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News Analysis

Right-wing media blame trans-inclusive policy for Virginia sexual assault

[…] In reality, the Loudoun County Schools policy was not in effect when the reported sexual assault occurred

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Graphic via Media Matters for America

By Brennan Suen | WASHINGTON – Right-wing media have seized on a report of a sexual assault at a high school in Loudoun County, Virginia, to attack trans-inclusive bathrooms, often suggesting that a policy in the school district opened the door to predators in girls’ bathrooms. In reality, the policy was not in effect when the reported sexual assault occurred, and it is always illegal to assault or harass someone.

On October 11, right-wing outlet The Daily Wire published a story about the reported assault and interviewed Scott Smith, the victim’s father, who was arrested at a June 22 school board meeting after an altercation. 

In the article, Smith seemed to acknowledge that the suspect might not have been affected by the district’s trans-inclusive policy, which allows students to use facilities that align with their gender identity. He said, “The person that attacked our daughter is apparently bisexual and occasionally wears dresses because he likes them. So this kid is technically not what the school board was fighting about.” However, he then seemed to blame the policy, saying, “The point is kids are using it as an advantage to get into the bathrooms.”

However, the policy was passed by the school board on August 11 — months after May 28, when the assault was reported to have taken place, making it impossible for the suspect to have used the protections “as an advantage to get into the bathrooms.” 

The myth that trans-inclusive bathrooms allow predators to attack women has been repeatedly debunked; additionally, assaults and harassment are already illegal regardless of whether bathrooms allow trans people. In fact, the suspect was later charged in a second assault in Loudoun County that was reported to have taken place in “an empty classroom.” The suspect has now been arrested and detained in juvenile detention.

The Washington Post has noted that authorities have not confirmed the gender identity of the suspect or that they were wearing a dress but identified as a boy. It also noted that “at the time of the alleged assault involving [Smith’s] daughter, that rule was not in effect”:

The parents she is representing have spoken out this week, often in interviews with conservative news outlets, to assert that the charged youth is “gender fluid” and that the assault took place in a girls bathroom. Those details have not been confirmed by authorities. The parents have also denounced a policy put in place by Loudoun’s school board in August that lets students use bathrooms matching their gender identities. At the time of the alleged assault involving their daughter, that rule was not in effect.

Nevertheless, right-wing media have quickly spread the story, frequently citing the alleged gender identity of the suspect and the school’s trans-inclusive policy — which they often falsely suggested was to blame for the reported assault. 

For instance, the Heritage Foundation’s outlet, The Daily Signal, published a report that quoted anti-trans advocate Lauren Adams, who said, “Assaults like these are the natural result of transgender bathroom policies, which allow boys to freely enter girls’ spaces and erode boundaries.” 

In an op-ed in The Washington Times, columnist Robert Knight suggested Virginia may once again give us an “American Revolution,” in part due to backlash over the case. Knight lied that the suspect “was allowed into the girl’s room because of the idiotic transgender mandate.”

The Daily Mail wrote, “Smith says the boy took advantage of the school’s trans policies to get into the girls’ bathrooms and assault her.” 

The New York Post also repeated this claim, writing: “Smith told the Daily Wire that his daughter was attacked at Stone Bridge High School on May 28 by a boy ‘wearing in a skirt’ who took advantage of transgender rules ‘to get into the bathrooms.’”

Unfortunately, right-wing media have once again perpetuated the debunked bathroom predator myth and ignored the facts in order to attack trans people.

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Brennan Suen is the LGBTQ program director at Media Matters, where he has worked since July 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University, and he formerly interned at the Human Rights Campaign and SKDKnickerbocker.

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

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News Analysis

Joe Rogan: COVID-19 misinfo, right-wing myths, & anti-trans rhetoric

“Called out for peddling dangerous rhetoric, he shields himself claiming he should not be considered a ‘respected source of information”

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Joe Rogan 'Wrapped on Spotify' graphic vis Media Matters for America

By Alex Paterson | WASHINGTON – Throughout his first full year streaming exclusively on Spotify, host Joe Rogan has repeatedly used his podcast to broadcast conspiracy theories, COVID-19 misinformation, and anti-trans rhetoric to millions of listeners across the globe. One year into his contract, it’s clear that Spotify’s $100 million paycheck to Rogan is funding increasingly dangerous and bigoted content.

Media Matters monitored over 350 hours of The Joe Rogan Experience over the past year and found that the show is grounded in misinformation and bigotry. To coincide with Spotify’s 2021 Wrapped — an annual summary of the trends on the streaming platform — we compiled some of the worst examples of Rogan’s sexist, racist, and harmful commentary over the past year — all paid for by Spotify.

