#First100Days Crash Course: Week 9

Coinciding with Trump’s first 100 days in Office — a period of time historically used as a benchmark to measure the potential of a new president — PRA will share readings, videos, and tools for organizing to inform our collective resistance based on principles for engaging the regime, defending human rights, and preventing authoritarianism. Daily readings will be posted on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and archived HERE.


Opposition to LGBTQ equality has long been both a fundamental value and useful political tool for many American conservative organizations, especially those associated with the Christian Right. Even as visibility and mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ people grows, homophobia and transphobia continue to serve as key ingredients in the Christian Right’s ongoing “pro-family” campaign, which enforces a Biblically mandated heterosexuality, champions gender essentialism or “complementarity,” and prioritizes procreation.

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Engage: Schools in Transition


A guide for parents, students, educators, administrators and other stakeholders are working together to determine the best ways to support transgender students. This guide highlights best practices while offering strategies for building upon and aligning them with each school’s culture.

Check out the guide HERE.

The Christian Right’s Love Affair with Anti-Trans Feminists

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.


Intersectionality /ˌintərˈsekSHənˈalitē/ noun the linking of different systems of power and oppression (e.g. racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, etc.), which can occur at different levels—individual, interpersonal, family, community, and institutional.

Since American professor Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced the term in 1989, “intersectionality” has become 21st Century activism’s favorite buzzword. Nearly 30 years later, though, social justice organizers are still struggling to get it right; meanwhile, the Right is more than happy to exploit our yet-to-be-fully-realized aspirations, effectively taking advantage of internal conflicts and rifts to further advance an agenda that does deep, deep damage to all of us.

In this current political moment of heightened anti-trans targeting, when school boards and legislatures across the country are debating whether or not transgender people should be allowed access to public facilities, one wedge of particular note and intrigue is the Right’s assertion that the bathroom hysteria they’ve whipped up isn’t an anti-trans campaign, but rather a pro-woman one. As Joseph Backholm, executive director of the right-wing Family Policy Institute of Washington State, argues, the “transgender phenomenon” isn’t just an attack on women’s privacy, but a “war on womanhood” itself. And under the guise of feminism, they’re ready to go to battle, their patriarchal battle cry being, “Protect our girls!”

The Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs).

Although there’s a strong and growing presence of trans-feminist thought and activism, the Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs), a term coined in 2008 by cisgender women seeking to name a dangerous vein in the feminist movement and assert themselves as trans allies, distinct from their anti-trans counterparts.

Although most categorized as TERFs reject the label (as well as the term cisgender) and consider it to be insulting, they openly espouse their anti-trans notion that trans women “aren’t really women”—that real womanhood is exclusively determined on a natal, biological level. These arguments (key elements of what’s called “gender essentialism”) align themselves with and fuel the flames of right-wing transphobia. TERFs also maintain that trans men are simply women who are “traitors,” but like the Right, most of their venom is saved for trans women.

The current surge of anti-trans attacks cropping up in legislatures and school boards across the country has come as a shock to many LGB activists. Still basking in the glow of last year’s marriage equality victory, many failed to realize that the trickle-down justice strategy of mainstream gay rights organizations was inherently flawed. That 2015 was also a year in which more trans women were killed by acts of extreme violence in the U.S. than any year prior on record makes this painfully evident.

In response to laws like North Carolina’s HB 2 (described by Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation”), activists quickly mobilized resistance against some of the most obvious targets—people like Gov. Pat McCrory and other Republican leaders responsible for hastily forcing the law through the state’s legislature. Others attempted to pull back the curtain, calling out the role of national right-wing organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, a massive and deep-pocketed network of conservative lawyers that has spent the last two decades manipulating and redefining religious freedom in order to advance their Christian Right agenda.

As noted above, however, the forces at play in this current anti-trans offensive are not exclusively right-wing operatives. TERF scholarship laid a cultural and intellectual foundation upon which the Right could build an argument that would appeal to both conservatives and certain sectors of the Left.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

In June 2015, the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council (FRC) laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement.” The right-wing group’s position paper was co-authored by Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC, and Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida. Sprigg has argued that transgender people suffer from “delusions” and he is a proponent of so-called “reparative therapy.” O’Leary depicts transgender people as “liars” and suggests that “sexual liberationists” are “targeting children” in order to expose them to “molesters and exhibitionists masquerading as sex educators.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, the two dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people (thereby justifying their persecution), and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. Specifically, FRC argues against providing trans people with access to gender-affirming healthcare, life-saving gender transition procedures, legal recognition, protection from discrimination, and the right to serve in the military.

But Sprigg and O’Leary didn’t come up with their anti-trans strategy all by themselves. Among the various sources upon which they drew in order to make their case against “transgenderism” was Janice Raymond, a lesbian scholar and infamous anti-trans activist.

Journalist Tina Vasquez documents that in 1980,

Raymond wrote a report for the Reagan administration called “Technology on the Social and Ethical Aspects of Transsexual Surgery,” which informed the official federal position on medical care for trans people. The paper’s conclusion reads, “The elimination of transsexualism is not best achieved by legislation prohibiting transsexual treatment and surgery, but rather by legislation that limits it and by other legislation that lessens the support given to sex-role stereotyping.”

Janice Raymond's 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, has been considered extremely transphobic and even constituting hate-speech.

Janice Raymond’s 1979 book, The Transsexual Empire, has been considered extremely transphobic and even constituting hate-speech.

Another example of right-wing players building off of TERF scholarship features Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. As a member of the American College of Pediatricians, a right-wing breakaway group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002, McHugh co-authored a new position statement this past March that claims that respecting transgender children’s identities causes them harm and is akin to “child abuse.”

Among McHugh’s primary sources? Sheila Jeffreys, another lesbian scholar and anti-trans activist who, like Janice Raymond, is deemed a TERF by advocates for trans justice. Jeffreys recently retired after 24 years of teaching at the University of Melbourne but remains highly influential. She refers to gender-affirmation surgery (also known as gender-reassignment surgery) as a form of mutilation and describes the “practice of transgenderism” as harmful and a “human rights violation.”

While the Right lays siege to some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community (made especially vulnerable by historic and ongoing neglect and exclusion by the mainstream gay and lesbian movement), it’s TERFs who may actually be guilty of drafting their talking points, adding fuel to the fire of this dangerous anti-trans frenzy.




The Christian Right’s Favorite New Target: North Carolina Isn’t Alone

A slate of anti-LGBTQ laws and policies is sweeping across the country with transgender and gender-nonconforming people squarely in the crosshairs. While violence and oppression continue to wreak havoc on the lives and livelihoods of trans people, as of this writing at least 44 anti-trans bills have been proposed in 16 states this year, aimed at putting an already vulnerable community at even greater risk for harassment, abuse, ostracization, and discrimination.

