The Meaning of the Nashville Line in the Sand

The anti-LGBTQ Nashville Statement was developed by a partnership of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC).

The hundreds of Southern Baptist and conservative Reformed leaders who initially signed the recent Nashville Statement, have always opposed all forms of sexuality and gender expressions outside of heterosexual marriage. But in the face of broad cultural and legal acceptance of marriage equality and increased visibility and acceptance of transgender people, they decided to take a stand – and to develop an organizing campaign to carry it forward. The Nashville Statement offers a detailed and arguably historic condemnation of LGBTQ people, and those who tolerate or approve of them, especially Christians.  “Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century,” they declared, “find themselves living in a period of historic transition.”  And they are forming a coalition to recharge the so-called culture war and make clear that it will never be over.

The Nashville Statement was developed by a partnership of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), and released in tandem with a national meeting of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Policy Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) in August. The ERLC is the public policy arm of the SBC.  The Louisville, Kentucky- based CBMW is an ecumenical theological faction promoting their notions of biblically approved sexuality and gender roles, which was founded three decades ago as a response to the influence of feminism. The group’s notion of complementarity, the idea that men and women have different and distinct roles to play in God’s plan for the home and the church, has been influential among conservative Christians, for example in leading the Southern Baptist Convention’s decision to disallow any more women clergy and women in leadership, and encouraging women to instead submit to their husbands.

The CBMW makes their vision for the Nashville Statement going forward, clear on their web site, stating:  “In the months and years to come, the mission of CBMW will include distributing The Nashville Statement and developing resources to equip pastors and churches to stand firm for the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.”

The Preamble of the Nashville Statement contrasts their view of biblical marriage with what they see as the alternative. “God created human beings for his glory,” they say, and that, “It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences.”   Sexuality outside of heterosexual marriage, regardless of what kind, they say, is ruinous to people and dishonors God.

Significantly, the ERLC issued a “Nashville Declaration on Same Sex Marriage” in 2005, which acknowledged and built on a number of previous statements on biblical marriage and sexuality. This, they said, was a “response to the serious challenge to the traditional biblical definition of marriage.”  (It was signed by many of the same people as later signed the Nashville Statement.) Thus for this faction of Christianity, changes in the culture or the law do not change their doctrine, rather it changes their approach to law and society and the politics of the moment.  The latest Statement is more evolved than earlier statements, probably because the culture from their point of view has become more complex, and requires a more detailed response to contemporary challenges.

Article 1 of the Nashville Statement reasserts their foundational idea regarding God’s intention is for marriage to be a “lifelong” (no divorce), heterosexual commitment.

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife…

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

Article 2 of the Statement, highlights their belief that sexuality is reserved for those within heterosexual marriage; and that any form of sexuality outside of marriage (including premarital sex) is not justified, and that the only legitimate way of life is chastity for those outside the covenant of marriage.

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.

WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Thus consistent with earlier statements from this faction of Christianity, “biblical marriage” is the lens through which The Nashville Declaration views all matters of sexuality and gender.  In Article 9 for example, they affirm that sin directs people away from “the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.”

But the coalition also sees non-biblical sexual transgressions, and what they call “gender self-conceptions,” as forgivable. In Article 13 for example, they say “the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions.”  That such statements may be as wrongheaded as reparative or conversion therapy, should not detract from recognizing the coalition’s seriousness and that this will factor into legal struggles over marriage and other matters of gender and sexuality, notably equality for transgender people, for the foreseeable future.

The Statement has been met with a flood of criticism including from fellow evangelicals and other Christians who support and respect the dignity and equality of LGBTQ people. The discussion quickly spilled out onto Twitter, where Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary declared, “I signed the Nashville Statement. It’s an expression of love for same-sex attracted people.”  To which liberal evangelical author Rachel Held Evans replied: “What kind of twisted expression of ‘love’ declares parents who accept their LGBTQ kids outside the faith, leads to suicides, secrets & pain?”

