Aryn Fields, HRC’s senior press secretary, said that HRC has deducted 25 points from Fox Corp.’s score in its Corporate Equality Index. Fox Corp. had been among the companies earning a “100 percent” rating as best places to work for LGBTQ+ quality.
Fields said in a statement, “Fox News has a history of sharing misinformation and disinformation about the LGBTQ+ community. We know from our own research, which we put out earlier this week, what their disinformation and misinformation means for the LGBTQ+ community: perpetuating stigma and marginalization of transgender and non-binary people.
Fields added, “At a time when transgender people – especially transgender children – are under attack in statehouses across the country, rhetoric has real consequences. We can no longer allow Fox Corporation to maintain it’s score if Fox News personalities and contributors continue to deny the existence of transgender people, minimize the violence transgender individuals face, refer to parents of LGBTQ+ youth as perverts, or equate leaders of LGBTQ+ diversity and inclusion efforts with sex offenders. Each of these actions happened in the last 72 hours. Enough is enough.”
In response, Fox News pointed to its hiring this week of Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender athlete and former gubernatorial candidate. The company also pointed to a number of LGBTQ+ benefits offered in support of same sex, trans and non-binary employees, including those for mastectomy surgery, tracheal shave or reduction thyroid chondroplasty and facial feminization surgery primarily, as well as puberty blockers for transgender youth.
Fox Corp. has received a 100% score for the past several years, something that it has promoted on its website. The distinction is given to companies that “are committed to implementing LGBTQ-inclusive policies and practices.”
But a number of its personalities and commentators have targeted The Walt Disney Co. after it came out against Florida’s new parental rights law, which has been dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill by opponents. HRC’s action came in the aftermath of Governor Ron DeSantis’s signing of the bill, as other states consider similar legislation. It prohibits classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity from Kindergarten through third grade.
The progressive advocacy group Media Matters said that Fox News has mentioned Disney more than 350 times this week and has given it more than three hours of coverage. HRC pointed to a number of segments on the network, including a clip from The Five in which Greg Gutfeld said, “If you really want to talk to a 5-year-old or a 7-year-old or an 8-year-old about their sexuality and gender, that’s on you. You’re a pervert. You’re a weirdo. I don’t give a damn if you’re a teacher.” In a segment on his show, Tucker Carlson interviewed Chris Rufo, who had posted a leaked video from a Disney staff meeting, where LGBTQ representation was discussed, and claimed that the company was trying to “inject queerness” into children’s programming. After interviewing Rufo about the staff meeting, Carlson said that “it sounds like the behavior of a sex offender. Normal people don’t sexualize underage children.” Jesse Watters referred to Disney as the “wokest place on earth.”
The network pointed to segments in which it has featured in which commentators express support for the LGBTQ+ community, but see the issue as one of parental rights. On Hannity, Fox News contributor Tammy Bruce objected to the bill being portrayed as “don’t say gay.” “So everyone, every parent out there, you being against this does not make you a homophobe. It makes you someone who cares about your children,” she said. On Outnumbered, Emily Compagno said, “We are all for trans protection, we are also for parental choice.”
It’s relatively rare for HRC to call out a company on its Corporate Equality Index outside of an annual review period. Saks Fifth Avenue was suspended in 2015 after the company initially claimed that transgender employees were not covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In 2017, HRC rejected the donations of Bank of America and demoted the company on its index after helping to broker a law that prevented local governments from enacting non-discrimination ordinances for four years.
Opponents of the Florida legislation see the Florida bill as not merely an issue of parental rights, but a purposeful targeting of LGBTQ+ individuals for political gain. Some point to the long history of efforts to characterize gays, lesbians and transgender individuals as threats to children.
A spokesperson for another LGBTQ organization, GLAAD, issued a statement on Thursday about the coverage of the Florida law. “Transgender people and youth are under attack by inaccurate and harmful legislation and rhetoric from elected officials targeting their access to safe and lifesaving healthcare, as well as access to school sports, books, the bathroom, and dangerous classroom censorship. Fox News, its commentators, and all media can do more to elevate these facts over misinformation and inaccurate opinion that further endangers vulnerable people.”
The spokesperson added, “Corporations including Disney are listening to their LGBTQ employees who understandably don’t want to be discriminated against and want their kids’ classrooms to be safe spaces for everyone to learn, not be censored.”