But this attack isn’t restricted to the Bible Belt, nor is it limited to GOP-dominated cities and states. Trans people are being systematically targeted across the country as part of a nationally coordinated effort led by a coalition of Christian Right powerhouses – organizations that have been plotting this campaign since long before even the concept of a “post-marriage equality moment” existed.

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, a regional organizer with the Transgender Law Center, protests HB2 outside of the governor's mansion. Image courtesy of Ryan Lavalley

Mickyel “Micky” Bradford, a regional organizer with the Transgender Law Center @ Southerners On New Ground (TLC@SONG), protests HB2 outside of the governor’s mansion. Image courtesy of Ryan Lavalley

Precariously situated at the end of the LGBT family, the “T” has often been neglected and/or forgotten by those on both the Right and the Left. Now, with the LGB portion of the queer umbrella experiencing increasing levels of legal acceptance, affirmation in the media, and economic access in the United States, the Right has cast their spotlight in the direction of those whom they’ve determined are still easily scapegoated; those who dare to continue resisting assimilation – trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Last week, North Carolina’s General Assembly approved a bill that was described by Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation.” House Bill 2 (HB2) invalidates the recent expansion of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in the City of Charlotte, and additionally prevents all municipalities in the state from adding any new protections for LGBTQ people.

HB2 was introduced and passed in the span of a single day during a special session called expressly for the purpose of eliminating Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance (costing taxpayers $42,000). The ordinance in question would have (among other things) granted the right to transgender individuals to use public facilities that correspond to the gender with which they identify. In other words, this straightforward civil rights measure would have allowed a trans man (or, more simply put, a man) to utilize a men’s bathroom, and a trans woman (a woman) to use bathrooms designated for women.

Despite the valiant resistance of organizers, activists, faith leaders, and families from across the state (and the fact that, to date, there have been no cases in which a trans person has committed assault in a bathroom), anti-trans fear mongering ruled the day, and within hours of passing both the House and Senate, HB2 was signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory, R, who previously stated that Charlotte’s nondiscrimination policy would “create major public safety issues by putting citizens in possible danger from deviant actions by individuals taking improper advantage of a bad policy.”

Gov. McCrory’s words speak to the effectiveness of the massive coalition of national players behind this devastating blow to LGBTQ people in the State of North Carolina. Over the last several years, right-wing opponents to social justice have steadily honed their anti-trans tactics and rhetoric, and now we’re seeing the effects of their well-resourced, diligent campaigning.

Today's anti-trans attacks echo the "save our children themes" from Anita Bryant in the 1970s.

Today’s anti-trans attacks echo the “save our children themes” from Anita Bryant in the 1970s.

Led by Christian Right powerhouses like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Focus on the Family, and Family Research Council, this coalition aims to scare communities into believing that women and girls are in grave danger as a result of comprehensive civil rights legislation by falsely painting transgender people as deviant, dangerous, and sick. (If this sounds eerily familiar, recall that less than 40 years ago, this exact same rhetoric was applied in anti-gay witch hunts such as Anita Bryant’s infamous “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, which successfully repealed a county ordinance in Florida that prohibited discrimination against gay and lesbian citizens in employment, housing, and public accommodations.)

Indeed, McCrory’s comments echo both the historic vitriol of the Christian Right of yesteryear and the distorted, anti-trans language that Bryant’s contemporaries are currently propagating around the country. Notably, McCrory’s rhetoric matches that of a letter he received on March 2, 2016 from John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC), reacting to the passage of Charlotte’s trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance, demanding that the General Assembly call a special session to overturn it and “preempt any other municipality or county in the state from enacting a similar ordinance,” spoon-feeding McCrory the talking points needed to make it all happen.

SEE ALSO: When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/01/12/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right

SEE ALSO: When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/01/12/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right

It’s important to know that NCFPC isn’t just some obscure, local, “family values” operation. NCFPC is an affiliate of Focus on the Family’s policy arm, CitizenLink, a multi-million dollar operation that oversees a national network of 39 state-based “family policy councils” collectively committed to restricting access to abortion and reproductive justice, resisting efforts toward LGBTQ equality, and redefining religious freedom into a dangerous tool of oppression. In addition to providing strategic direction for its affiliates, CitizenLink also contributes financially. According to the most recently available IRS form 990s from both organizations, CitizenLink contributed nearly $170,000 to NCFPC in 2013, which amounts to over one third of NCFPC’s operating budget that year.

What’s also at play here is major backlash against the Obama administration’s expansion of Title IX protections in April 2014. Under the new guidelines, Title IX prohibits discrimination in publicly funded schools not only on the basis of sex, but also on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, and disability.

In a press release issued last Wednesday, ACLU-NC flagged this element of potential harm caused by HB2, noting that in addition to eliminating protections for LGBTQ people, the bill “jeopardizes the more than $4.5 billion in federal funding that North Carolina receives for secondary and post-secondary schools under Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including discrimination against transgender students.”

This isn’t new news to the U.S. Right.

According to a report from the Human Rights Campaign, within months of the 2014 change, dozens of religious colleges and universities had applied for and been granted a “religious exemption” from the law. While the exact nature of the relationship is unclear, at least four of the qualifying schools cc’d the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) on their exemption request letters.

Later that year, ADF—one of the Christian Right’s most powerful legal institutions, and a longtime partner of Focus on the Family and CitizenLink—would take on an even more prominent and aggressive role in the anti-trans Title IX pushback. In December 2014, ADF sent emails to public school districts nationwide encouraging use of their model “Student Physical Privacy Policy,” which provides guidelines for how schools can supposedly “protect” [cisgender] students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. In reality, the model policy effectively encodes trans-exclusionary guidelines and subjects transgender students to further scrutinization, shame, and interrogation when it comes to their privacy.

SEE ALSO: Alliance Defending Freedom: The Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/18/alliance-defending-freedom-the-right-wing-lawyers-fueling-transphobia-in-school/

SEE ALSO: Alliance Defending Freedom: The Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools. http://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/12/18/alliance-defending-freedom-the-right-wing-lawyers-fueling-transphobia-in-school/

What’s playing out on the ground in places like North Carolina, Tennessee, South Dakota, Washington State, and in school boards across the country isn’t some sort of isolated, homegrown scheme, and it isn’t the result of trans and gender-nonconforming people seeking to harm or threaten women and girls. These anti-trans bills are part of a nationally-coordinated, proactive campaign that seeks to deploy dangerous transphobic myths and rhetoric in order to mobilize conservatives and preserve a gender essentialist status quo that ultimately harms us all.

To join in the chorus of social justice advocates speaking out against HB2, please consider signing this petition from our friends at ACLU Action, calling on Gov. McCrory to repeal the law.