Leaders of the mainline United Church of Christ, for example, said that the Statement is “an affront to our values as Christians.”  It is. But it is also an overt attack on their Christianity. Indeed, the Nashville Statement may be best viewed as a declaration of doctrinal and anti-democratic war.  The Statement and the public remarks of those involved are unambiguous about their disrespect for the rule of law regarding the civil and religious rights of others.

The Nashville Statement coalition does not consider those who disagree with them to be Christians at all.  Article 10 of the coalition’s manifesto declares that “it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism [sic] and that such an approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”  Denny Burk, President of CBMW, told The Washington Post:  “Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”

It is no coincidence that The Nashville Statement comes at a time when mainline Protestant churches are increasingly open and welcoming to LGBTQ people, and the Roman Catholic Church under Francis (as well as less doctrinaire evangelicals) is seeking to be more welcoming and more tolerant as well.

But while Burk makes clear that they are not kidding when they say they mean to “draw a line in the sand” what they mean by this metaphor is worth considering.

CBMW co-founder (and Bethlehem College and Seminary Chancellor) John Piper said, “There is no effort to equivocate for the sake of wider, but muddled, acceptance. It touches the most fundamental and urgent questions of the hour, without presuming to be a blueprint for political action.”

The Nashville Statement is certainly not a political blueprint – but it has obvious political implications and intent.

The Nashville Statement is certainly not a political blueprint – but it has obvious political implications and intent.  The Statement has been in development for at least a year and could have been issued at any time in any venue, but the coalition chose the annual national political conference of the SBC; and it was signed not only by top denominational leaders past and present, but by top political professionals of the Christian Right.  What’s more, the partnership of ERLC and CBMW and the signatories to the Statement see themselves as an ongoing “coalition” – which certainly suggests that they do not intend for what happened in Nashville, to stay in Nashville.  The statement may, for example, have implications for the further development of doctrine in evangelical denominations and what is taught in related seminaries.  It may also help inform the Christian Right’s efforts to gain institutional religious exemptions from civil rights laws at all levels.

Albert Mohler made the link between Article 10 and the campaign for religious exemptions from the law. On a radio talk show, he was asked “What does Article 10 of the Nashville Statement imply for the treatment of employees, colleagues and customers?”  Mohler responded by stating that “society may say a man can marry a man; a woman can marry a woman, but we cannot enter into that sin” and, he added, “we can’t endorse it.”

The unambiguous relationship between the Statement and the coalition’s approach to politics and public policy reveals why this must not be dismissed or downplayed. A look at the initial signatories is illuminating as well. They include the current president of the ERLC Russell Moore and his predecessor Richard Land. They are joined by the current and several past SBC presidents as well as  Christian Right leaders Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; Paul Weber, who leads Focus on the Family’s political arm, the Family Policy Alliance; James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; and E. Calvin Beisner founder of the climate change denial organization, Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation; as well as Eric Teetsel, formerly the executive director of the coalition promoting The Manhattan Declaration – the  2009 ecumenical, Catholic-led manifesto, that established issues of “life,” “marriage,” and “religious liberty” as the tri-partite agenda of the contemporary Christian Right as well as that of the American Catholic Bishops.  (Teetsel now leads the Kansas affiliate of the Family Policy Alliance.  He is also the son in law of former Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS), president Trump’s Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, and a fierce opponent of LGBTQ rights.) One signatory that doesn’t quite fit the mold is Stephen Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine and a leading figure in the emerging New Apostolic Reformation, which has moved much of charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity into a more Reformed camp.  Strang’s involvement may be a harbinger of a broadening and deepening of the trend to dominionism in this sector.

While Statement proponent Piper sought to downplay its political significance, others tried to dismiss the significance of the Statement altogether. Evangelical writer Jonathan Merritt, for one, optimistically claims that “this statement won’t change anything.”  Perhaps.  But his argument strangely hinges on a claim that echoes the National Rifle Association’s infamous slogan that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. He concludes, “Proclamations don’t shape history; people do.”  But while it is true that people shape history through their actions – proclamations are something people do when they want to shape history.

Merritt’s argument falls apart in two additional obvious ways.

