An ad run by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association said, 'The Equality Act is a threat to life as we know it in our nation today.'
The religious right is using Facebook ads to disseminate misinformation about the Equality Act that could reach millions of people, according to a report published by the research and analysis organization Media Matters for America on Wednesday.
The act, federal legislation that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of "sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system," passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 25 and is now up for consideration in the Senate.
According to the report, Facebook allowed anti-LGBTQ groups to run at least eight ads that included links to websites that spread lies and distortions about what the Equality Act does ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill on March 17.
Information on the sites linked to the ads presents a nation in which the Equality Act passes as devoid of free religious expression and full of public schools that force a specific curriculum on students, which experts on LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections say nothing in the bill provides for.
The ads also associate transgender people with acts of sexual violence, a tactic that has a long history of being deployed by the religious right against LGBTQ equality.
The Family Policy Alliance, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the Illinois Family Institute are the groups behind the ads.
Last year, prominent anti-LGBTQ figures previewed what was to come when they made outrageous claims in November about what Joe Biden would do if he were elected president.
On Election Day, evangelical leader Franklin Graham talked about the Obama administration's so-called "gay lesbian agenda" and said, "I think if the Democratic Party wins again, they'll be right back with that agenda, and they'll be looking for businesses and ministries to target and to shut them out of business or even put them in jail. Who knows, but it's coming."
Facebook's amplification of anti-LGBTQ groups
Although Facebook took down an ad from the American Principles Project that made similar misleading claims and said it would change its policies on hate speech in June, including hate speech about LGBTQ people, Media Matters said the platform "is privileging right-wing and anti-LGBTQ groups while profiting from anti-trans misinformation and bigotry." In another report, the organization said that 65.7% of high-trafficked Facebook content on trans topics, receiving millions of views, was published by right-wing sources such as the Daily Wire and LifeSiteNews.
Adam Conner, vice president for technology policy at the Center for American Progress, who previously worked for Facebook, said these ads would seem to be prohibited by the social media platform's policies: "If they're not violating the policies, the policies need to be changed. I think in theory these ads should be able to be fact-checked by Facebook’s third-party fact-checkers, but it often takes them a while to do so, and even if they're false, there are ways around that."
What these groups are claiming about the Equality Act
The Family Policy Alliance released an ad calling the Equality Act "dangerous" and urged people to contact their senators, warning, "If it becomes law, the Act will serve as a backdoor way to sanction abortions, introduce explicit content in school curriculum, let boys win in girls' sports, pressure children toward experimental cross-sex hormones – and silence all of us who disagree."
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association told people who clicked on its ads, "I cannot say this more emphatically—for people, for businesses, for churches, and for ministries of faith, the Equality Act is a threat to life as we know it in our nation today." It called the bill "highly intrusive and incredibly far-reaching" and said it would "threaten the right of Christian and other religious ministries to hire people of shared faith to pursue a shared mission."
The Illinois Family Institute focused on the myth that transgender women are a threat to cisgender women in bathrooms and other spaces and called the Equality Act the "pet project of sex-eradicationists."
"Buh-bye religious liberty. It was nice knowing you these past glorious 230 years," the group said.
The Equality Act does not mandate that schools follow a certain curriculum or that they teach "explicit content." There has been no change in rates of participation in sports by high school girls in states that have inclusive sports policies for transgender people, while participation in states with sports bans or other anti-trans policies has declined.
Sharita Gruberg, vice president for the LGBTQ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, said, "When we were fighting for marriage equality, we saw these arguments as well. They would claim that this would force these houses of worship to conduct same-sex marriage in violation of their beliefs. That hasn't happened a single time."
She added, "The Equality Act does not suddenly overturn hundreds of years of constitutional law and the separation of church and state in this country."
Now that a majority of Americans say they support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, Gruberg said, anti-LGBTQ groups and their GOP allies in Congress have to resort to lies about what the legislation does.
"These claims are so easily refuted and so clearly false that I think it is telling in terms of the lack of real substantive opposition to the law," she said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.