who sued the state after the bill’s passage this spring. The law, known as HB 2, bans transgender people from using public bathrooms that do not match the sex listed on their birth certificate. Schroeder’s injunction prevents the University of North Carolina from banning the three transgender plaintiffs -- two university students and one professor -- from using facilities that match their gender identity, rather than their sex assigned at birth. LGBT advocates are currently pushing to have the injunction expanded from the three plaintiffs to include all transgender people in North Carolina.
In the limited preliminary ruling, Schroeder dismissed the claim, often peddled by right-wing media outlets, that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people would allow male predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms and commit sexual assault by pretending to be transgender. As Schroeder wrote, the “bathroom predator” myth has been repeatedly debunked by experts, and there is no evidence that allowing transgender people to use restrooms that match their gender identity leads to an increase in crime (emphasis added):
North Carolina’s peeping and indecent exposure statutes continue to protect the privacy of citizens regardless of Part I, and there is no indication that a sexual predator could successfully claim transgender status as a defense against prosecution under these statutes.
As for safety, Defendants argue that separating facility users by biological sex serves prophylactically to avoid the opportunity for sexual predators to prey on persons in vulnerable places. However, the individual transgender Plaintiffs have used facilities corresponding with their gender identity for over a year without posing a safety threat to anyone. (See Doc. 22-4 ¶¶ 15, 30; Doc. 22-8 ¶¶ 19, 25; Doc. 22-9 ¶¶ 15, 19–20.) Moreover, on the current record, there is no evidence that transgender individuals overall are any more likely to engage in predatory behaviors than other segments of the population. In light of this, there is little reason to believe that allowing the individual transgender Plaintiffs to use partitioned, multiple occupancy bathrooms corresponding with their gender identities, as well as UNC to seek to accommodate use of similar showers and changing facilities, will pose any threat to public safety, which will continue to be protected by the sustained validity of peeping, indecent exposure, and trespass laws. And although Defendants argue that a preliminary injunction will thwart enforcement of such safety laws by allowing non-transgender predators to exploit the opportunity to cross-dress and prey on others (Doc. 55 at 4–5), the unrefuted evidence in the current record suggests that jurisdictions that have adopted accommodating bathroom access policies have not observed subsequent increases in crime.
The New York Times' editorial board criticized Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s recent “bigot[ed]” attacks on transgender people that are based on the “specious” right-wing myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people threaten others’ safety.
On August 23, Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services seeking to overturn a section of the Affordable Care Act that bars discrimination against transgender people in health insurance and by health providers accepting federal funds. In May, Paxton led another lawsuit challenging the education and justice departments’ joint guidance directing all public schools to provide transgender students with access to sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, that are consistent with a student’s gender identity.
In an August 24 editorial, the Times’ editorial board slammed Paxton for his continued attacks on transgender equality. The board noted that Paxton’s team actively “encouraged” a school district to adopt an anti-transgender policy -- even though “there was no controversy surrounding transgender students” in the district-- because the state’s lawyers knew a case there would be assigned to a favorable judge. The board called out Paxton’s lawsuits for being “based on bigotry” and the “specious claim that” transgender protections “pose a threat to the safety of others,” a debunked talking point peddled by anti-LGBT extremists and right-wing media outlets and figures that the Times’ editorial board has repeatedly called out.
From the editorial:
Just days after the federal Department of Education in May issued sensible antidiscrimination guidelines for accommodating transgender students, Texas’ attorney general, Ken Paxton, set out to challenge them.
His team reached out to tiny school districts in North Texas to persuade them to adopt policies that would require transgender students to use bathrooms according to the gender on their birth certificates — which would put them at odds with the Education Department’s new transgender guidelines. Those guidelines direct educators to investigate harassment of transgender students promptly; to use pronouns and names consistent with a student’s gender identity; and to allow transgender students to use restrooms based on their gender identity.
Zeroing in on North Texas, the attorney general’s office encouraged the Harrold Independent School District to adopt an anti-transgender bathroom policy. The choice of district was no accident. Though there was no controversy surrounding transgender students in Harrold, the state’s lawyers knew that any case challenging the federal policy brought there would be assigned to Judge Reed O’Connor of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Texas.
