A vile myth reemerges: How the New York Times fumbled an important LGBT story

The Gray Lady doesn't bother to fact-check a debunked -- and deeply bigoted -- claim

Published December 5, 2014 7:37PM (EST)

                       (Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
(Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)

The New York Times reports that LGBT activists are gearing up to push for a landmark civil rights bill protecting the community from discrimination, a little more than one year after the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passed the U.S. Senate, only for House Speaker John Boehner to refuse to bring the measure to vote in his chamber.

Given that the political dynamics just got even worse -- an anti-gay Republican majority takes control of the U.S. Senate next month, and the House is slated to move even further to the right -- we likely won't see a sweeping LGBT civil rights bill anytime soon. Accordingly, the Times reports, advocates expect that the fight for such legislation could take 10 or more years.

With gay people lacking even basic employment protections in 29 states -- and no gender identity protections in 32 -- discrimination against LGBT people remains stubbornly persistent, despite the dramatic shift in public opinion on issues like marriage equality. The civil rights bill envisioned by LGBT advocates would outlaw employment discrimination, as well as discrimination in housing, education, jury service, lending, and public accommodations.

The "family values" crowd, you'll be shocked to learn, won't stand for this. While the sacred right to discriminate is the overarching concern that guides the anti-LGBT movement, the public accommodations issue particularly riles its ranks. The Times turned to the Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg to elaborate on social conservatives' concerns.

“This is where the term ‘bathroom bills’ has been coined,” Sprigg told the paper. “Applying gender protections to public accommodations would mean that you have situations in which people who are biologically male could claim that they have a civil right to use a female designated facility — including restrooms, showers and locker rooms.”

Sprigg's statement echoes the claims of other conservatives, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Campaigning against a Houston non-discrimination ordinance earlier this year, Huckabee asserted that allowing transgender women to use women's restrooms and locker rooms would be "unsafe for women and children," as it would open the door for sexual predators to steal into women's facilities.

When transphobes make such assertions, they sometimes imply that the transgender women themselves will commit sex assaults, while other times, they suggest that non-discrimination laws would allow a cisgender male (someone who was born male and continues to identify as such) to use the women's restroom if he so wished. The latter claim is downright false, while the former is disgustingly bigoted. Moreover, the transgender bathroom myth has absolutely no basis in reality. Law enforcement officials, sexual assault victims' advocates, and civil rights commission employees in states that have gender identity protections assail the myth as ridiculous; none have reported a single instance of sex assault because of gender identity protections. Surely, then, the paper of record informed its readers that Sprigg's pernicious bathroom claim is bunk.

Well, no. The Times allowed Sprigg to utter his transphobic smear, and moved right along. Why the paper decided to turn to Sprigg in the first place is a mystery. This is a guy who once said he'd "much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States" and who advocates for ex-gay therapy.

By all means, report what "both sides" are saying. But when one side relies purely on misinformation and bigotry, don't keep readers in the dark.

By Luke Brinker

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