First, he attempts to rewrite history by asserting that other statements from various times and places were inconsequential. He cites, for example, the 2009 Manhattan Declaration – an historic manifesto that established a broad shared platform initially signed by some 150 Roman Catholic prelates, evangelical leaders as well as key figures of the Christian Right in both its evangelical and Catholic expressions.   It was signed by more than 500,000 people. The CBMW intends to use the document as an organizing tool, collecting signatories apparently emulating the method of The Manhattan Declaration, and informing and educating their constituencies.

Second, such statements are not primarily intended to persuade anyone outside of their own constituencies of anything. From the Nicaean Creed to Martin Luther’s  95 theses (its 500th anniversary is being commemorated this year), to the Westminster Confession, to the numerous Christian statements, encyclicals, and manifestos of today, Christians have always declared, defined, re-defined, and updated themselves in this way. The organizers of the Nashville Statement say that is what they are doing. And indeed, throughout history, and not just of Christianity, this kind of unity and resolve in the face of adversity matters to any grouping, of any kind – and it must not be taken lightly.

It could be that Denny Burk’s line in the sand will, like sand castles, wash away over time.  But LGBTQ rights activists – and all of society – need to keep in mind that when Burk and his colleagues use the line in the sand metaphor, they are saying they mean to fight.

Profile on the Right: CitizenGo

CitizenGo describes itself as a “community of active citizens who work together, using online petitions and action alerts as a resource, to defend and promote life, family, and liberty.” The right-wing Christian organization, which operates primarily through an online petition platform, pushes an anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda. Though the organization recently made headlines in the United States for its transphobic “Free Speech Bus” and the protests that met it on its tour of American cities, CitizenGo has a variety of longstanding ties to right-wing organizations and right-wing efforts around the globe.

CitizenGo is headquartered in Madrid, Spain, sharing an address, a founder (Ignacio Arsuaga), and a number of board members with the right-wing Spanish organization Hazte Oir (“Make Yourself Heard”), which Arsuaga founded in 2001. Hazte Oir lists itself as a member of CitizenGo, and its website links to CitizenGo petitions.

CitizenGo is not shy about its positions on a variety of key right-wing issues, characterizing trans and gender non-conforming identities as “the wrong-headed notion that sex is fluid and a matter of choice,” and declares, “Marriage, properly understood, is the union of one man and one woman, in a lifetime relationship which is open to the natural procreation of and raising of children.”

The CitizenGo petition platform was launched in 2013, but perhaps its most notable physical manifestation is the anti-trans, so-called “Free Speech Bus,” which toured the U.S. in 2017 emblazoned with the slogan “Boys are boys … and always will be. Girls are girls … and always will be.” The bus was met with protests led by queer and trans rights activist groups in cities such as Boston, Cambridge, New York, New Haven, and Philadelphia.

A similar bus, with Hazte Oir’s name on it, was banned by a judge in Madrid earlier that year on the grounds that its presence could prompt hate crimes in the capital city.

CitizenGo claims to be funded by “small online donations”  but a leak of internal documents in May of 2017 suggested that in 2012, its affiliate Hazte Oir received €2,050 from a multinational technology company. The leakers also suggested that Hazte Oir has connections to the ultra-right Mexican Catholic group El Yunque.

A connection to El Yunque would certainly not be the only link CitizenGo and its affiliates have to the international Religious Right. CitizenGo and Hazte Oir have many longstanding connections to anti-choice and “pro-family” right-wing Christian organizations, primarily through their board members. Continuing the right-wing Catholic connection, board members Alejandro Bermudez and John-Henry Westen both run conservative Catholic news sites; Westen has been vocal in his criticism of the Pope’s stances on abortion and same-sex marriage.

Board member Alexey Komov is the “Regional Representative for Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States” for the World Congress of Families, a U.S.-based Religious Right anti-choice and anti-queer organization. Komov and CitizenGo board member Brian Brown are also part of a widespread network of American and Russian individuals and Evangelical organizations committed to spreading anti-abortion and anti-LGBT sentiment and policy abroad.

Brown is the president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), an anti-LGBT organization that was particularly active during the Prop 8 campaign in California in 2008.

