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Right-wing media blame LGBTQ+ equality, “pride flags” for crisis in Ukraine

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine conservative outlets took aim at President Joe Biden’s repeal of the ban on transgender service members

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Alex Paterson & Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – Right-wing media figures are using the ongoing crisis in Ukraine to attack “wokeness” in the U.S. military, claiming acceptance of LGBTQ service members and a drive for inclusion have provided an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to start a war. 

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a crisis that itself threatens the lives of LGBTQ Ukrainians, conservative outlets took aim at President Joe Biden’s repeal of the ban on transgender service members and other inclusive policies, including the military’s diversity training, which they have falsely labeled “critical race theory.” 

Right-wing pundits continue to promote a culture war narrative that advancing LGBTQ rights poses a threat to America’s international security. After the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August 2021, right-wing figures blamed “woke ideology” and pushed the false claim that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul flew a LGBTQ pride flag on its rooftop ahead of the Taliban’s takeover.

Conservative pundits are once again using the war on Ukraine as a political cudgel to attack LGBTQ people:   

  • On February 23, Fox News host Tucker Carlson denigrated “trans rights,” saying they’re one of the “values” White House press secretary Jen Psaki was referencing when she discussed the “costs” of “standing up for our values” regarding Russia’s attacks on Ukraine.
  • Appearing on The Five, Fox News host Pete Hegseth claimed Americans were “running around talking about genders and reparations” and “as a result, [Putin] thinks this is his moment to make an aggressive move.”
  • National Review senior writer Michael Brendan Dougherty published an op-ed on February 22 criticizing the U.S State Department for pulling personnel from the Ukrainian Embassy ahead of Russia’s invasion, asserting, “The State Department spends an inordinate amount of time promoting progressive values, such as flying pride flags in the few European countries that have not yet legally recognized same-sex marriage, or holding seminars on diversity.”
  • Far-right conspiracy theorist Paul Joseph Watson posted a video to YouTube on February 24 discussing Russia’s invasion, with Watson mockingly saying, “It turns out that repealing Trump’s ban on [trans people] in the military didn’t deter Putin. Turns out that the Pentagon’s effort to help nonbinary people who identify as they/them serve openly in the military didn’t deter Putin.” 
  • An article from The American Spectator had a subheadline that read “A military that gives priority to climate change, LGBTQ+ issues, and the virtues of democratic socialism is surely inviting Putin to bite off even bigger chunks of Ukraine,” with the article asserting that military leadership was putting an “emphasis … on wokeness” and that Biden’s “tough talk doesn’t impress adversaries who know that a woke military is no threat to them.” 
  • Daily Wire podcast host Matt Walsh asked if the U.S. military had “recruited enough lesbians? Are our armed forces sufficiently trans inclusive?”
  • Later on his podcast, Walsh said it was “not a coincidence that this has happened after Biden spent his first year in office focusing primarily on wokeness and intentionally making our military weaker and more feminine.” Walsh later played an ad from the Army featuring a lesbian couple, responding by saying, “How could Putin do what he’s doing right now? Doesn’t he know that western countries have the most diverse, equitable, tolerant, and trans-inclusive militaries in the history of the world? And he’s still messing with us? Wow. I mean, it’s almost like we’re nothing but a joke at this point.” He later claimed that Biden was attempting to “fill our military with lesbians who can’t do three pushups.” 
  • Daily Wire editor emeritus Ben Shapiro tweeted that “Russia and China are focused on expanding their spheres of influence via aggressive action. The West is focused on expanding its national debt and exploding the gender binary.”

During the February 24 edition of PragerU’s Will & Amala Live, anti-LGBTQ pundit Dennis Prager denigrated Adm. Rachel Levine, the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, saying, “under Democratic leadership the country’s military is much weaker and is perceived as such by our enemies. Just the fact that — is no offense against the individual — but a transgender Admiral does not induce fear on the part of our enemies, it makes us look like we are more interested in woke than we are in power.”

Fox News contributor Lisa Boothe asserted that Russia chose to capitalize off America being “weak” because “our focus is flying pride flags around the world.”

On the February 24 edition of Newsmax’s Dick Morris Democracy, frequent Newsmax guest John Mills asserted that Russia’s invasion was “the fruit of wokeness and CRT training,” adding, “Putin and Xi of China are not impressed by this. In fact, it only emboldens them and encourages them to be adventurous. And this is what the fruit of the wokeness culture is delivering.”