Alliance Defending Freedom: the Right-Wing Lawyers Fueling Transphobia in Schools

Co-authored by Gabriel Joffe

In the past year—a year in which Caitlyn Jenner graced the cover of Vanity Fair and Raffi Freedman-Gurspan became the first openly transgender White House staffer—at least 23 transgender people have been killed in the United States. This is a significant uptick from the 12 reported murders in 2014 and these somber totals only include individuals whose deaths were recorded and whose identities were accurately reported. These are not individual, random acts of hate. A majority of those killed were transgender women of color under the age of 25, a reality that makes evident who experiences disproportionate and extreme acts of violence…who is considered most disposable by a society that was built, sustained, and continues to grow on the structures of heteropatriarchy, misogyny, and white supremacy.

With 2015 coming to an end, we reaffirm our commitment to continue investigating the roots of right-wing, anti-trans violence as we remember:

Papi Edwards, Lamia Beard, Ty Underwood, Yazmin Vash Payne, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus, Penny Proud, Bri Golec, Kristina Gomez Reinwald, Keyshia Blige, Mya Hall, London Chanel, Mercedes Williamson, Shade Schuler, India Clarke, Ashton O’Hara, Amber Monroe, Kandis Capri, Elisha Walker, Tamara Dominguez, Kiesha Jenkins, Zella Ziona, K.C. Haggard, Jasmine Collins, and those whose names we do not know.

All across the country, resistance to and backlash against incremental advancements in transgender equality is cropping up in courtrooms, legislatures, churches, and school boards. Anti-discrimination protections for transgender citizens have been blocked at the city, state, and federal level and the New York Times recently reported that since 2014, more than two dozen religiously affiliated colleges and universities in the U.S. have obtained exemptions from Title IX (the 1972 federal law that was intended to eliminate discrimination in schools on the basis of sex). The previously rare applications for such exemptions, “have increased sharply in the years since the federal government began to interpret the law as prohibiting discrimination against transgender people.”

Mixed with the systemic ingredients of anti-trans violence, which put trans women of color especially at the life-threatening nexus of white supremacy, heterosexism, and misogyny, is a cadre of Christian Right actors who are effectively fueling the fire through policies and legal campaigns. These campaigns directly result in discrimination and exclusion, and cultivate a culture that permits oppression, violence, and even death for transgender and gender-nonconforming people. One of the driving forces behind this national (and increasingly international) trend is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Alliance Defending Freedom is a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona,

Alliance Defending Freedom is a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona

ADF, a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, counts more than 3000 “allied attorneys” on its roster, all of whom are working to “preserve and defend” their definition of religious freedom, which they consider “our most cherished birthright.” ADF self-reports that its army of Christian Right lawyers has racked up 47 victories at the U.S. Supreme Court since it was launched in 1994, and has played a role in “hundreds of international legal matters affecting religious freedom.” It is also a rapidly growing organization, with annual contributions and grants received increasing from 14.7 million in 2001 to 38.9 million in 2013.

As part of ADF’s multi-faceted effort to advance its anti-LGBTQ agenda through legal means, the organization began a new initiative in 2014 with longtime partner Focus on the Family (FOTF) to promote a “Student Physical Privacy Policy” for schools. The policy provides model guidelines for schools to supposedly protect students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms. In reality, “physical privacy rights”as outlined in these policies clearly do not apply to all students; instead, they encode trans-exclusionary guidelines and subject transgender students to being further scrutinized, put on display, and interrogated when it comes to their privacy. (The bathroom can already be a  site of major anxiety for transgender youth as it is a location where they may experience ridicule or assault, and where issues can occur that “out” their identity to the school community.)

In reality, “physical privacy rights”as outlined in these policies clearly do not apply to all students; instead, they encode trans-exclusionary guidelines and subject transgender students to being further scrutinized, put on display, and interrogated when it comes to their privacy.

ADF’s anti-LGBTQ meddling in schools dates back to at least 2005, when it launched the “Day of Truth” campaign “to counter the promotion of the homosexual agenda and express an opposing viewpoint from a Christian perspective.” The program (now run by FOTF with ongoing legal support from ADF) aims to counter the annual “Day of Silence,” in which students use intentional silence to protest and spread awareness about the effects of anti-LGBTQ bullying and harassment.

More recently, ADF has begun been making targeted attacks on school districts that introduce trans-inclusive gender identity guidelines. In March 2014, the Tucson Unified School District passed a bathroom policy allowing students to access the bathroom of their affirmed gender. ADF responded to the new TUSD policy with their own anti-trans proposal, assuring that it didn’t violate Title IX and offering free defense against any potential legal repercussions. In October 2014, ADF submitted a similar letter to the Sparta Area School District in Wisconsin after the district’s school superintendent introduced trans-affirming gender identity guidelines.

ADF shifted this district-by-district reactionary approach to an all-out offensive in December 2014, with the release of a statement subtitled “model policy provides solution for public schools.” In this statement ADF announced that it had emailed public school superintendents nationwide to preemptively “advise them of a recommended policy and letter that protects the physical safety and privacy of students in restrooms and locker rooms while providing a solution for school officials concerned about students struggling with their sexual identity.” The email also included a warning that any school district supporting trans-inclusive policies “would clearly expose itself—and its teachers—to tort liability.”

The response was almost immediate. Within weeks, the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia adopted ADF’s model policy. The policy was subsequently used to deny Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student at Gloucester High School, access to the boys’ restroom. The ACLU is now representing Grimm in an ongoing legal dispute that has the potential to set a dangerous precedent. The policy has also shown up on other public school websites such as the Wellston Public School in Oklahoma, which adopted the privacy policy in January.

In addition to aggressive email outreach, ADF’s model policy is also being disseminated through “True Tolerance,” an FOTF project. The project website provides a “Tell a School” tool that allows visitors to share ADF’s Student Physical Privacy Policy with their local school board. The form is pre-populated with a message calling on administrators to protect children’s “innocence” and respect values, “especially regarding sensitive subjects concerning sexuality and family issues.” The message refers administrators to the linked Student Physical Privacy Policy while a sidebar reassures the sender: “Don’t worry if you don’t see the links to the information mentioned in the email. They automatically appear in your school official’s email once the message is sent.” In this way, ADF’s model policy can be sent through FOTF’s website without the sender even reading it.

Thanks to the ADF and FOTF’s joint effort, it’s likely that countless other schools have quietly adopted trans-exclusionary policies.

Thanks to the ADF and FOTF’s joint effort, it’s likely that countless other schools have quietly adopted trans-exclusionary policies, writing oppression into their student handbooks and thus ensuring the right to discriminate against transgender students who seek to access facilities that align with their affirmed gender identity.

In addition to the experience of Gavin Grimm in Virginia, we’re already seeing further examples of anti-trans policies motivating anti-trans actions. This past August, 150 students staged a walkout at a Missouri high school, parroting ADF’s rhetoric in their protest of a transgender classmate, Lila Perry, using the girls’ restroom. A coalition of organizations including the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network responded by holding a #LiftingUpLila rally with local supporters. Ka’Milla, a youth organizer from Missouri GSA Network, addressed the crowd saying, “Young people like Lila and myself are being pushed out of the very schools we have been told we have to attend. The policies and practices that push students out of school and away from their education is real. It holds up the cycle of socialization and stops us from reaching liberation.”

