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Most Arkansas newspapers didn’t talk to trans people in coverage of anti-trans laws

Only about 38%, included the perspective of a trans or nonbinary person



Media Matters Graphic by Molly Butler

By Casey Wexler | WASHINGTON – Arkansas recently passed three discriminatory laws targeting transgender people, particularly trans youth, including measures denying them health care and banning them from sports. Local print coverage of these laws was often lacking, as journalists rarely talked to trans people they impact and largely failed to push back against bigotry and anti-trans misinformation.

A Media Matters review of local media from February 2 — when the first legislation was introduced — through April 7 — the day after the third law was passed — found that Arkansas newspapers printed 32 articles on one or more of these laws and only 12, about 38%, included the perspective of a trans or nonbinary person. About 56% of the articles came from one paper, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. 

The Medical Ethics and Diversity Act was passed in late March and allows medical professionals to deny nonemergency health care to people, including members of the LGBTQ community, based on “religious, moral, or ethical objections.” This covers a broad swath of common medical issues; according to the Human Rights Campaign, it is now legal in Arkansas for doctors to refuse to maintain hormone treatments for trans people in inpatient care and for pharmacies to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, the HIV-prevention medication PrEP, and antiretrovirals used to manage HIV/AIDS. 

The Fairness in Women’s Sports Act was enacted on March 25 and bans transgender girls and women from joining female sports teams at school. Over 30 other states have similar bills working their way through their state legislatures, with Mississippi and Tennessee joining Arkansas in actually signing them into law in 2021. 

The so-called Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act bans best practice, gender-affirming healthcare for transgender children and has been called “the single most extreme anti-trans law to ever pass through a state legislature.” The title of the law itself is misleading anti-trans disinformation, as gender-affirming health care is not experimental at all. In fact, such care is safe, effective, and can save lives, and it is widely accepted by medical professionals including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Endocrine Society. The Washington Post’s Samantha Schmidt explained:

Medical guidelines do not recommend performing gender-affirming genital surgeries on transgender people before they turn 18. They also do not recommend any medical interventions before a child reaches puberty. But once transgender children reach the early stages of puberty, medical guidelines say they can consider puberty blockers, which are reversible treatments that pause puberty and give children time to decide what to do next. Later in their teenage years, transgender adolescents can consider hormone replacement therapies, such as estrogen for trans girls and testosterone for trans boys, which create more permanent changes to their bodies.

These treatments can lower rates of depression, anxiety, and even thoughts of suicide among trans youth. But despite doctors’ opposition to the premise of the law, it was passed over the governor’s veto on April 6. 

The LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD recommends always citing a trans person in reporting on trans issues, as they are experts on their own lives. However, citing actual trans people in articles about policies that impact them has been a consistent problem for national media; in the week surrounding the passage of the Arkansas bill blocking trans youth from accessing necessary medical care, most TV news networks failed to host a trans guest in their coverage (although CNN and MSNBC have both recently brought on trans activists to debunk some of the misinformation spread by those who support medical care bans). And in January, many national outlets failed to talk to trans people in news pieces about the Biden administration’s repeal of the Trump-era trans military ban. 

Articles about the new anti-trans laws from Arkansas newspapers often included quotes from state legislators but seldom featured any trans people to give perspective on how these laws would impact their lives. Instead, these outlets often included claims like this one from a March 23 article in the Van Buren County Democrat:

State Rep. Richard Womack spoke against the assertion by one member of the public who spoke against SB354 at Thursday’s meeting and said the bill endorsed bullying and exclusion.

“If bullying is truly a concern, I would submit to the committee that using [laws] to allow [transgender women] who are clearly and physically dominant to dominate in sports against a weaker sex would be bullying,” Womack said.

Womack’s claim has no basis in fact, as trans women are not dominating in school sports — and the article notes that one of the bill’s co-sponsors later admitted that “she had no knowledge of any instance in Arkansas where transgender women had competed in women’s sports.” In fact, a March 3 Associated Press report on more than 20 states considering bills to ban trans students from competing found that “in almost every case, sponsors cannot cite a single instance in their own state or region where such participation has caused problems.” Yet the Van Buren County Democrat failed to mention this fact or push back on Womack’s statement, which was followed by another state legislator’s claim that they know a transgender person who supports the bill (that person is neither named nor directly quoted). Instead, the article cited a statement in support of anti-trans legislation from the Alliance Defending Freedom, an extremist organization dedicated to opposing LGBTQ rights. 