Rogan is a veritable megaphone of right-wing lies, and when he is called out for peddling dangerous rhetoric, he shields himself from any accountability by claiming he should not be considered a “respected source of information.” He has also repeatedly praised Spotify for being a safe space for him as the platform has refused to do anything to quell the misinformation and hate on his show; Rogan once told a guest that anti-trans attacks are acceptable on his show, saying, “You can say whatever you want. We’re on Spotify.”

The Joe Rogan Experience is broadcast exclusively on Spotify and was the most popular podcast on the platform in 2021 and 2020. As The Washington Post noted in May, “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, Rogan reaches nearly four times as many people as prime-time cable hosts such as Sean Hannity of Fox News Channel and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC.” 

COVID-19 misinformation

  • On April 23, Rogan encouraged “healthy” young people not to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying, “If you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no.” According to The Verge, Spotify reviewed these comments but did not find them in violation of any policies, thus leaving the episode live. Public health experts and White House officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci condemned Rogan’s comments.
  • On April 28, Rogan falsely claimed that any lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19 “makes things worse,” saying, “It’s worse. It makes things worse, you know why — because people go inside. They are trapped inside and that’s where it spreads.”
  • On May 14, he falsely claimed that far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was “right” about “actual microchips being injected into your arm to see if you have COVID-19.” 
  • On June 22, Rogan dedicated an entire episode of his podcast to promoting ivermectin as a prophylactic and therapeutic for COVID-19, even though it’s an unproven and potentially dangerous treatment for the disease. During the podcast, guest Bret Weinstein claimed that a study showed “ivermectin alone, if properly utilized, is capable of driving this pathogen to extinction,” and Rogan made unsubstantiated claims about its use for prevention of COVID-19, saying, “All it means is to take the drug to anticipate that you may get it, so if you’re in a high-risk area you take it and it’ll protect you from infection.”
  • On July 20, Rogan promoted the right-wing lie that the government was planning to monitor private citizens’ text messages for anti-vaccine misinformation, saying, “Have you seen the new thing about SMS text messages to stop COVID vaccine misinformation? … Saagar [Enjeti] from Breaking Points sent me this. We were talking about this recently. They are monitoring SMS texts for dangerous misinformation about COVID vaccines.”
  • On August 6, Rogan fearmongered that vaccine passports would move the U.S. “one step closer to dictatorship” and lied that getting the coronavirus vaccine is not effective in preventing the disease, saying, “All you hear is take this vaccine that doesn’t even prevent you from getting the disease, or you can’t go to the sauna or wherever the fuck you want to go. … If it was a vaccine — it’s more of a treatment than it is a vaccine, really, if you look at it.”
  • On August 12, Rogan promoted the baseless right-wing narrative fearmongering that immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border were causing a surge in COVID-19 cases, saying, “They are letting in — so Greg Abbott, the governor, the great governor of the state of Texas, was correct — they are letting in thousands and thousands of people who are positive with COVID.”
  • On August 20, he falsely asserted that mRNA coronavirus vaccines are “really gene therapy” and lied that it is “not logical, it’s not rational, and it’s not supported by science” to advise people with natural immunity to get a coronavirus vaccine. Notably, Rogan has made the same false claim that mRNA vaccines are a form of “gene therapy” on August 18September 21November 8, and November 10.
  • On September 23, Rogan fearmongered that vaccine passports will lead to a “social credit system similar to what they have in China.”
  • On September 30, Rogan baselessly suggested that President Joe Biden did not actually receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, falsely claiming that it would be unsafe and potentially deadly to do so on live TV. 
  • On November 10, he repeatedly spread the baseless claim that the Biden administration is trying to stop people from receiving monoclonal antibodies, a COVID-19 treatment, “because it discourages people from getting vaccinated.” Rogan repeated this claim on the November 26 edition of his show, asserting that the treatment is being withheld because “they don’t want there to be a very clear path where you don’t have to be vaccinated but if you get sick you’re going to be fine.” 
  • On November 22, Rogan falsely asserted that children do not need to get a COVID-19 vaccine, saying, “They’re trying to say that children need it when they don’t. They don’t need it.” 
  • Later in that episode, Rogan baselessly claimed that use of ivermectin “essentially cured COVID” in Uttar Pradesh, India. 