More than 100 people joined in support of Missouri transgender high-schooler Lila Perry Friday at the #LiftingUpLila rally. Photo courtesy of Revolution News.

More than 100 people showed up to support Missouri transgender high-schooler Lila Perry at the #LiftingUpLila rally. Photo courtesy of Revolution News.

Beyond the immediate material implications for trans and gender-nonconforming students, the language contained in these policies fuels social stigma and reflects one of the Right’s oldest and most powerful weapons in opposing LGBTQ civil rights: bathroom scare tactics. Most recently, Houston voters repealed the city’s Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in November, after opponents (ADF among them) thoroughly saturated the airwaves with fear-based ads warning that HERO would allow male sexual predators to sneak into women’s bathrooms by claiming to be transgender. This myth-turned-campaign-tactic exploits fear of sexual violence in the complete absence of factual evidence or meaningful conversation about what sexual violence actually looks like in our society. Although this trope is riddled with inaccuracies, it has proven to be a devastating obstacle to LGBTQ justice—most especially for trans and gender-nonconforming people.

Bathroom scare tactics also rely on notions of both gender and biological sex that are unfounded and outdated. In the case of the Student Physical Privacy Policy, ADF bases the policy solely on their definition of “sex”—one that completely erases the existence of intersex people (statistically 1 in 2000 births) and is inconsistent with definitions provided by the medical community. Further, it is more likely that transgender students are being targeted on the basis of their gender expression rather than at the level of their genitalia or chromosomes, but  definitions of gender and gender identity are not provided in the policy. (This is an important distinction because as we learned in a 2011 national transgender discrimination report, K-12 students who expressed a transgender identity or gender non-conformity reported “alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%); harassment was so severe that it led almost one-sixth (15%) to leave a school in K-12 settings or in higher education.”)

With these “privacy” policies, ADF and other right-wing organizations are blocking the critical conversation around human gender diversity from moving forward in our schools and communities. Their intentional erasure of real bodies and authentic identities promotes the idea that this is a world where trans people shouldn’t exist—an idea that ends with extreme violence towards our community.

About the Authors:

Gabriel Joffe is the program coordinator at Political Research Associates. 

L. Cole Parke is PRA’s LGBTQ & Gender Justice Researcher, and has been working at the intersections of faith, gender, and sexuality as an activist, organizer, and scholar for the past ten years. Raised in a military family and a conservative Christian world, Cole studied theology at Texas Lutheran University, earned their Master’s in Conflict Transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice & Peacebuilding, and traveled throughout the country advocating for LGBTQ justice at conservative religious schools and institutions as a part of the 2008 and 2012 Soulforce Equality Rides.

Architects of Christian Right Transphobia Convene in Louisville Today

Co-authored by Tope Fadiran

Celebrities like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner have become increasingly visible and vocal representatives of transgender people in the mainstream media, with reports going so far as to label this a “transgender tipping point.” But is transphobia, as the media’s labeling implies, actually coming to an end?

In this post-marriage equality moment, the Christian Right is increasingly turning its attention toward the anti-LGBTQ battles it feels more confident about winning, specifically focusing on transgender communities. To bolster their arguments and better equip themselves for this new chapter in the ongoing attack against trans and gender-nonconforming people, the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)—a network of thousands of conservative Christian counselors—is hosting what’s being proclaimed as the “first-ever” evangelical conference on the subject of “transgenderism” in Louisville, Kentucky on Oct. 5th.

Screengrab of CSS's promotional video for the conference in Louisville.

Screengrab of ACBC’s promotional video for the conference in Louisville. Full video at: https://vimeo.com/117870540

“Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity” is a pre-conference to ACBC’s annual gathering, which will focus this year on the subject of homosexuality. Dr. Heath Lambert, executive director of ACBC and one of the event’s featured speakers, insists (despite mountains of scientific evidence refuting this harmful idea) that “people who struggle with homosexuality can change.” In addition to promoting so-called “reparative” therapy, Lambert and his colleagues are now focusing on the development of specifically anti-trans theologies and therapeutic practices.

Speaking on behalf of ACBC, he argues, “[A] person cannot possess a gender other than the one they were biologically assigned,” going on to assert that transgender people are “in rebellion against who God made them to be.” We can anticipate that this will be the central theme at next week’s pre-conference—that transgender people don’t exist, and that those who claim a trans identity must be “fixed.”

Among the other anti-LGBTQ academics and theologians joining Lambert is Dr. Owen Strachan, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood—a co-sponsor for the event. CBMW is a conservative evangelical organization established in 1987 to “defend against the accommodation of secular feminism” in the church and promote gender “complementarianism,” which teaches that “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order.”

In plain speak, CBMW’s mission is to counter the influence of gender justice activism and to push back against women’s, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights by making the case for complementarianism through biblical interpretation, “scholarship,” and arguments from “common sense.”

CBMW’s mission is to counter the influence of gender justice activism and to push back against women’s, reproductive, and LGBTQ rights.

The work of this self-described “flagship organization for the complementarian movement” provides talking points and theological rationales against gender equality that reach a large swath of American evangelicals. Thanks to the network of conservative evangelical organizations to which CBMW belongs, its messaging reaches (estimated) millions of U.S. evangelicals through its publications, website, and writings of its influential members. CBMW’s copious teachings on gender difference and “gender confusion” play a significant role in the development and propagation of evangelical messaging against transgender rights and equality.

Further amplifying ACBC and CBMW’s work is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). In June 2014, SBC—the largest Protestant body in the U.S., with approximately 16 million members—approved a resolution “On Transgender Identity,” which reinforces patriarchal and misogynistic notions of “complementarity,” and declares that “gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” Additionally, the resolution describes transgender and intersex people as “psychological” and “biological” manifestations of “human fallenness” respectively, and expresses opposition to any form of physical gender transition, as well as any governmental or cultural validations of transgender identities.

The resolution was co-authored by Pastor Denny Burk, who is scheduled to speak at ACBC’s pre-conference. Burk is a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; he presented at SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s 2014 conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.”

As reported by Zack Ford at ThinkProgress, in his lecture titled “A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender, and Polygamy,” Burk dismissed all of the research that shows that gender identity is a biological phenomenon, and that there are serious mental health consequences for denying a person’s gender identity. According to Burk, “The task of parenting—the task of discipling—requires understanding those [gender] norms and to inculcate those norms into our children and to those who want to follow Christ, even those who have deep conflicts about these things.”

Burk has also encouraged Christians to stop using the phrase “gay Christian” because “Christians never speak of ‘lying Christians,’ ‘adulterer Christians,’ ‘fornicating Christians,’ ‘murderer Christians,’ or ‘thieving Christians.’”