More than half the articles in this study either misgendered transgender individuals or allowed trans people to be misgendered without pushback, such as quoting someone calling trans girls “biological boys.” Misgendering is a form of harassment that stigmatizes trans people and also goes against journalistic standards. One article from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote about trans girls as “students,” “participants,” and “athletes” without acknowledging their actual identities as women:

A bill aimed at deterring Arkansas’ schools from allowing transgender athletes to participate in girls’ and women’s sports won the approval of the Arkansas Senate on Wednesday.

Supporters of the bill and of national efforts to keep transgender participants out of girls’ and women’s sports said it’s unfair for cisgender girls and women to compete against athletes who were assigned the male gender at birth. 

More than three-quarters of the pieces reviewed by Media Matters, or 25 articles, framed the issue of rights for trans people as a topic up for debate, with anti-trans perspectives pitted against trans people’s lives — usually without asking a single transgender person. Each of these new laws in Arkansas restrict trans people’s freedoms in some way, whether by denying them health care or athletic opportunities. But most articles on the subject treat those seeking to enshrine discrimination in law as people with legitimate points of concern. Others, as in the case of this Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article, presented an anti-trans position along with a pro-trans one without properly debunking the factual inaccuracies of the anti-trans position: 

Senate Bill 289 by Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, called the “Medical Ethics and Diversity Act,” would allow providers to opt out of procedures they don’t agree with based on their religious or moral beliefs.

Co-sponsor Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, said the bill gives a remedy to those providers to defend themselves and emphasized that the legislation is procedure-specific, while opponents of the bill say it’s unnecessary and will lead to discrimination.

“Why do you need a remedy for something that’s not happening?” House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough, D-Little Rock, said. “There will be some that will use this to discriminate or to make folks feel uncomfortable in a lot of ways. To take one of our liberties, religious freedom, to believe as you wish, and to twist it to infringe on other’s rights, even medical rights, is reprehensible.”

Not all of Arkansas media covered the issue as poorly as some of the print newspapers. Max Brantley, editor of The Arkansas Times, frequently wrote pieces on the magazine’s blog affirming trans identities and directly criticizing the new laws as a form of “persecution.” Weeks after the passage of the SAFE Act on April 6, Brantley’s blog has continued to cover new attacks on trans rights that are working their way through the Arkansas legislature. This includes another bill that would restrict trans athletes even further; a proposal that would require teachers to use a child’s dead name, or birth name, in the classroom even if a student requests otherwise, which can be psychologically harmful; and a bill that would allow people to sue public agencies that let trans people use the restroom corresponding with their gender identity. 

Arkansas outlets owe it to their readers and the trans community to be more responsible in covering the potential harms of this upcoming legislation. 


Media Matters searched print articles in the Factiva database from local newspapers in Arkansas for any of the terms “trans,” “transgender,” “transphobe,” “transphobic,” “transphobia,” ““gender identity,” “gender nonconforming,” “gender fluid,” “nonbinary,” “transsexual,” “biological boy,” “biological male,” “biological man,” or “biological men” from February 2 through April 7, 2021.

We included the following newspapers: Arkansas Business, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Medical News, Arkansas Times, Baxter Bulletin, Booneville Democrat, Charleston Express, The Courier, The Daily Citizen, Hot Springs Village Voice, Jonesboro Sun, El Latino, Newport Independent, The Paragould Daily Press, Paris Express, The Pine Bluff Commercial, Press Argus-Courier, The Sun Times, The Times Record, and Van Buren County Democrat.

We then coded articles for whether they included perspective from any trans person, misgendered any trans person, acknowledged that these laws violate human and civil rights, framed anti-trans talking points as equal to trans perspectives, referenced real trans athletes, uncritically repeated conservative framing of trans medical care as “experimental” or “child abuse,” or noted that the bills are a direct response to President Joe Biden’s pro-LGBTQ policies.