WCF also awarded CitizenGo board member Luca Volonte a “Familia et Veritas” award in 2015. In 2014 Volonte was the chair of the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Christian anti-choice think tank based in Italy, when it hosted Steve Bannon for a speech in the Vatican, and in April of 2017, the former Italian lawmaker was accused of a money laundering scheme that fed large sums of money from a lawmaker in Azerbaijan to a number of right-wing groups, money which was allegedly paid to him in exchange for his support for a variety of Azerbaijan’s political positions.

The international reach of these connections is also on display in the numerous petitions on CitizenGo’s website. There are petitions hoping to target government officials in Malta, British Columbia, New Zealand, Ireland, Malaysia, and the U.K., to name just a few. Organizations and individuals are able to create petitions on the CitizenGo platform; while most of the petitions are authored by CitizenGo, other right-wing organizations whose petitions CitizenGo promotes include African Organization for Families, Right to Life, and Movieguide.

Despite vocal resistance to CitizenGo in Spain and the US, as of July 2017, the “Free Speech Bus” was making rounds in Chile, and CitizenGo had announced plans to launch a “Free Speech” airplane.

Attacking Trans People in Defense of “Austerity”

Family Research Council sent a strong anti-trans message via Twitter on July 20th, ahead of Trump’s tweet on Wednesday announcing a ban on trans service members.

On July 24, 2017, the Family Research Council (FRC), a right-wing political advocacy group based in Washington, DC, issued an Action Alert to its members, enlisting their support in denying healthcare to military personnel who are transgender. FRC argued that providing medically necessary treatment to trans people is “a distraction from the military’s purpose and undermines readiness, recruitment, and retention.” The appeal went on to suggest that trans-affirming care would be a waste of taxpayer money — money that could be better put to use purchasing more fighter jets and missiles.

Two days later, President Trump announced via Twitter that he was reversing a policy that’s been under review since June 2016 which would have allowed transgender individuals to openly serve in the military. Trump argued that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Though it’s entirely unclear how Trump’s new decree will be put into effect (a point highlighted by Republican Senator John McCain), according to his tweets, trans people will not be allowed to serve “in any capacity.”

Despite McCain’s observation that “major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter,” Trump’s preferred mode of communication has once again stolen headlines, distracting attention away from the Christian Right engineers of the surge in anti-trans attacks.

In June 2015, FRC laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement,” which specifically argues against allowing trans people the right to serve in the military, in addition to withholding gender-affirming healthcare, access to gender transition procedures (often understood to be life-saving for transgender people), legal recognition, and protection from discrimination.This position paper was co-authored by Dale O’Leary, a Catholic writer based in Avon Park, Florida, and Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at FRC who has advocated for so-called “reparative therapy” and argues that transgender people suffer from “delusions.”

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Society, O’Leary and Sprigg dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people, and then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy. As longtime transgender rights activist Brynn Tannehill explains, it’s a plan “to legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical, and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition [from one gender to another].”

In their 2015 “Washington Watch” newsletter, FRC had used a different strategy in voicing opposition to trans service members by stating trans people are “confused” about biology and not fit to serve due to “mental illness.”

Working in conjunction with Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and other leading Christian Right organizations, FRC advances its anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda through reports such as the one authored by O’Leary and Sprigg, as well as lobbying efforts, media work, and high-profile conferences, namely the annual Values Voter Summit. The 2016 Values Voter Summit featured appearances by both Trump and then-Governor Pence. It was the first time a Republican presidential ticket has ever spoken at the summit, and a foreshadowing of the degree of influence FRC would come to command under the new administration.

From the start of this administration, FRC has played a key role in shaping the new political landscape; Trump’s transition team included FRC senior fellow Ken Blackwell as domestic policy chair, and Kay Cole James, a former FRC vice president, was a co-lead on management and budget affairs for the transition team. The organization is now using its close proximity to the president and vice president to further advance its anti-trans agenda.

In a press release following Trump’s Twitter announcement, FRC’s president, Tony Perkins (who blames the high rate of suicide among LGBTQ people on the confusion caused when individuals who “recognize intuitively that their same-sex attractions are abnormal” are offered contradictory messages of affirmation from pro-LGBTQ advocates) applauded the president “for keeping his promise to return to military priorities – and not continue the social experimentation of the Obama era that has crippled our nation’s military.”