Anti-trans rhetoric

  • On June 25, Rogan lied that “there’s not a lot of overwhelming, overt discrimination against people who are trans, like, publicly other than the sports thing” and prisons.
  • On July 3, Rogan mocked and misgendered a young person who came out as trans to his friends. He also said that “it’s fashionable” to be nonbinary, later claiming, “It’s going to get worse.” He also asserted, “I think people are going to be transracial. I think in the next few years transracialism is going to be, like, fully embraced. And then we’re going to have Black folks on our side, because they’re going to go hey, … this is crazy. All this stuff about trans women competing in the Olympics, that wasn’t as bothersome.”
  • On August 12, Rogan agreed with his guest Andrew Schulz’s comments when Schulz used an anti-trans slur and compared trans people to QAnon conspiracy theorists, asserting, “QAnon is just like conservative t—–s. That’s really all they are.” Rogan also claimed that being nonbinary is “very, very self-indulgent,” and said that trans people are “not experiencing real adversity or, you know, real discrimination, so you create discrimination against yourself.”
  • On August 20, Rogan asserted that “men transitioning to women use male tactics and male behavior as they invade feminist spaces,” “tend to be more assertive,” and “dominate whenever possible if left unchecked.” He also said that trans women “use male tactics and male behavior as they invade feminist spaces” and “dominate them like men do.” 
  • Later in that episode, Rogan derided an unnamed trans woman, saying she had a “terrorist beard” and that “there’s no way you’re a woman.” Rogan continued, “There are definitely people with legitimate gender dysphoria that want to be a woman, and they’re biologically male. And then there’s grifters. There’s crazy people. There’s people who have locked on to this movement.”
  • On November 3, Rogan used an anti-trans slur, lamenting, “You can’t say t—-y,” before his guest repeatedly used the slur. He also mocked the idea of a comedian using they/them pronouns, saying, “Imagine if there is a comic who gave into that.”

Right-wing misinformation and bigotry

  • On January 30, Rogan commented on actor Angelina Jolie’s genitals, saying, “Crazy pussy is the best pussy. … She’s clearly crazy.” He also demeaned Jolie for developing Bell’s palsy, saying, “That’s the problem with crazy is crazy comes with all sorts of neurotic shit.”
  • On May 13, Rogan lamented the so-called effects of “woke culture,” saying, “It keeps going further and further down the line and if you get to the point where you capitulate, where you agree to all these demands, it’ll eventually get to straight white men are not allowed to talk, because it’s your privilege to express yourself when other people of color have been silenced throughout history.” 
  • On July 3, Rogan imitated people who speak Mandarin and questioned, “Is that racist to do that, to imitate a sound?” He also imitated an Asian accent on the November 3 edition of his show.
  • On July 29, Rogan claimed that journalist Lauren Sanchez is an “alpha predator female” and agreed with his guest’s claim that her “puss puss is probably incredible because girls like that, you got to respect they know that that’s their job.”
  • On August 8, Rogan used an anti-Chinese slur, complaining, “You can’t say Chinaman.”
  • On October 6, Rogan called people who had criticized his guest on TikTok “retarded.” After his guest replied “you can’t say that,” Rogan said, “But I’m on Spotify. You can get away with it.” He also said the word on November 26 edition of his show and claimed that the word means “you’ve been held back in learning because you’ve applied the wrong kind of thinking to things. It does not mean someone with Down syndrome, and this idea that those two are … the same thing and it’s a slur or it’s a terrible thing to say, that’s not true. It’s not right.”
  • On November 3, Rogan pushed the right-wing lie that Dr. Anthony Fauci and the National Institute of Health funded “experiments on these beagle puppies and they put their heads in cages and filled the cages with sand flies where the sand flies were literally eating the beagles alive.”
  • On November 26, Rogan claimed that the Democratic establishment will “kill people on purpose that are causing problems” and said, “You have this organization that’s based on this sort of cronyism and [House Majority Leader] Nancy Pelosi is the head witch.”
  • In that same episode, Rogan spread the right-wing lie that Biden called Kyle Rittenhouse — the teenager who killed two people in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last year and was later aquitted — a “white supremacist.”

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Alex Paterson is a researcher for the LGBTQ program at Media Matters, where he has worked since 2019. Alex holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from Montana State University and has a background in LGBTQ advocacy, including previous work at the National LGBTQ Task Force and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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

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News Analysis

‘The Power of Stories,’ WarnerMedia rethinks Equity & Inclusion

The focus for Warner’s review was entirely on the diverse nature of the workforce spread out amongst its brand components

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Graphic courtesy of WarnerMedia

NEW YORK – The last two years have brought significant changes to American corporate culture, particularly by way of treatment of the workforce.