Casey Wexler is a researcher at Media Matters. She previously worked as a freelance producer for NBC News Channel and as a desk assistant for NBC News.

The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters and is republished by permission.

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Christian Conversion therapy almost killed Garry

Can we agree to end this? Banning conversion therapy in the US and the UK has proven very difficult



Queen Elizabeth II delivers speech opening Parliament May 11, 2021 calling for ban of conversion therapy. (Photo: UK government)

Why would a successful doctor struggle with suicide?

By James Finn | Garry is a young MD in with a reputation as a sharp, caring GP. He runs a successful practice, loves his husband, and enjoys the respect of family and community. But his fulfilling life almost didn’t happen. A few years ago, a stint in Christian-sponsored conversion therapy left him obsessed with suicide.

An intervention led by genuine mental health professionals brought him back from the brink, and now he’s gone public to push for legal bans of the type of Christian “therapy” that almost killed him.

The issue is huge now in the UK where Garry lives. He told interviewer Claire Byrne of RTÉ Radio 1 that he’s speaking up because it’s time for his native Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK to stop dragging their feet and finally ban conversion therapy.

Banning conversion therapy in the US and the UK has proven very difficult

Both leading political parties in the UK have promised for years to ban conversion therapy. Neither has managed. In the US, a national ban is a political non-starter. In US states that have banned conversion therapy for minors, religious loopholes are so big experts acknowledge the bans are little more than symbolic.

Programs like the one Garry attended operate all over the US, often targeting minors, even in states that ban the practice for minors. France is also struggling with a resurgence of conversion therapy despite a national ban.

In the UK, stiff religious resistance has torpedoed proposed bans, though that may be changing this year as the governing Conservative Party has recently recommitted to passing legislation.

The question is, how effective will any law be in the face of religious opposition? If the US, France, and Germany are any example, hardly effective at all.

Battling ‘unwanted same-sex attraction’

Have you heard the phrase “unwanted same-sex attraction?” It’s a new buzzword in conservative Christian circles, from Evangelical to Roman Catholic, all over the world.

It pops up in places you’d never expect.

I wrote a story last week about how hundreds of Catholic priests and bishops in German and Dutch speaking countries are holding public church services this month to bless gay unions. They’re calling it the “Love Wins” campaign, promoting it as #liebegewinnt on social media.

Jan Korditschke, a Catholic priest in Berlin who will be blessing gay couples in his church, told the Associated Press why “Love Wins” is so important to him:

I am convinced that homosexual orientation is not bad, nor is homosexual love a sin. I want to celebrate the love of homosexuals with these blessings because the love of homosexuals is something good. The homophobia of my church makes me angry and I am ashamed of it.

The “Love Wins” message resonates powerfully

LGBTQ people in Germany are celebrating this week with much of the German population. Rainbow flags are waving on church grounds, and news sources are filled with positive stories about loving same-sex couples.

When I tweeted my story, I met with an (expected) mixture of skepticism and joy from English-speaking LGBTQ people. I never expected my tweet to attract advertisements for conversion therapy, but that’s what happened. Two Catholic priests in Bavaria responded to promote a Catholic Church network that offers to help people “struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Garry from Northern Ireland would recognize that language

He told RTÉ Radio 1 that program leaders promised him “there was good hope that I could turn to live a heterosexual life, and they said that, yes, I could live quite happily without same-sex attraction.”

I was surprised to see the tweets in response to my story, because while I know the Catholic Church in the US is increasingly embracing conversion therapy despite historically opposing it, I did not know the practice was on the rise in Germany. My surprise led me to more digging that revealed the increasing extent of the problem in France, where it is more an Evangelical than Catholic phenomenon.

But this isn’t conversion therapy!

Here’s the problem. Programs like the one Garry attended — and like many networks in the US, France, and Germany — claim they don’t actually offer conversion therapy. They carefully avoid explicit promises to end same-sex attraction while implying strongly that they can deliver that result.