  • Fox News ran an article on February 25 headlined “Georgia GOP candidate, a retired Marine colonel, urges military to reverse transgender policy amid Ukraine war.” The article centered around an interview with Mitchell Swan, a Republican candidate for US Congress in Georgia, who claimed, “welcoming individuals with gender dysphoria into the ranks may weaken military performance and sends a message of weakness to America’s adversaries in crises such as Ukraine and Afghanistan.”
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold in a February 10 op-ed for Task & Purpose described what he called “critical military theory,” claiming, “Individuality or group identity is corrosive and a centrifugal force” in the military. 
  • In an article on Russia’s invasion, The Washington Times cited Newbold’s op-ed, stating that the “Biden administration efforts to promote social engineering and ‘woke’ diversity and inclusivity policies pose a danger to U.S. military warfighting capabilities, according to a retired three-star general.” The article went on to say Newbold’s criticism of “the Pentagon’s ‘woke’ policies” were a response to the Biden administration’s “efforts to promote climate change, gender identity politics and critical race theory in the ranks of the armed forces.” 
  • Right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza tweeted a segment from his podcast in which he cited Newbold, saying that “it’s really refreshing to hear from a Marine who is not in high heels” and claiming Newbold is taking a stand “in the face of all this kind of wokeness, this racial propaganda, this gender nonsense.” D’Souza later reiterated his support for Newbold’s position, claiming, “The only group that should matter is the military group itself. So the only group identity that works is patriotism — love of country, we’re all in this together. But any other group identity — I’m Black, I’m hispanic, I’m gay, I’m Asian — any of that is going to create sub-groups within the group [and] undermine military morale.”
  • Far-right radio host Michael Berry warned Russia and China to not “get any idea,” mockingly adding, “We still have some badasses left in our military and some good high-tech missiles and shit we can hit you with, as soon as everyone gets out of the gender tolerance [meeting].”

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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.

Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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

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New study on resilience & mental health among LGBTQ youth

LGBTQ youth with high resilience had 59% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt- 69% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project observing the 53rd anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn that sparked a greater movement for LGBTQ+ rights and equality this week, released new data that examines resilience and mental health among LGBTQ youth.

“As we celebrate Pride Month and commemorate the Stonewall Riots, there is often discussion of the ‘resilience’ of the LGBTQ community and the ways in which members are able to bounce back in the face of adversity. These data highlight the fact that resilience is not just an admirable quality – but one that can be associated with improved mental health among LGBTQ youth,” said Dr. Jonah DeChants, Research Scientist at The Trevor Project.

“Higher resilience in our sample was consistently associated with better mental health outcomes including decreased risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts in the past year among LGBTQ youth. Moving forward, we should invest further research into understanding how LGBTQ youth can successfully develop high resilience. Additionally, we should work to dismantle systems of oppression and implement LGBTQ-inclusive anti-discrimination protections  so that LGBTQ youth are not required to possess resilience to excel and thrive.” 

Key Findings:

  • LGBTQ youth with high resilience had 59% lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt, and 69% lower odds of considering suicide in the past year, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth with high resilience reported 81% lower odds  of anxiety symptoms, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth with  high resilience reported 79% lower odds of recent depression, compared to LGBTQ youth with low resilience. 
  • LGBTQ youth who have supportive families and  are in supportive environments have higher resilience.
  • LGBTQ youth ages 18 to 24 reported significantly higher resilience than LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 17. 

Read the report:

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Research/Study

150 people on Tennessee’s sex offender registry for HIV-related conviction

Nearly one-half of HIV registrants on the SOR were women and over three-quarters of HIV registrants were Black

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES – At least 154 people have been placed on Tennessee’s sex offender registry (SOR) for an HIV-related conviction since 1993, according to a new report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

Enforcement of HIV crimes in Tennessee disproportionately affects women and Black people. Nearly one-half of HIV registrants on the SOR were women and over three-quarters of HIV registrants were Black.

Tennessee’s two primary HIV criminalization laws—aggravated prostitution and criminal exposure—make it a felony for people living with HIV to engage in sex work or other activities, such as intimate contact, blood donation, or needle exchange, without disclosing their status. Both are considered a “violent sexual offense” and require a person convicted to register as a sex offender for life.

Examining Tennessee’s sex offender registry, researchers found that Shelby County, home to Memphis, accounts for most of the state’s HIV convictions. Shelby County makes up only 13% of Tennessee’s population and 37% of the population of people living with HIV in the state, but 64% of HIV registrants on the SOR. Moreover, while Black Tennesseans were only 17% of the state’s population and 56% of people living with HIV in the state, 75% of all HIV registrants were Black.

In Shelby County, 91% of aggravated prostitution convictions resulted from police sting operations in which no physical contact ever occurred. In addition, the case files showed that 75% of those convicted were Black women. When it came to criminal exposure case files, all of those convicted except one person were Black men.