Fostered in a societal climate influenced by the global coronavirus pandemic and accentuated by social unrest over the deaths of Black people at the hands of law enforcement and the Black Lives Matter movement which resulted from those deaths, many businesses found themselves struggling to best serve underrepresented minorities within the ranks of their employees.

Perhaps the most impacted firms in corporate America were the media conglomerates of which the top four, Comcast, the Walt Disney Company, AT&T/WarnerMedia and ViacomCBS, found themselves rethinking their strategy.

In October one of the four, WarnerMedia, released its findings from the company’s 2020/21 Equity and Inclusion (E&I) report, The Power of Stories. The focus for Warner’s review was entirely on the diverse nature of the workforce spread out amongst its brand components of Cartoon Network, CNN, DC, HBO, HBO MAX, TNT and Warner Bros. Television and Pictures.

Courtesy of WarnerMedia

The company looked at how it as a employer, but more-so how its employees navigated significant moments in 2020-2021 and did so by using  personal stories and accounts as the basis for the report’s foundational structure that highlights equity and inclusion across four areas at WarnerMedia:

Workforce (including workforce composition and business resource groups for employees)

Content (including scripted TV, films, news, and animation)

Programs (including creative development and pipeline programs)

Community (including industry and local outreach partnerships and initiatives).

  • Workforce Global Gender analysis shows 54% of the workforce are men and 46% women.
  • U.S. Ethnicity and Race analysis shows a workforce that is 58% White, 12% Asian American 12% Black, 11% Hispanic/Latinx, 3% two or more races, 0.3% Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, 0.1% Native American/Native Alaskan and 3% declined to state.    
  • WarnerMedia U.S.-based Scripted Shows On-Screen Representation: 36% women, up 2% from 2019. 29% people of color, up 5% from 2019. 
  • Warner Bros. Pictures’ On-Screen Representation: 30% women, down 4% from 2019. 29% people of color, up 5% from 2019. 
  • WarnerMedia U.S.-based Scripted Shows Behind-the-Camera Representation: 28% women, up 5% from 2019. 29% people of color, up 6% from 2019.
  • Warner Bros.’ Pictures’ Behind-the-Camera Representation: 27% women, up 4% from 2019. 27% people of color, up 4% from 2019.
  • Animation: 54% of animated protagonists in development at Cartoon Network are female and 52% of lead characters in development at Warner Bros. Animation are female.

With emphasis on contextualizing the experiences of its workforce, WarnerMedia across all brands examined itself with a workforce that also included the LGBTQ+ community and the uniqueness of the experiences of those employees.

“I firmly believe that talent is distributed equally in the world we live in today, but opportunity is not always evenly distributed,” said Christy Haubegger, EVP, Communications and Chief Inclusion Officer at WarnerMedia.

“That is why we have an Equity & Inclusion strategy that has been put into place to open those opportunities — across our workforce, our content, our pipeline programs, and the work we do within our communities. It is not about random acts of diversity. It’s about ongoing, measured and systemic change if we are going to achieve true equity for everyone.”

Water tower lit purple for Spirit Day,
Warner Bros. Studios Burbank

The company laid out its goals:

An action plan:
To ensure equity and inclusion are core to our business priorities, we shared the tenets of our strategy.

Transparency
We want our leadership team to reflect the talent of our community, so we’re sharing the
metrics of our race and ethnicity. This will hold us accountable as we focus on recruiting, hiring, development and retention.

Measurement
We know that what gets measured gets done, so our diversity numbers are included in the leadership team’s weekly operational report, along with financial and other
essential business metrics.

Pay
We’re making adjustments to ensure that people who are doing the same job, with the same level of experience, skills and performance are not paid differently.

Accountability
We’ll be adjusting our internal performance management process
to include how we perform on inclusion initiatives.

Development
We’re building our own talent development programs focused
on increasing visibility, access and opportunities for underrepresented
groups at all levels of the company.

Storytelling
The stories we tell, and who gets to tell them, matters. We’re making
changes to ensure that we have creators and stories that reflect the breadth of our global audiences.

Training and education
The education we all need to unravel a century’s history in our
industry is immense, so we are expanding our inclusion learning
and development work.

“Effectuating inclusion for any identity group, particularly those who’ve been historically marginalized and ignored, requires a restructuring  of systems that were, in many cases, designed to  perpetuate inequality. We must be intentional in our efforts to be better and understand that social impact work is quickly becoming an expected and essential element of doing business. Failing to understand the nuances of identity and experiences is simply not an option for any business that intends  to engage with diverse employees and consumers,” Dennis Williams, SVP, Corporate Social Responsibility, WarnerMedia told the Blade.

