Mary Emily O’Hara
Apr 8 2017
Bills have been introduced in 15 states nationwide this year that aim to restrict transgender people’s access to sex-segregated facilities. From Minnesota to New York, many of the legislative bills awaiting votes focus specifically on schools as kids and teens find themselves at the center of a battle over bathrooms.
But many of the so-called “bathroom bills” filed across multiple states closely resemble each other. That’s because many used language strongly similar to the model legislation called the Student Physical Privacy Act drafted by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a powerful conservative Christian law firm with a decades-long track record of litigating against LGBT rights. It’s also been labeled a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The firm’s model legislation is mirrored in — sometimes identical to — proposed state bills around the country. Minnesota’s 2017 Student Physical Privacy Act is a word-for-word copy of the ADF legislation. A 2016 Kansas bill to create a student privacy act was an ADF twin as well. While the Kansas bill died after public outcry over a provision allowing students to sue their schools every time they encountered a trans classmate in a restroom, the Minnesota bill is currently awaiting a hearing. NBC News examined a handful of similar bills in Texas, Illinois, Kentucky, South Dakota, and Nevada that all appeared to be influenced by the model legislation. Dozens of such bills were proposed in early 2017.
In February 2016, the Washington Post quoted ADF attorney Matt Sharp saying that “lawmakers in at least five states” had used the model legislation. Sharp also told the Post that ADF had mailed its Student Physical Privacy Act to “thousands” of school districts.
Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, travels the country testifying at legislative hearings and meeting with local advocates. She told NBC News that Alliance Defending Freedom is nearly always involved in some way.
“Sometimes legislators tell us. Sometimes the ADF lawyers are there. Sometimes you can tell if you know that’s who did the bill in X state, and you see it again in Y state,” said Keisling.
Alliance Against LGBT rights?
Alliance Defending Freedom is a nonprofit law firm founded in 1994 by six notable conservative Christian men: James Dobson of Focus on the Family; Bill Bright and Larry Burkett of Campus Crusade for Christ; Marlin Maddoux of International Christian Media; D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries; and Alan Sears, former director of the anti-pornography Meese Commission and author of the 2003 book “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing the Principal Threat to Religious Freedom Today.”
According to its June 2015 financial disclosure, ADF’s work includes training and support, public education, and legal advocacy that “champions inherent God-given freedoms that allow for the flourishing of all people throughout the world while affirming the dignity of every person as created in God’s holy image.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Alliance Defending Freedom mission differently: “Making life as difficult as possible for LGBT communities in the U.S. and internationally” by fighting against same-sex marriage and transgender people’s access to private facilities.