“Tennessee’s HIV criminal laws were enacted at a time when little was known about HIV and before modern medical advances were available to treat and prevent HIV,” said lead author Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Analyst at the Williams Institute. “Tennessee’s outdated laws do not require actual transmission or the intent to transmit HIV. Moreover, the laws ignore whether the person living with HIV is in treatment and virally suppressed and therefore cannot transmit HIV.”

KEY FINDINGS

  • Incarcerating people for HIV-related offenses has cost Tennessee at least $3.8 million.
  • Of the 154 people who have been placed on Tennessee’s SOR for an HIV-related conviction, 51% were convicted of aggravated prostitution, 46% were convicted of criminal exposure, and 3% were convicted of both.
  • Women account for 26% of people living with HIV in Tennessee and 4% of people on the SOR, but 46% of the SOR’s HIV registrants.
  • Black people account for 17% of people living in Tennessee, 56% of those living with HIV, 27% of people on the SOR, but 75% of the SOR’s HIV registrants.
  • Black women were the majority of aggravated prostitution registrants (57%), while Black men were the majority of criminal exposure registrants (64%).
  • People with an HIV-related offense are more economically vulnerable when compared to others on the state’s SOR.
    • One in five (19%) HIV registrants were homeless compared to 9% of all SOR registrants.
    • 28% of HIV registrants reported an employer address compared to about half (49%) of all SOR registrants.
  • Shelby County has one aggravated prostitution conviction for every 115 people living with HIV in the county, and Black people were 90% of all people convicted for aggravated prostitution.
    • Over 90% of aggravated prostitution convictions in Shelby County were the result of police sting operations.
    • Only 3% of aggravated prostitution convictions in Shelby County alleged any intimate contact.
    • Nearly all (95%) people arrested in Shelby County for criminal exposure were Black men, compared to 64% of people statewide.  

The Williams Institute has conducted research on HIV criminalization in numerous U.S. states.

Read the report

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Research/Study

New Pew Research Center poll: Americans at odds over Trans issues 

Strong majorities favor non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors

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Texas trans activist Landon Richie speaking at Texas Capitol against trans youth sports bill (Los Angeles Blade file photo)

WASHINGTON – A new survey from a leading non-partisan research center reveals Americans have mixed views on transgender issues at a time when states are moving forward with measures against transgender youth, with strong majorities favoring non-discrimination protections but weaker support for access to transition-related care among minors and participation in school sports.

The Pew Research Center issued the findings on Tuesday as part of the results of its ongoing study to better understand Americans’ views about gender identity and people who are transgender or non-binary. The findings are based on a survey of 10,188 U.S. adults from data collected as part of a larger survey conducted May 16-22.

A majority of respondents by wide margins favor non-discrimination protections for transgender people. A full 64 percent back laws or policies that would protect transgender people from discrimination in jobs, housing, and public spaces, while roughly 8-in-10 acknowledge transgender people face at least some discrimination in our society.

Additionally, nearly one half of Americans say it’s extremely important to use a transgender person’s new name after they undergo a transition, while an additional 22 percent say that is somewhat important. A smaller percentage, 34 percent, say using a transgender person’s pronouns is extremely important, and 21 percent say it is somewhat important.

But other findings were less supportive:

  • 60 percent say a person’s gender is determined by sex assigned at birth, reflecting an increase from 56 percent in 2021 and 54 percent in 2017, compared to 38 percent who say gender can be different from sex assigned at birth.
  • 54 percent say society has either gone too far or been about right in terms of acceptance, underscoring an ambivalence around transgender issues even among those who see at least some discrimination against transgender people.
  • About six-in-ten adults, or 58 precent, favor proposals that would require transgender athletes to compete on teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth as opposed to teams consistent with their gender identity, compared to 17 percent who oppose that and 24 percent neither favor nor oppose it.
  • 46 percent favor making it illegal for health care professionals to provide transition-related care, such as hormones or gender reassignment surgery, to someone younger than 18, compared to 31 percent who oppose it.
  • Americans are more evenly split when it comes to making it illegal for public school districts to teach about gender identity in elementary schools (which is favored by 41 percent, and opposed by 38 percent) and investigating parents for child abuse if they help someone younger than 18 obtain transition-related care (37 percent are in favor and 36 percent oppose it).

Young adults took the lead in terms of supporting change and acceptance. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a man or a woman even if that differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, compared to about four-in-10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about one-third of respondents 50 and older.

Predictably, stark differences could be found along party lines. Democrats by 59 precent say society hasn’t gone far enough in accepting people who are transgender, while 15 percent say it has gone too far and 24 percent say it’s been about right. For Republicans, 10 percent say society hasn’t gone far enough, while 66 percent say it’s gone too far and 22 percent say it’s been about right.

Read the full report here.

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