Perkins went on to say, “The last thing we should be doing is diverting billions of dollars from mission-critical training to something as controversial as gender reassignment surgery. … As our nation faces serious national security threats, our troops shouldn’t be forced to endure hours of transgender ‘sensitivity’ classes and politically-correct distractions like this one.”

Both Perkins’ and Trump’s language harkens back to one of the oldest tricks in the Right Wing’s playbook: Set up a dichotomy between the “deserving” and the “undeserving,” and drive a wedge between them. As PRA’s late founder Jean Hardisty explained in her 2015 essay, “My On-Again, Off-Again Romance with Liberalism,” the Right has a proven formula for undercutting efforts toward equity: “seize on an example of abuse of a liberal program, market an image of the program’s undeserving recipient (preferably a poor person of color) to the taxpaying public, then sit back and wait for the impact. The ‘welfare queen,’ the Black rapist on furlough, the unqualified affirmative action hire — all have assumed powerful symbolic significance.”

The Right’s new portrait of liberalism run amok is the “delusional” trans person, whose only real delusion is that employees deserve non-discrimination protections and healthcare coverage from their employer. Trump’s description of trans people as being a “burden,” and FRC’s suggestion that trans inclusion is a “distraction” is simply the newest chapter in the Right’s fear-inducing mythology of parasitic, undeserving “takers” in American society. This inhumane framing serves as justification for gatekeeping economic opportunities and civil rights for marginalized people and conceals how destructive so-called austerity can be.

Click here to learn more about the Christian Right’s agenda against transgender people.

The Christian Right on the Gender Frontier: The Growing Anti-Trans Offensive

Click here to download the article as a PDF.

This article appears in the Summer 2016 edition of The Public Eye magazine.

In June 2014, TIME magazine declared that the U.S. had reached the “transgender tipping point” and was venturing toward trans inclusion as its next “civil rights frontier.”1That month’s cover featured Laverne Cox, a Black transgender actress famous for her portrayal of Sophia Burset on the popular television series Orange is the New Black. The accompanying coverage inside the magazine— which included an extensive “Transgender 101” article, a photo essay portraying a diverse range of transgender people and experiences, a nuanced exploration of the various obstacles faced by trans people, and a personal interview with Cox—was hailed by ThinkProgress’ Zach Ford as “perhaps the most positive and in-depth representation of transgender life experiences ever presented in mainstream print media.”2

The following year, a record number of transgender women were killed in the United States.

Who’s Under Attack?

In 2015, 23 trans women3 were murdered in this country. Though not all of these deaths have been labeled “hate crimes,” the shared thread of trans feminine identity is indicative of an undeniably heightened threat to trans women. Research from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs indicates that the majority of victims of hate violence homicides are trans women,4 and NCAVP described the 2015 crisis as “epidemic” in proportion.5 Unfortunately, the rate of targeted violence and persecution against trans and gender-nonconforming people shows no signs of waning.

People protesting the anti-trans HB 2 head to the North Carolina legislative building during the Moral Monday rally on April 25th, 2016. (Photo: Nathania Johnson via Flickr/CC).

All across the country, and in various areas of public life, manifestations of anti-trans sentiment are actually on the rise, in forms that extend far beyond physical violence. So far, 2016 has seen at least 44 anti-trans bills proposed in 16 states, aimed at putting an already vulnerable community at even greater risk for harassment, abuse, ostracization, and discrimination.6 This unprecedented wave of legislative attacks against trans and gender-nonconforming people isn’t restricted to Red States, rural communities, or the Bible Belt. Neither spontaneous nor coincidental, it’s the result of a nationally coordinated effort led by the Christian Right.

North Carolina proved the strength and viability of this effort in March 2016, when the state’s General Assembly approved House Bill 2 (HB 2),7 which invalidated the recent expansion of nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in the city of Charlotte, and additionally prevented all municipalities in the state from adding any new protections. Charlotte’s ordinance would have, among other things, granted transgender individuals the right to use public facilities that correspond to the gender with which they identify.