Judge O’Connor on Sunday issued a preliminary injunction that prohibits the Education Department from enforcing its guidelines nationwide. In a 38-page order, he barred the federal government from taking enforcement action against discriminatory policies or practices.
The ruling, which the Justice Department is expected to appeal, may lead educators around the country to question whether they need to follow the Education Department’s transgender guidelines as the new school year starts. They would be wrong not to; the rules provide a common-sense approach that makes harassment and stigmatization of transgender students less likely.
Meanwhile, Mr. Paxton is determined to block another important protection for transgender people. On Tuesday, his office filed a new lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services over a regulatory change that sought to expand access to medical care for transgender Americans. This case, too, has been assigned to Judge O’Connor.
These legal assaults on equal protection for transgender Americans are based on bigotry and the specious claim that they pose a threat to the safety of others. The toll exacted on this vulnerable population is heavy and will remain so as these cases and other litigation involving transgender laws move through the courts.
Right-wing media monitored and filmed people using the designated all-gender restroom at the Democratic National Convention, looking for “obviously transgender” convention attendees in the bathroom. Conservative media have long peddled the bogus myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people will allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms by pretending to be transgender, leading to an increase in assault and misbehavior in restrooms.
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Time magazine’s cover story profiling the fight for transgender equality debunked the anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people endanger women’s safety.
Time magazine's May 30 cover story, “Battle of the Bathroom,” dissected the high-profile battle for transgender equality centered largely around access to bathrooms. In reporting on transgender equality, many media outlets have uncritically parroted the widely debunked myth that nondiscrimination protections for transgender people will allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms by pretending to be transgender.
To debunk the “bathroom predator” myth, Time cited Los Angeles Unified School District’s decade of experience protecting transgender students from discrimination with zero safety issues. Pointing out that “there is not yet any anecdotal evidence that trans-friendly rules have been abused by predators” the article also noted that cisgender men have assaulted women in bathrooms for decades undeterred by “laws and rules requiring sex separation.” Time also addressed the right-wing myth that transgender people are “confused” by citing settled medical evidence that being transgender is not a matter of “choice,” and that there is no medical treatment to “reverse” being transgender.
From the May 30 edition of Time:
Yet the specter of a sexual predator abusing transgender-friendly laws continues to frame the debate. Conservatives in Houston successfully overturned a city equal-rights ordinance in 2015 with a ballot measure passed after television ads re-enacted a hypothetical scene in which a faceless man barges in on a schoolgirl in a bathroom stall. “No men in women’s bathrooms” was the simple and effective campaign slogan.
The FBI and local law enforcement do not keep consistent stats on the number of crimes committed in public restrooms, so there is no way to track every claim. “What we’re talking about is probably some sort of assault, maybe some sort of low-level kind of voyeurism,” says Jeffrey Ian Ross, a criminologist at the University of Baltimore. “That stuff goes underreported all the time.” But there is not yet any anecdotal evidence that trans-friendly rules have been abused by predators, or that incidents of violence or sexual assault have increased. For decades, men have sometimes been caught and prosecuted for entering women’s restrooms or dressing rooms, either in drag or dressed as men, to watch or film women. The laws and rules requiring sex separation did not prove a deterrent in those cases.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, a community of 550,000 students, has allowed transgender students to use the bathrooms they identify with since 2005. “I have never had misconduct by a transgender student. A lot of fears people expressed, we have never realized those, we have never seen them,” says Judy Chiasson, who runs the district’s office of human relations, diversity and equity. “We’ve been doing this for 11 years. It works.”
The burden for transgender people when it comes to bathrooms is less disputed. A 2016 analysis of a survey of more than 2,000 transgender college students found the rate of suicide attempts increased 40% among those who said they had been denied access to a bathroom. In a separate survey of 100 transgender people in Washington, D.C., 70% said they had been denied restroom access or harassed, and 58% said they had avoided going out in public because they feared being able to find a bathroom. “At some point they had just decided it wasn’t worth it to go out in public and have to deal with the bathroom situation,” says Jody Herman, a scholar at UCLA’s Williams Institute, who authored the study.
Underlying the battle over toilets is a complicated discussion about what it means to be transgender and why it happens. As a matter of science, the issue is largely settled. The transgender experience is not—-as Texas’ Patrick joked–a matter of choice. No transgender American stands before the W on the restroom door and thinks, Whatever.
