Attorney General Jeff Sessions is drawing criticism for giving a closed-door speech Tuesday to the anti-LGBT, antichoice legal group Alliance Defending Freedom.
Sessions was scheduled to speak at the group’s “religious freedom summit” in Orange County, Calif., as first reported by BuzzFeed Tuesday. The speech was closed to the media, and there’s not even any mention of it on the ADF website. The event was listed on Sessions’s public schedule, but the Department of Justice, which he heads, declined further comment.
Among ADF’s clients is Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, a Colorado baker found to have violated the state’s antidiscrimination law by refusing to provide a cake for a same-sex wedding. The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to hear his appeal.
Democratic National Committee spokesman Joel Kasnetz released a statement condemning Sessions’s appearance before the group. “You can judge a person by the company they keep and tonight — Attorney General Jeff Sessions is choosing to spend his time speaking in front of one of the country’s leading anti-LGBTQ hate groups,” Kasnetz said Tuesday. “The Alliance Defending Freedom actively helped draft discriminatory legislation, worked to preserve laws criminalizing same-sex relations, and attacked the separation of church and state. ADF has been previously designated a hate group and Sessions’ appearance at this event, as the top law enforcement official in the country, brings in to question whether the attorney general intends to protect all Americans.”
The hate group designation comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization. “ADF has been extremely active in pushing for so-called ‘religious liberty’ laws around the country that allow Christians to discriminate against LGBT people,” the SPLC noted on its website. “ADF also has supported the criminalization of homosexual sex and is involved in attempting to marginalize trans students in public schools by warning schools that trans-inclusive policies will expose them to tort liability.”
Sessions this year rescinded guidance that the Justice and Education departments had issued under President Obama recommending that schools use trans students’ preferred names and pronouns and let them use the restrooms and other facilities comporting with their gender identity. Sessions has claimed he is committed to protecting the rights of LGBT people, but this action and his long anti-LGBT record as a U.S. senator and law enforcement official belie such statements.
SPLC deputy legal director David Dinielli told the Washington Blade that Sessions should release his ADF speech to the public.
“The Alliance Defending Freedom has rightfully earned its designation as a hate group by demonizing LGBT people,” Dinielli said. “If Attorney General Jeff Sessions doesn’t condone such beliefs, he should immediately make his remarks to the group public and be prepared to defend them. The LGBT community — as well as all Americans — needs to know if he is capable of upholding our country’s fundamental promise of equal protection under the law.” The SPLC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Session's speech.