Megyn Kelly was supposed to be a harbinger of the Fox News Channel's "gay rights revolution," but she's used her prime-time spot to enable some of the country's most extreme anti-LGBT activists.
At the height of the controversy over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson's homophobic remarks in a December interview with GQ magazine, Kelly invited GLAAD consultant Jeremy Hooper to appear on The Kelly File and weigh in on the firestorm.
She also invited Tony Perkins, president of the notorious antigay hate group the Family Research Council, to appear immediately afterward.
During his segment, Hooper urged Kelly to hold Perkins accountable for his extensive history of bigoted rhetoric. "What specifically? Because I'll ask him," Kelly promised. Hooper pointed to Perkins's endorsement of a Ugandan bill that would have imposed the death penalty for homosexuality, his claim that gay people face "eternal damnation," and his comparisons of gay people with terrorists.
In the segment that followed, however, Kelly didn't ask Perkins to explain his virulent antigay rhetoric. Instead, she introduced him as the leader of "a group whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and culture from a Christian worldview":
Kelly's failure to hold Perkins accountable is a case study in her broader habit of mainstreaming antigay hate.
In the seven months since The Kelly File launched in October, Fox's 9 p.m. hour has been a friendly forum for some of the country's most odious antigay extremists, including Perkins, the far-right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, and, most recently, the Benham brothers, the home renovators whose rabidly antigay activism led HGTV to cancel their planned reality show.
Since Kelly's promotion to Fox's prime-time lineup, she has hosted Perkins six times. (Filling in for Kelly on the December 27 edition of the program, Shannon Bream hosted Perkins an additional time.) Perkins has used his appearances to condemn Arizona governor Jan Brewer's veto of her state's "license to discriminate" bill, champion anti-LGBT discrimination, opine on gay NFL draftee Michael Sam, and lambaste HGTV for pulling the plug on the Benham brothers' show.
Kelly's willingness to grant Perkins a platform isn't a recent development. As a daytime host on Fox's America Live, she provided Perkins the opportunity to peddle antigay talking points with impunity – and often parroted the same talking points herself, asking Perkins why gay rights activists are so intolerant and defending him and other "openly religious" leaders against charges of bigotry.
Meanwhile, Kelly has invited ADF to defend businesses' antigay discrimination on her program. While other cable news anchors have exposed ADF's antigay extremism – including its international work to criminalize homosexuality – Kelly gave the group the same treatment she afforded Perkins, failing to hold ADF to account for its disturbing work.
The Benham brothers could also count on Kelly to downplay their history of strident antigay and Islamophobic activism, including condemning homosexuality as "demonic" and "destructive." On last Monday's edition of her show, she called the backlash to their activism "incredible" and asked them to enlighten the audience on their "more traditional views":
One group that hasn't had the chance to convey its message on The Kelly File is the American Family Association, an antigay hate group whose spokesman believes gay men were responsible for the Holocaust and has assailed Kelly herself as "resentful," "angry," "hostile," and "bitter." But the AFA was actually slated to be featured on the October 16 edition of the show, an appearance bumped by breaking news coverage of Congress's 11th-hour resolution to its debt ceiling standoff.
At a network that all too often conflates homophobia and Christianity, whitewashing of antigay extremism hardly stands out. But Kelly is supposed to be a different kind of Fox anchor. Breaking with many of her colleagues, Kelly has staked out pro-LGBT positions, prompting BuzzFeed to herald Kelly in 2012 as a sign of how "the gay rights revolution" had arrived at Fox News (a premise that continues to prove flawed).
What makes Kelly arguably the best friend an antigay extremist could have on Fox isn't that she agrees with people like Perkins on every issue. In fact, it's just the opposite. It's precisely because Kelly isn't seen as an anti-LGBT hack that her willingness to elevate groups like the FRC and ADF to positions of respectability makes her so dangerous.
The more that groups like the FRC can convince people like Kelly to take them seriously, the easier time they'll have billing themselves as credible organizations, their records notwithstanding. As a self-professed straight shooter, Kelly shouldn't fall for such ploys. It's one thing to treat viewers to spirited debates on issues of current affairs and public policy. It's quite another to treat toxic homophobic activists as legitimate participants in those debates. Megyn Kelly may have earned accolades for her occasional pro-LGBT commentary, but her willingness to cozy up to some of the country's most fanatical anti-LGBT bigots will leave a much bigger stain on her legacy at Fox News.
LUKE BRINKER has been a researcher at Equality Matters since July. He holds an MA in the social sciences from the University of Chicago. This op-ed was also posted Wednesday on EqualityMatters.org