When the Massachusetts Catholic Conference recently opposed a state ban on conversion therapy for minors, they illustrated the problem clearly with their objection:

If a minor is struggling with unwanted same sex attraction or gender identity, this law would prevent a licensed professional from counseling the minor towards a resolution to those unwanted urges. A counselor would hesitate to provide such therapy for fear of losing his or her license to practice. These professionals, with years of education and experience dealing with mental health issues, would be removed from the process of helping a young client struggling with these highly personal issues.

“A resolution to those unwanted urges” obviously implies changing sexual attraction. No reasonable observer could understand it any other way. That phrase happens to be the exact language groups like Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries employ as they partner with Catholic dioceses all over the US to offer conversion therapy they claim isn’t actually conversion therapy. It’s the exact language used by the Church conversion therapy network in Germany that advertised under my tweet.

Resolving unwanted same-sex attraction is conversion therapy

Many people have an inaccurate idea of what conversion therapy is. Decades ago, licensed psychiatrists and psychologists promised to turn gay people straight. They sometimes used harmful methods like shock and chemical aversion therapy. They relied heavily on talk therapy as well, but religion was seldom part of the mix.

Those medical practices all but died out by the 1980s in the US (and much of the rest of the world) without the need for laws. The mental health profession regulated itself, motivated by data that convinced them trying to change sexual attraction doesn’t work and causes serious mental health problems.

Psychologists and psychiatrists run afoul of their professional associations today if they offer conversion therapy, risking loss of board certifications and licenses.

Today, religious groups offer to “resolve unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Garry’s experience is typical of today’s conversion therapy. It’s almost always delivered by networks of unlicensed Christian counselors who combine religious practice like prayer with talk-therapy borrowed from the mental health world. Counselors promise they can “resolved unwanted same-sex attraction” by making it go away, by strengthening opposite-sex attraction, or by helping gay people feel content to live a life of celibacy.

As Garry attests, the results are as ineffective and toxic as when licensed professionals used to use them.

He says he became so depressed he had suicidal thoughts “almost on a daily basis” by the end of his unlicensed therapy. He started drinking heavily “every night just to get to sleep” and “to get rid of the thoughts” that were traumatizing him.

Conversion therapy keeps coming and going in waves

In the 1990s and early 2000s, a wave of “ex-gay” Christian conversion therapy swept through the Evangelical Christian world in the US, led by groups like Exodus International. These networks run by men who claimed they overcame their own same-sex attraction have collapsed as leaders admit their efforts proved both ineffective and toxic.

But even as that wave died out, new groups like Desert Stream are emerging to take their place. Garry’s traumatizing experience in Northern Ireland isn’t unusual, and that’s a big problem. Conservative religious organizations are heavily invested in the idea of homosexuality as pathological. They claim God doesn’t want people to be gay, and they believe strongly that they can help people “defeat sin” that is ruining their lives.

The trouble is, their programs are as ineffective and harmful as ever. However they try to finesse their language, they’re making promises they can’t deliver, harming people profoundly in ways mental health professionals call inevitable.

It’s possible that legislation will never be able to effectively deal with the problem. In the US and the UK, religious liberty principles make passing truly effective bans very difficult. It’s hearts and minds that have to change.

To those who believe unwanted same-sex attraction can be “resolved” —

Can we talk? When you tell LGBTQ people we’re suffering from an illness, when you offer to heal us, when you assert you can change how we experience sexual attraction, you’re causing tremendous harm.

What you’re offering isn’t new. Christians have been trying it for decades, and the numbers show nothing but trauma and mental health crises in result. Large networks of sincere believers have closed down after decades of operation because they saw the harm they were causing.

Christians all over the world have acknowledged they lack the ability to discern God’s will in a practice that has caused so much trauma and spiritual alienation.

Whatever your beliefs are about homosexuality, can you join that part of the Christian world that leaves God’s judgment to God and decisions about sexuality to personal conscience?

Garry was lucky. He lived to find joy and tell his story. The real tragedy here is all the people who didn’t. Can we agree to end this?

James Finn is a former Air Force intelligence analyst, long-time LGBTQ activist, an alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, and an “agented” novelist. Send questions, comments, and story ideas to [email protected]

This piece was originally published at Prism & Pen, ‘Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling.’ Republished by permission.