“What we have to accept is that the duality–male or female, which we see as a very clear dichotomy–it’s a little bit more complicated,” explains Catherine Dulac, a Harvard professor of biology. The official diagnosis is gender dysphoria, and it is recognized by the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association and major medical institutions. As with same-sex attraction, there is no treatment to reverse it, and many of the negative effects arrive not from the personal experience but from the social reactions to it.
For many in this debate, however, these facts are hogwash, peddled by liberal academics with different value systems. “Children have vivid imaginations. This is nothing but an adult agenda being pushed on the backs of innocent children,” says Nancy Stacy, a school-board member in Marion County, Fla., of the transgender experience in school. She recently voted to deny access to a transgender student who wanted to use the boys’ bathroom. For her, the act of changing bathroom rules to match the preference of a student is just the start of a slippery slope. “That would be like me saying, ‘Oh, a child believes she’s Cinderella today, so we’re going to have a horse and carriage on the playground.'”
Transgender Advocate: Hoax Stories “Encourage Vigilantes To Come Out Of The Woodwork And Hunt Trans People"
Buzzfeed highlighted the recent slew of anti-transgender hoax stories -- published on on fake news websites -- going viral and spreading to right-wing outlets.
In a May 19 post, Buzzfeed founding editor Craig Silverman spotlighted the recent surge in anti-transgender hoaxes on fake news websites. These fake news stories -- at least one of which has spread to real conservative news websites -- spiked largely in response to North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law (HB 2) that broadly bans transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in publicly run facilities and schools. Many of the fake stories Buzzfeed profiled -- like the hoax about a transgender women getting caught taking pictures of underage girls at Target -- stem from the anti-LGBT “bathroom predator” myth that sexual predators will exploit nondiscrimination laws to sneak into women’s restrooms by pretending to be transgender. Anti-LGBT extremists have long peddled the myth in conservative and mainstream media to oppose basic nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.
Buzzfeed interviewed the owner of several fake news sites and found that the hoax stories are a way to make “easy money” by capitalizing off of “the political polarization and anti-LGBT stance at the heart of HB 2.” Buzzfeed also spoke with Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who voiced her concern that these hoaxes -- one of which ended with a vigilante shooting a transgender women -- will fuel anti-transgender violence. There have been several recent instances of anti-transgender harassment in bathrooms.
From the May 19 Buzzfeed post:
On Saturday, a report began spreading online that a transgender woman was shot and killed after she followed another woman into a Colorado department store bathroom.
It’s one of several trans-themed hoaxes that have spread widely on Facebook in recent weeks. BuzzFeed News looked at the most shared articles from over 40 fake news websites and found other recent viral hits, including the fake story of a trans woman getting caught taking pictures of underage girls at a Target, a satirical article headlined “Transgender Dog Unsure Which Tree To Pee On,” and one that reported “Ann Coulter Arrested For Using Women’s Bathroom.” A false claim that Caitlyn Jenner is going to de-transition has also been circulating for weeks.
The spike in anti-trans hoaxes began after North Carolina passed a law, House Bill 2, that repealed LGBT nondiscrimination ordinances and that banned transgender people from restrooms in government-run buildings. It resulted in national coverage that caught the attention of the burgeoning fake news industry.
“As you have likely noticed, the bathroom issue has really hit a nerve with evangelicals and Conservatives making it a ripe topic for ridicule,” said Allen Montgomery, the pseudonym used by a man who runs NationalReport.net and other fake news sites. “These topics that highlight their (perceived) persecution complex are good business for those in the hoax and/or satire industry.”
He said he’s only published three or four stories pegged on the bathroom issue, but that others are going after what he calls the “easy money” of HB 2 hoaxes.
The result is that fake news sites are churning out new trans-themed stories on an almost-daily basis to capitalize on the political polarization and anti-LGBT stance at the heart of HB 2.
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said she’s noticed a spike in anti-trans rumours and hoaxes since the law was passed.
“Trans people all over the U.S. are really really on edge right now, and every time one of [these hoaxes] comes out lots of trans people hear them and react to them,” she said.
Keisling is concerned that hoaxes about trans people harassing other people in bathrooms will “encourage vigilantes to come out of the woodwork and hunt trans people.”