“Not only do we get to work on this, but we get to work on this at scale. We are a missionary team of nearly 30,000 team members… inspired, passionate and, of course, with the potential to do far more. And that is a good thing given there is so much more to do. These were important steps towards making WarnerMedia more equitable and inclusive. And yet we all acknowledge that the bulk of the work is still in front of us,” said Jason Kilar, CEO at WarnerMedia.

What if you
don’t know how to have tough
conversations?

Jim Cummings EVP, Chief Human Resources Officer

“But just because there’s a willingness to talk about systemic issues like racism doesn’t mean
that everyone can do it easily, or comfortably or constructively. It can be really daunting to have conversations with Black colleagues about race when you are white. Or conversations about the experiences women have when you’re male, or the LGBTQ+ experience if you’re straight.

Real inclusivity, real diversity means everyone. So we asked the Equity and Inclusion team to create an expert-led program that not only gives people the tools and language to have those conversations, but also a space in which to be clumsy, to ask difficult questions,” Jim Cummings the EVP, Chief Human Resources Officer noted in the report.

One WarnerMedia source told the Blade that even having these conversations and a report laying out the type of ambitious plan for real equity and inclusiveness for the company’s employees is a solid goal- but there needs to be follow though and meaningful dialogue.

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Research/Study

490,000 LGBT people vulnerable to discrimination in Pennsylvania

Results show that nearly half (47%) of LGBT employees living in Pennsylvania have experienced discrimination

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Map courtesy of Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Facebook

LOS ANGELES – Pennsylvania’s legal landscape puts the state’s 416,000 LGBT adults and 74,000 LGBT youth at risk of discrimination and harassment. The social, economic, and health effects of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people negatively impact Pennsylvania’s economy by tens of millions of dollars each year, according to a new study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

In the study, researchers assessed the prevalence and impact of several forms of stigma and discrimination against LGBT people in Pennsylvania, including harassment and discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations; harassment and bullying in schools; and family rejection of LGBT youth.

Results show that nearly half (47%) of LGBT employees living in Pennsylvania have experienced discrimination or harassment at some point in their lives. An estimated 38% have looked for other jobs because of how they were personally treated by their employer or because the workplace was uncomfortable for LGBT people, and 11% have left a job because of unfair treatment by their employer.

“Pennsylvania has an opportunity to create a more supportive climate for LGBT people by, for example, including sexual orientation and gender identity in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, adding sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s hate crimes law, and codifying protections against sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination for prospective parents in adoption and foster care,” said lead author Christy Mallory, Legal Director at the Williams Institute.

ADDITIONAL FINDINGS

Many LGBT people in Pennsylvania experience economic instability.

  • 27% of LGBT adults in Pennsylvania reported having an annual household income below $24,000, compared to 18% of non-LGBT adults, according to Gallup data. Similarly, 26% of LGBT adults in the state reported that they do not have enough money for food, compared to 13% of non-LGBT adults.
  • 11% of LGBT adults in Pennsylvania reported that they were unemployed compared to 5% of non-LGBT adults, according to Gallup data.

LGBT people in the state experience negative health outcomes associated with stigma and discrimination.

  • Research indicates that stigma and discrimination contribute to adverse health outcomes for LGBT adults, such as major depressive disorder, binge drinking, substance use, and suicidality.
  • LGBT adults in Pennsylvania are significantly more likely to have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder, to binge drink, and to smoke than non-LGBT adults. According to data from the 2017 and 2018 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey:
    • 42% of LGBT adults in Pennsylvania reported having been diagnosed with a depressive disorder compared to 20% of non-LGBT adults.
    • 31% of LGBT adults in the state reported binge drinking compared to 17% of non-LGBT adults.
    • 32% of LGBT adults in the state reported that they currently smoke compared to 18% of non-LGBT adults.

Health disparities for LGBT people negatively impact Pennsylvania’s economy.

  • Reducing the disparity in major depressive disorder between LGBT and non-LGBT people in Pennsylvania by 25% to 33% could benefit the state’s economy by $170 million to $225 million annually in increased productivity and reduced health care costs each year.  
  • Reducing the disparity in binge drinking by the same proportion could benefit the state’s economy by $70 million to $93 million in increased productivity and reduced health care costs each year.
  • Reducing the disparity in current smoking by the same proportion could benefit the state’s economy by $112 million to $149 million in increased productivity and reduced health care costs each year.

Read the report

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