Screengrab of ACBC’s promotional video for the conference in Louisville. Full video at: https://vimeo.com/117870540

Screengrab of ACBC’s promotional video for the conference in Louisville features the harmful “bathroom scare” trope. Full video at: https://vimeo.com/117870540

Another featured speaker is Dr. Jim Hamilton, a professor of biblical theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has suggested that the appropriate pastoral response to a transgender person is to call them to repentance and tell them that they are “removing themselves from the realm that is safe and the realm in which we can gladly interact with one another.”

“In other words,” he explains, “this is not me choosing to go away from you, and this is not me rejecting you; this is you taking yourself away from our relationship and you ending the normalcy that has existed between us.”

These are some of the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies physical, psychological, and spiritual violence against trans and gender-nonconforming people. Fortunately, their destructive rhetoric isn’t going unchallenged.

In Louisville, there will be two grassroots youth-led actions at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the conference supported by the Fairness Campaign—a local LGBTQ social justice advocacy group—and Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice. In particular, the groups will be lifting up the issue of violence against Black transgender women. This is the critical sort of resistance that is needed in the face of increasing attacks against trans and gender-nonconforming people. Presenting trans-affirming perspectives in the face of ideologies that ultimately function to promote anti-trans violence and persecution, and holding accountable the American culture warriors who propagate them here and abroad, is a vital part of our journey toward collective liberation.

KYN logoThis is why PRA has partnered with Soulforce to create Know Your Neighbors (KYN)—a project committed to confronting and containing the Christian Right’s anti-LGBTQ, anti-choice agenda. By strategically engaging in coordinated efforts to contain the toxic global spread of U.S. culture wars at their places of origin (where their impact is also being felt), KYN aims to “promote the values of dignity, respect, and justice for all people; interrupt the spread of religiously-based attacks on LGBTQI people and reproductive justice; and support the work of both local and international LGBTQI communities, women, and their allies.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the culture warriors in your own community, and how to creatively and strategically respond, please be in touch: kynship@gmail.com.

Tope Fadiran is PRA’s racial and gender justice fellow. She is the founder and editor of Are Women Human?, a space for queer feminist and critical race analysis of religion and media. As a freelance writer she has contributed to The Guardian, Salon, Religion Dispatches, R.H. Reality Check, Ebony.com, and other outlets. Read more by Tope.

From Phoenix to Geneva, Criminalizing Queer is More Than Just a Gay Thing

monica jones

Monica Jones illustration by Micah Bazant.

While anti-sodomy laws are very clearly designed for the purpose of criminalizing homosexuality, countless other legal restrictions result in significant ramifications for LGBTQ people, particularly transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people. So-called “crimes against nature” and laws against “lewd behavior,” for example, have been frequently misused by law enforcement officials to profile and attack individuals who do not conform to societally determined gender stereotypes that govern “appropriate” masculine and feminine behavior and appearance.

In March, Monica Jones stood trial in Phoenix, Arizona after being arrested under one of these dangerously vague and overbroad laws—the city’s manifestation ordinance, which targets people suspected of “soliciting an act of prostitution.” In her own words, Monica Jones—a black, transgender woman—argues that she was arrested for “walking while trans,” a phrase born out of the constant profiling of transgender women as sex workers (and the resulting criminalization of them).

A 2005 Amnesty International report documented this disproportionate targeting by police, concluding that “subjective and prejudiced perceptions of transgender women as sex workers often play a significant role in officers’ decisions to stop and arrest transgender women.” This trend is further advanced by programs like Project ROSE, a “prostitution diversion” program jointly developed by 15 partner organizations, including the Phoenix Police Department, Arizona State University School of Social Work, and Catholic Charities.

As explained in a February 2014 article by Molly Crabapple featured in Vice, “Project ROSE is a Phoenix city program that arrests sex workers in the name of saving them. In five two-day stings, more than 100 police officers targeted alleged sex workers on the street and online.  They brought them in handcuffs to the Bethany Bible Church. There, the sex workers were forced to meet with prosecutors, detectives, and representatives of Project ROSE, who offered a diversion program to those who qualified. Those who did not may face months or years in jail.”

What makes Project ROSE unique from other diversion programs designed to offer education, rehab, or community service opportunities in place of incarceration, is that Project ROSE is preemptive – it profiles and arrests suspected sex workers and then forces them into faith-based programs without due process or a conviction. Of course, if a participant doesn’t qualify (as was the case for Monica Jones) or refuses to participate in the program, they’re transferred directly into the criminal punishment system. Jones, who had actively campaigned against Project ROSE as a member of the Phoenix chapter of the Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP), a social justice network dedicated to the rights of sex workers, believes that she was especially targeted due to her activism.

All of this is happening under the guise of anti-trafficking efforts – an arena that is increasingly dominated by conservative Christian groups (that also stand against LGBTQ people, abortion, and comprehensive sex-ed programs). While they purport to be nobly fighting the exploitation of children and poor, defenseless women, the work of these groups inevitably plays out in yet another surreptitious attack on LGBTQ people—especially transgender women of color—cisgender women, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

In January, Global Action for Trans* Equality and the American Jewish World Service released a comprehensive report—The State of Trans* and Intersex Organizing: A case for increased support for growing but under-funded movements for human rights. In it, the authors offer an overview of common human rights violations perpetrated against trans* and intersex people, including discrimination in education and the workplace, violence (ranging from verbal and sexual abuse to murder and suicide), lack of legal status or recognition resulting in a myriad of challenges and limitations (or extreme requirements to obtain accurate identity documents such as sterilization, surgery, a mental health diagnosis, or even psychiatric hospitalization), lack of access to quality healthcare, and discrimination in gender-segregated services and institutions such as public restrooms, homeless shelters, and prisons. Additionally, intersex people are often confronted with further layers of invisibility, ostracization, medicalization, and infanticide.

These violations and barriers extend far beyond the anti-homosexuality laws that garner the bulk of the (already limited) attention paid to international LGBTQ human rights issues, which tend to focus exclusively on the plight of gay, cisgender men. Meanwhile, transgender, gender-nonconforming, and intersex people continue to suffer untold harm, resulting from societal stigma that’s quietly codified into law.

But locally and globally, activists continue to fight for their rights. On the same day that Jones was standing trial in Arizona, advocates working with her traveled to Geneva for the UN Human Rights Council’s review of the U.S. government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), a document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1992. The ICCPR requires that rights be recognized regardless of race, sex, religion, national origin, and other factors (unfortunately, not including sexual orientation or gender identity). Opponents of these human rights advocates, however, were also there in force, including Sharon Slater, co-founder and president of Family Watch International (FWI).

