Let’s say that you’re the editor of a respectable and generally progressive publication. You’re considering publishing a piece. Unfortunately, you’ve got all these namby-pamby writers telling you that the author of this piece is, in fact, a total bigoted crypto-homophobe (i.e. someone who claims not to be a raging homophobe but totally is).
If you’re a decent human being, you’ll look into this. Failing the basic humanity test, if you’re interested in keeping your job, you’ll still investigate the matter further and try to determine if this person is a crypto-homophobe and if their piece is barely disguised hate-group propaganda. Here are some questions you should ask.
Does this person hang out with bigots and homophobes online?
Look at who this person interacts with online. Are they openly antigay? Or other crypto-homophobes? Do they hang out in online forums for people who hate gays and people promoting familial rejection of gay teens and forcing them into conversion therapy? Would you characterize these interactions between the author and these people as friendly? If the answer to this is yes, it’s a huge red flag.
Does this person have a strong following of antigay bigots?
Look at this person’s Twitter followers. Does it look like a Values Voter Summit reunion? Are there people with “God Hates Fags” as their motto everywhere? Then the guy is obviously someone antigay bigots love.
Have LGBT groups denounced the author’s previous articles?
Has the Human Rights Campaign denounced previous articles by this guy for their content? Is GLAAD leaving you email warnings not to publish him because he’s a raging bigot and his material is antigay propaganda? Remember, it’s not up to religious nutters to decide what’s homophobic.
Do bigots seem to love his work?
When he has published articles in the past, do people who openly identify as antigay share his work on social media in an approving way? Do the Alliance Defending Freedom, Westboro Baptist Church, and the Family Research Council use it as “proof” that their ideas about gay people are mainstream? Does PFOX (an “ex-gay” organization) routinely post his work as “proof” that conversion therapy works and parents should reject their children’s sexual orientation? If people and groups that are unapologetically and rabidly antigay love his work, and gay people are denouncing it, then it’s probably apologetics or propaganda for people who really hate gay people.
Do hate groups routinely cite his work in promoting the narrative that gays are a sexual threat to women and children?
Do some poking around online and find the recent “academic” works of antigay hate groups. If you find the author and his works repeatedly referenced in APA or Chicago Manual style in policy papers by hate groups as supporting evidence for their positions, this is a giant red flag that the author may be deliberately trying to put an academic veneer on the positions of hate groups.
Has the author ever repudiated his work being used by hate groups to support their positions?
Suppose you give the author the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his work being used to academically whitewash virulently antigay positions. Is he aware that it is being used this way? If he is, has he tried to repudiate how it is being used? If the answers are yes, he’s aware, and he’s done nothing to prevent it from being used this way, then the logical conclusion is that he’s fine with how his work is being used.
What have the author’s interactions with gay people been like?
How has he treated the reactions of gay people to his previous work? Has he accused them of overreacting? Or being activists and ideologues? If this writer has poor relationships with gay people in real life, it’s a sign that he holds them in contempt and would be further evidence that the man is a bigoted crypto-homophobe.
So let’s say that you either suck at being an editor or are secretly also a hate-group sympathizer. If you don’t ask any of these questions and end up publishing the piece, it shouldn’t come as any surprise when groups dedicated to wiping out the “homosexual menace” everywhere are celebrating their breakthrough in mainstream, centrist media. Hate groups and people who really openly hate gay people are pushing it out on their social media feeds, and GLAAD and HRC are both putting out press releases decrying what you just published.
Now, let’s back up here for a second. All of these questions could be applied to any hate group working to destroy a vulnerable minority community. White nationalists. Neo-Nazis. Religious extremists and TERFs who want transgender people “morally legislated out of existence.” These guidelines apply universally.
Which brings me to Jesse Singal and The Atlantic. The Atlantic was warned that he and his work are biased and transphobic. Comparing the positions of the people who love Singal to those of other hate groups is not a stretch in the slightest. Right-wingers and TERFs who want to see transgender people eradicated love his work. And he’s OK with it.
His Twitter following is rife with people who openly hate transgender people. He regularly interacts with them online in both social media and in their forums, where he finds people to interview who want transgender kids put in reparative therapy and transgender adults stripped of all legal protections and access to medical care.
He is cited by the Family Research Council in support of its plan to commit cultural genocide of transgender people by creating a legal and cultural environment too toxic to survive in. He is beloved by the people who threaten to execute transgender people in bathrooms. He’s been denounced by LGBT organizations for his writings, and his interactions with transgender people have been creepy and aggressive.
The Atlantic knew all of this and went ahead and published him anyway. TERFs and religious right-wing hate groups shared it widely and cited it as proof that even the centrist media was turning on transgender people and that soon the threat of “transgender ideology” would be extinguished forever.
This was a deliberate mainstreaming of ideas held by people who want to extirpate transgender people from American life through crowdsourced discrimination mixed with a legal and policy framework designed to force transgender people to remain in the closet forever. This is the sort of propaganda that gets people killed, whether through reparative therapy, beatings, or laws that destroy a community.
Look at what’s happening in Texas. Look at Ohio. Look at Singal’s article. Notice how it dovetails with these horrific, draconian measures promoting reparative therapy, outing transgender youth against their will, and denying medical care? Singal can claim he doesn’t support them, but the content of his article certainly does; namely that transgender youth should not be supported in their identities and should not have access to medical care. It has been used this way, it is being used this way, and it will continue to be.
So congratulations, Atlantic. You just published the biggest, most mainstream pro-conversion therapy article since Newsweek put John Paulk of Exodus International on its cover in August 1998. Despite the fact that hate groups and transphobic bigots loved it, and transgender people hated it, you still have no clue that this piece was far from neutral.
Or, more likely, you knew this all along and simply don’t care.
BRYNN TANNEHILL is a former naval aviator who currently serves on the boards of SPARTA and the Trans United Fund. She has nearly 300 published articles across a dozen platforms. She lives in Northern Virginia with her wife and three children.