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Homophobia wins in the Puerto Rico Senate

Bill to ban conversion therapy died in committee



[Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By Alberto J. Valentín | It is a sad day for Puerto Rico, and it is a sad day for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Last Thursday, 11 senators decided to turn their backs on children and human rights in Puerto Rico. A new Senate majority proved to be weak and on the wrong side of history, again. Eight senators from the legislative committee reviewing Senate Bill 184 to ban conversation therapy on the island voted against the bill’s report.

Today, thanks to these senators, any mental health professional can freely charge a father for “curing” his son of homosexuality or of a gender identity/expression that does not conform to social standards of “normality.” Although there has been an executive order in Puerto Rico banning conversation therapy since 2018, this order is only applicable to health institutions that have a specific connection with the government. Executive orders state mandatory requirements for the Executive Branch and have the effect of law; however, any governor can revoke them.

Senators received scientific evidence and several testimonies from LGBTQIA people who testified during public hearings. These senators also received evidence of permanent depression and suicide attempts caused by conversion therapy. However, 11 senators decided to condone hate and the intolerance towards the LGBTQIA youth on the island. One of these senators, Wanda Soto, said during one of the public hearings that “… with love anything is possible … ” in reference to her belief that kids’ sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed or cured. This senator even compared a bad personal experience with a dentist she had when she was a kid with LGBTQIA opponents’ testimonies of their experiences of going through conversion therapy.

Suicide and depression rates among LGBTQIA youth are staggering and are the highest in the entire United States compared to other reasons. These indices are a direct consequence of the intolerance, discrimination and lack of validation that our society perpetuates. LGBTQIA youth go through difficult times in their lives, including personal and family acceptance that trigger years of depression and anxiety among LGBTQIA people.

Today again, hatred wins. Today, Puerto Rico demonstrates why it is the number one jurisdiction for hate crimes in the entire United States. Today again, these 11 senators make evident why gender-based crimes continue to dominate local headlines. Today these senators are an example of the ignorance and lack of cultural competence that persist in our island. Today, these senators will be responsible for the depression and the stigma that the LGBTQIA community will continue to suffer. Today these senators are responsible for perpetuating intolerance. We take a step back as a society, demonstrating again that we cannot tolerate those who are different and who do not meet our standards of normality.

Neither the tears of Gustavo nor Elvin or Caleb, who presented their testimonies before the Puerto Rico Senate, were enough to move the hearts of these senators. The hypocritical hugs and words of support that some senators gave to these LGBTQIA people after their testimony and personally meeting them make it much harder to understand how they turned their backs on our children. Today these 11 senators are responsible for perpetuating hate crimes on the island and make our path to be a more inclusive society even harder.

Homophobia won in the Puerto Rico Senate last Thursday. There was no difference when the pro-statehood Senate majority defeated SB 1000 (banning conversion therapy) back in 2018 and now with a new majority lead by the Popular Democratic Party. Different senators, different bills, same result, but the same homophobia. Many Puerto Rican voters believed that furthering human rights would be easier to achieve on the island with a new majority in the legislature. Unfortunately, the reality is that our legislature is just a mirror of our society, and the lack of cultural competence persists among us. But we will keep fighting; this is a single lost battle, a battle among many others yet to come.

These are the 11 senators who voted against SB 184 or didn’t vote:

  1. Sen. Rubén Soto – Against
  2. Sen. Ramón Ruiz – Against
  3. Sen. Albert Torres – Against
  4. Sen. Ada García – Against
  5. Sen. Wanda Soto – Against
  6. Sen. Marissa Jimenez – Against
  7. Sen. Joanne Rodríguez – Against
  8. Sen. Thomas Rivera – Against
  9. Sen. José L. Dalmau – Absent
  10. Sen. Marially González – Absent
  11. Sen. Javier Aponte – Absent
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Happy Mother’s Day

The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.



The publisher, editor, and staff of the Los Angeles Blade wishes all of the mother’s a very happy mother’s day and thank you for all that you do.

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