FWI is based in Gilbert, Arizona (just outside Phoenix). While maintaining a relatively low profile in Arizona, Slater is well known in international “family advocacy” circles, and has established significant influence at the UN, especially amongst delegates and diplomats representing “underdeveloped” countries. By asserting that the West is imposing its corrupt, “anti-family” values on the rest of the world, and that those in the “developing world” are the last brave holdouts against the “homosexual agenda,” she gains favor with those who find themselves struggling under the weight of a global economy that’s designed to exploit and indebt, trying to assert some semblance of true independence and autonomy despite being financially colonized and internationally demeaned.

In 2011, Slater brought these neocolonial tactics to her own backyard, hosting 26 UN delegates from 23 different countries at a policy forum in Phoenix designed to train diplomats in how to “better protect and promote the family and family values at the UN.” FWI, of course, has an extremely limited definition of what and who constitutes a family, and her campaigning amongst international decision makers has far-reaching effects on the rights and protections granted to anyone who dares fall outside the boundaries of her restrictive vision of man/woman procreative marriage.

What happens at the UN can seem far removed from what’s happening in Small Town, AZ, but there are distinct correlations. When international policy fails to extend the protection of human rights to include sexual orientation and gender identity, the persecution and imprisonment of LGBTQ people remains unchecked, and people like Monica Jones are left with no formal recourse to protest violations of their rights. Sharon Slater understands the power of global politics, and is effectively using her influence to ensure that LGBTQ people remain oppressed and unprotected.

In Phoenix, Jones is fortunate to have a tremendous support team, advocating with and for her, but in other parts of the world, organized and resourced resistance can be hard to come by. Those of us with access and the ability to provide support, affect change, and interrupt the onslaught of attacks on LGBTQ people and sexual and reproductive health and rights – both locally and globally – must step up, because standing with Monica Jones means standing with countless more, united in the dream and vision of collective liberation.

UPDATE: On January 26, 2015, Monica Jones’ conviction was overturned. The higher court ruled that the initial judge erred when he upheld the city code as constitutional, and when he denied a jury trial. The full ruling is available here, via the ACLU.
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“Banking on Bondage” Beyond U.S. Borders

ceceThis week, we celebrated CeCe McDonald’s long-overdue release from a men’s prison, where she was incarcerated for 19 months following a violent encounter with a group of intoxicated white bar patrons.  The June 2011 confrontation began with a slew of racist and transphobic slurs addressed toward McDonald, a black transgender woman, and her friends. In the fight that ensued, one of the attackers, Dean Schmitz, was killed. McDonald, who was also severely injured in the fight, ultimately plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Since 2011, advocates in Minneapolis and around the world have organized in support of McDonald under the rallying cry of “Free CeCe!” Now, as CeCe is finally free from the confines of incarceration, we must be reminded and re-energized to fight not only to free CeCe, but also to expose and dismantle an enormous, oppressive, and deeply entrenched system of mass incarceration.  It is a system that—as CeCe’s case so painfully illustrates—disproportionately affects people of color, poor people, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people, and it is a system that labels millions of people as disposable, only to then exploit them for profit.

And so the work must continue.  As Fannie Lou Hamer once declared, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

The United States is home to less than five percent of the world’s population, but accounts for nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population. More than 2.2 million people are currently locked up in the U.S., and an additional 4.6 million people live under some form of correctional supervision (e.g. probation or parole). Moreover, on any given day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cages approximately 34,000 men, women, and children in jails across the country as it pursues their deportation. All together, that’s almost 7 million people.

Even as crime rates dropped over the last 30 years, the prison population skyrocketed, due in part to “tough on crime” laws stemming from the Richard Nixon-initiated “War on Drugs” and George W. Bush-initiated “War on Terrorism.  Tearing apart families, draining the resources of governments and communities, and failing even in its ostensible aim to increase public safety, mass incarceration has become a 21st century American horror story. As Michelle Alexander explains in her highly acclaimed book, The New Jim Crow, “The United States today uses an extensive and unprecedented form of imprisonment and policing as social control of its most marginalized communities. It is a unique culture of incarceration: no other country locks up their population to the same degree that we do, nor has so perfected imprisonment as a tool of innocuously perpetuating racial division.”

Meanwhile, who benefits? For one, the private prison industry. As documented in the ACLU’s 2011 report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration, the for-profit prison industry emerged during the 1980s and has grown exponentially in the subsequent three decades. In a 2013 report, In the Public Interest exposed how private prison corporations use occupancy guarantees in their contracts (ranging from 80 to 100 percent) to ensure that profits—and recidivism rates—remain high.

More recently, the privatization of prisons has begun to expand around the world. The GEO Group, America’s second largest prison corporation, boasts that it is the world’s leading provider of correctional, detention, and community reentry services. It has facilities in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa, and earned 14% of its revenue in 2012 from international services. Kutama-Sinthumule Correctional Centre in South Africa is one of the facilities operated by The GEO Group, and despite a shrinking prison population nationwide, Kutama-Sinthumule remains full.

In Colombia, under the Program for the Improvement of the Colombian Prison System (PICPS), USAID and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons has helped fund the remodeling of 16 prisons, five of which are now being run by graduates of the notorious School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2000). Since the PICPS was signed in 2000, Colombia’s prison population has grown by more than 57 percent.

The globalization of U.S.-style culture wars has led to increased attacks against LGBTQ people and women’s reproductive autonomy all around the world.  Now, it seems that our “culture of incarceration” is also expanding far beyond our national borders.

Cross-Post: Why Talking About Domestic Violence in the Transgender Community Matters

November 20 is the national Transgender Day of Awareness. The following is a an article that appeared on TransgenderLawCenter.com, cross-posted with permission.

Guest post by Darrick Ing, Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach  and Tiffany Woods, Tri-City Health Center

stop-domestic-violence-logoIn 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) released the Intimate Partner Violence in Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ), and HIV-Affected Communities report. Among the key findings were that transgender people, people of color, gay men and people under 30 were groups that were most impacted by intimate partner violence.  The report found that transgender survivors were two (2.0) times as likely to face threats/intimidation within violent relationships, and nearly two (1.8) times more likely to experience harassment within violent relationships. “Transgender people face increased risk of violence because of their gender identity and transphobia within intimate partnerships,” said Aaron Eckhardt, Training and Technical Assistance Director at Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO) in Columbus.  Additionally, because domestic violence is rooted in power, control, and in many situations, reinforcing gender norms within a relationship, transgender people because of their lack of gender conformity, are particularly vulnerable to abuse.

The numbers are likely much higher for transgender people. Transgender survivors of domestic violence often choose not to report the abuse due to a number of factors, including a fear of compromising the privacy and safety interests if one is “outed,” denying access to medical treatment or hormones, or endangering one’s legal status if they are an undocumented immigrant, and a fear of the institutionalized transphobia within law enforcement and the judicial system.   Other abusive tactics used against transgender people include using non-preferred pronouns, eroticizing or fetishizing body parts, telling transgender people that no one else will ever love them, and threatening to take their children.

There are many examples of law enforcement failing to arrest or prosecute offenders after discovering the victim is transgender which have been documented by Transgender Law Center and other organizations working on domestic violence/intimate partner issues.  This has led to mistrust in the trans community to report incidences of domestic violence to the police.  As Aaron Eckhart explains, “To really address the needs of transgender survivors, we need to address transphobic laws, policies and institutions while also providing supportive programs that address transgender people explicitly and that engage transgender survivors in preventing this violence.”  This includes education and dispelling myths that women cannot be abusers, that men cannot be abused, and that the dynamics of domestic violence in a relationship involving a transgender individual is exactly identical to the dynamics of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships.  Other than community education, institutions such as law enforcement, courts, and hospitals should also receive LGBTQ-specific training on screening, assessment and intake.

It is important to understand that survivors of domestic violence often remain in abusive relationships for a number of complicated reasons. Leaving the abusive partner is not always an alternative, especially for particularly vulnerable populations, like transgender people, who may already be facing systemic discrimination and rely on their abusive partner for protection, housing, and income.  At times, an abusive partner may even try to maintain the relationship with a transgender person who is HIV+ and receiving services such as housing/SSI/food vouchers for economic motives.  Sometimes, transgender people will remain in a violent relationship simply because they receive affirmation of their gender identity from an abusive partner.  As Leigh Goodmark in her 2012 article “Transgender People, Intimate Partner Abuse, and the Legal System” has noted, some transgender women may experience gender affirmation through the experience of being abused and identify with the traditional domestic violence narrative.  For transgender men, some may feel the pressure to subject their partners to abuse and idealized notions of gender conformity in a relationship because of their perception of stereotypical masculinity.

Passage of the trans-inclusive Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) (which also protects men) to allow federal funding to be directed to LGBT-related efforts to combat domestic violence is an enormous victory for the transgender community and will contribute to the scarce resources that currently exist for transgender survivors.  Under VAWA, many immigration remedies exist to assist immigrant survivors of domestic violence obtain legal status, a tool that is often used by abusers.  Certain transgender individuals in abusive opposite-sex relationships are protected under the law to exercise their ability to self-petition for legal status under VAWA and to qualify for Battered Spouse Waivers as spouses to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.  With the strike down of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), now transgender individuals in abusive same-sex relationships can also qualify for these immigration benefits.

Post VAWA 2013, all domestic violence service providers, shelters, and hospitals who receive federal VAWA funding must implement inclusive policies that include and affirm gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation and ban discrimination. This is important because currently, social and legal resources may be difficult for transgender individuals to access.  For example, many shelters may be “male” or “female” only, which may create heightened privacy, security, and safety issues for transgender individuals who are trying to flee their abusers.  Many transgender individuals also fear losing custody of a child from fleeing their abuser and require family law resources.  It is particularly important that legal and social services address these issues, such as educating and encouraging services to create shelter policies that take transgender individuals’ concerns into account.  For example, do the shelter policies respect the individual’s ability to access the shelter without disclosing their transgender status or history?  Does the shelter allow the individual to access the right type of clothing, personal care items, and medications that they need?  We must continue to address domestic violence in the transgender community by increasing access and services. All individuals have the right to be safe from violence and abuse both in their homes and in their everyday lives.

Domestic violence is an issue that impacts many of the most vulnerable people, especially within the trans community.  Help spread awareness!

Read the full report: http://www.avp.org/resources/avp-resources/273

How Well-Meaning Social Justice Groups Are Misinterpreting Kuwait’s “Gaydar Testing”


An interesting aspect of journalism and blogging is the filter through which the information is processed. Journalists have the ability to impact opinions about and perceptions of certain issues. Coming from a solid journalist, this can provide us vital insight into oppositional ideologies and viewpoints. This can become dangerous—particularly in instances of unintentional misreporting, reactionary reporting, and reporting that attempts to portray opinion as fact. Such is the case with the recent reporting about Kuwait’s proposed legislation to “screen out gays using gaydar.”

Misinterpreting Yousef Mindkar 

Though much of the reporting was done with good intentions, a lot of journalism relating to Kuwait director of public health Yousef Mindkar’s proposal to screen individuals using “gaydar” is reactionary reporting and misconstrues the proposed legislation. By reporting before checking on the facts, popular publications like The Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and International Business Times have unintentionally misinformed the public about the basic “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of the situation.

Most importantly, slightly-off translations and misunderstandings of Kuwaiti cultural norms have led to misreporting who the legislation will affect.

Up in arms (reasonably so) about recent human rights violations in Russia, Western reporters have been quick to react to the news coming out of Kuwait. Titles like “Kuwait plans checkpoint to block gay people at airports” have been used. Claims that the tests will “‘detect’ gays traveling to those nations in order to deny them entry,” are running rampant, and many have demanded a preemptive boycott of the 2022 World Cup, asserting the new law “will mean that gay players and spectators will be banned from attending.”

In reality, the legislation arising out of Kuwait will only affect individuals who are what Mindkar characterized as al-mithliyeen, or “third-sex”. “Third-sex” is a derogatory term used to refer to those who do not conform to gender norms. This legislation may end up encompassing all gender non-conforming individuals, but typically “third-sex” refers to transgender individuals, in both English and Arabic. A Human Rights Watch report explains a 2007 amendment that furthered the persecution of “third-sex” Kuwaitis: “A previously generic public decency law now stipulated that anyone ‘imitating the opposite sex in any way’ would face one year in prison, a 1,000 Kuwaiti dinar fine (approximately $3,600 in U.S. currency), or both. The amendment did not criminalize any specific behavior or act, but rather physical appearance, the acceptable parameters of which were to be arbitrarily defined by individual police.”

While this legislation may indeed end up affecting all sexual minorities, reporting that the legislation targets “gays” is inaccurate, and neglects to assert that transgender individuals will probably be the most directly affected. It is also inaccurate that this will affect “gays” of the world, the screening is for expatriates looking to work in the Gulf Cooperation Countries once again. So the international banning of gays is highly unlikely, unless the legislation drastically changed. To be sure of either of these issues, we will probably have to wait until November.

Regardless, the use of “gay” in attempt to qualify gender-nonconforming people or the LGBTQ community as a whole points towards a larger issue that faces both the Eastern and Western LGBTQ communities: a hyper-focus on the stereotypical gay men, and a lack of focus on other identities such as lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, queers etc. Too often, the transgender community does not get the attention it needs from media, activists, and politicians alike. 

Right Wing Responses 

The response from the far-Right also brings forth the natural conflict of interest inherent to that ideology. Many of these right-wing groups are both anti-Islam and anti-LGBTQ. It is intriguing to see how they react when one group they target goes after another group they target. There is not enough of a Right wing reaction to Mindkar’s proposal to be sure which side conservatives will fall on, but it is important to keep watch for it. For now, looking at the way the Right has responded to this conflict of interest in the past and near-past will have to suffice.

Based on the Right’s enthusiastic exportation of homophobia to Africa and rhetoric like Family Research Council’s Peter Spriggs’ 2010 statement that he would “prefer to export homosexuals from the United States . . . because we believe that homosexuality is destructive to society”, one of my gut reactions while reading about Mindkar’s proposal was “when the far-Right reacts, they will love this.

Recently, the World Congress of Families, which promotes anti-gay and anti-choice legislation abroad, issued a press release in support of Russia’s “gay propaganda” ban. Five other conservative U.S. based groups also signed the statement, in which signatories not only support the Russian law but condemn the international outrage surrounding the issue. U.S. signatories who are historically anti-Islam have had to put this agenda aside in order to support the anti-LGBTQ agenda, as numerous UK-based Islamic groups also signed.

Conversely, the Right can be (occasionally) quick to condemn the torture and murder of LGBTQ individuals in the Middle East, using this violation of human rights to point out flaws in this particular society. Pamela Geller, editor and publisher of AtlasShrugs.com, even went as far as to write an article titled “Pro-Gay Equals Anti-Sharia”. This presents a good place to debase extremist right-wing arguments. Anti-LGBTQ groups so often use their religion to validate their persecution of sexual minorities. Individuals like Mindkar are coming at the issue from the same religious angle that deems non-normative sexual behavior and identities as sinful, they just use a different religion. It’s decently simple logic:  if a (Evangelical) = b (anti-LGBTQ) and c (Muslim) = b (anti-LGBTQ), then a (Evangelical) = c (Muslim).” Leading to the question: How are what these two groups doing any different?

While the issue is, of course, much more complex, the equation reinforces the idea that the social activism is a very symbiotic issue—whether this relationship is inverse or direct, when one minority is affected, the other is affected. It is important to note that anti-Islam groups may try to pit LGBTQ people against Muslims, and vice versa. And while I think it is a given that anyone who is violently persecuted for their inherent identity needs protection, the fact that the suffering of persecuted communities is linked makes it even more imperative to approach social justice issues holistically. It also makes it imperative for disenfranchised groups to recognize one another’s suffering rather than lashing out at each other.

Religious Right At Crossroads On Transgender Issues?

Dr. Heath Adam Ackley Photo courtest of APU student paper "The Clause"

Dr. Heath Adam Ackley
Photo courtest of APU student paper “Clause”

Last week, Azusa Pacific University (APU) announced it is parting ways with Dr. Heath Adam Ackleya faculty member of 15 years and one-time chair of the school’s theology and philosophy department—because of his identity as a transgender man. APU’s statement, issued jointly with Dr. Ackley, followed a controversy set off in mid-September, when Ackley informed a supervisor of his gender transition and plans to make “Heath Adam Ackley” his legal name. 

According to Ackley, the evangelical university responded by asking him to leave immediately, and refusing insurance coverage for hormones and other transition-related care. After negotiations for Ackley to teach through the end of the semester failed, and what APU described as “confidential” and “thoughtful conversations” to “treat all parties with dignity and respect while upholding the values of the university,” APU and Ackley claimed in their statement to have “reached…mutual agreement” that it would be better for him to “pursue professional endeavors elsewhere.” 

In addition to raising the issue of employment discrimination against transgender people, Dr. Ackley’s ordeal points to the pivotal moment the Religious Right has arrived at with respect to its theology and messaging on transgender issues. Responses from APU and Christian media reflected conservative Christians’ general opposition to transgender rights, and continued conflation of gender identity with sexual orientation (per APU’s statement, their disagreement was over “human sexuality”). Even so, the range of responses showed that the Religious Right’s theology specific to transgender issues remains rudimentary and in flux, in ways transgender communities and supporters may be able to productively leverage. 

Christian media coverage of Dr. Ackley’s story included actively hostile commentary from the usual suspects. Life News and WORLD Magazine insisted on referring to him by his former name and as “she/her.” Life News and the Christian Post both implied that Ackley’s gender identity is a mental illness, stressing the inclusion of “gender dysphoria” in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V [or DSM-V]. Christian Post also pointedly noted that one of Ackley’s student supporters at APU is an “outspoken lesbian.” 

But other responses were less overtly inflammatory. APU carefully avoided any use of gendered pronouns in both of its public statements, and referred to him as “Dr. Ackley,” rather than by his previous name. In comments to APU’s student newspaper, Dr. Scott Daniels (Dean of APU’s School of Theology) stated that, despite “strong convictions regarding gender identity in the evangelical community,” the church’s stance on transgender issues is “still in question,” even for those like him who are clergy in “fairly conservative denomination[s].” Daniels continued: “in the right context Adam [Dr. Ackley] could serve as an important voice in helping bring some clarity into that conversation, helping the church have that conversation in ways that are maybe more robust and thoughtful.” 

Flagship evangelical publication Christianity Today (CT) covered the story through an excerpt of a Religious News Service article by former CT editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey, published with an editor’s note highlighting the magazine’s “past stories involving transgender issues.” They also pointed readers to a Washington Post op-ed by Dr. Russell Moore, President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and a rebuttal from another evangelical writer, Jonathan Merritt, both predating Ackley’s conflict with APU. 

CT, Moore, and Merritt all make a case similar to Dean Daniels’ call for “more robust and thoughtful” evangelical engagement on transgender issues, but differ on whether the “transgender question” is an open or settled one. For Merritt, evangelicals “haven’t considered all the theological, ethical, and scientific intricacies of this issue. Perhaps we are afraid that what we discover will stretch the bounds of our thinking.” Russell Moore and Christianity Today, on the other hand, are firm in their religious transphobia. Moore argues that “[conservative Christians] believe we can no more surgically alter our gospel than we can surgically alter our gender,“ while CT’s Executive Editor Andy Crouch insists that “matter matters” and rejects what he calls the “LGBTQIA coalition[’s]…a conviction that human beings are not created male and female in any essential or important way.” Rather than openness to stretching theological boundaries, Moore and CT call for a “strong theological grounding” and “winsome pastoral footing” for religious transphobia – better articulated and more strategic messaging against transgender people and communities. 

These responses show conservative evangelicalism to be at a crossroads moment with respect to transgender issues. Ackley’s coming out highlighted a lack of theology specific to transgender identities: APU’s code of conduct explicitly condemns homosexuality, but on gender says only that “Humans were created as gendered beings.” Religious Right leaders are beginning to articulate a need to address gender identity as an issue distinct from (but still related to) sexual orientation. Comments like Daniels’s and Merritt’s and surprising support (recently contradicted) for transgender people from Pat Robertson suggest that the outcome of this increased attention to transgender communities may not be monolithic rejection. 

It may be that these rifts can be heightened to drive wedges between groups that might otherwise be allied against transgender communities. The “work-in-progress” nature of transgender-specific theology offers a rare opportunity to anticipate Religious Right organizing and messaging on this issue, and perhaps even build bridges with conservative Christians who may be more open to a conversation about transgender rights.