Governor Pat McCrory signed the bill—described by Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, as “the most extreme anti-LGBT bill in the nation”—following a one-day special session called expressly for the purpose of eliminating Charlotte’s expanded nondiscrimination ordinance, costing taxpayers $42,000.8 (It should be noted that HB 2 was an attack on more than just LGBTQ people. The bill also gutted the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act, which had provided core anti-discrimination protections for workers, making North Carolina one of only two states in the country without any state law protecting private sector employees from workplace discrimination. Additionally, HB 2 gave the state the power to override local efforts to increase the minimum wage.9)

McCrory had 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.”10

These talking points reflect the handiwork of the coalition of national players behind the bill. Over the last several years, right-wing opponents of social justice have steadily honed their anti-trans tactics and rhetoric. We’re now seeing the effects of their well-resourced, diligent campaigning.

His/Her/Hirstory: How did we get here?

A frontier is often understood to be that edge between the known and the unknown, the settled and the wild. For some, it’s a place of adventure and possibility, but for others—especially those who already live there—familiar territories that are suddenly deemed “frontiers” can quickly become places of great danger.

TIME’s use of the term “frontier” in its 2014 “transgender tipping point” cover story might have foreshadowed this pending surge of anti-trans attacks. A frontier is often understood to be that edge between the known and the unknown, the settled and the “wild.” For some, it’s a place of adventure and possibility, but for others—especially those who already live there—familiar territories that are suddenly deemed “frontiers” can quickly become places of great danger, thanks to the encroachment of invading pioneers.

And in this contemporary gender frontier, the Christian Right is on the attack, using flawed religious rhetoric and claims of “protecting women and children” to support an onslaught of transphobic violence and oppression.

The tropes at play are familiar. In the 1970s, Anita Bryant’s anti-gay “Save Our Children” campaign equated homosexuality with pedophilia in order to mobilize voters to repeal a Florida county’s anti-discrimination ordinance that protected gay and lesbian citizens in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Today’s opponents to nondiscrimination protections for transgender people echo similar fear-mongering myths.

Nondiscrimination Protections for LGBTQ People (click here to expand)

Currently, federal law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and pregnancy or childbirth.78
In July 2014, President Obama signed Executive Order 13672, expanded these protections to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” in hiring and employment on the part of federal government contractors and sub-contractors. These categories of protection also exist for the federal civilian workforce.

Some states and municipalities have also elected to independently expand nondiscrimination protections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, but 32 states still lack clear, fully inclusive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.79

The Equality Act, proposed in 2015, would change this by establishing explicit, permanent protections against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity in matters of employment, housing, access to public places, federal funding, credit, education and jury service. Additionally, it would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in federal funding and access to public places.

But the manipulation of people’s protective instincts toward those regarded as vulnerable dates back much further than 1977. In the aftermath of HB 2, Honor Sachs, assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University, outlined in The Huffington Post how throughout history false accusations of rape and sexual assault have been deployed to negate the social and political advances of minority groups when those in power feel threatened. To catalyze violence against indigenous populations during the 17th and 18th centuries, Native Americans were depicted as “savage” and “predatorial” and therefore a threat to sexually vulnerable Anglo-American women. From the 19th century into the mid-20th century, Whites justified the lynching of countless Black men in the name of avenging alleged sexual assaults against White women (as with Emmett Till)11. Subsequently, the same line of reasoning was used to rationalize racially segregated facilities in the Jim Crow South.

This racialized thread, woven tightly into the “protective” narrative, helps make one thing very clear: conservative rhetoric about protecting women rarely has anything to do with actually protecting women.

Conservative rhetoric about protecting women rarely has anything to do with actually protecting women.

The modern version of this old claim is encapsulated in the rebranding of trans-inclusive nondiscrimination laws as “bathroom bills.” Because existing and proposed efforts to extend nondiscrimination protections to trans and gender-nonconforming people include public spaces, the opposition has chosen to highlight the fact that public spaces include public bathrooms. The message being deployed is that these nondiscrimination laws would “allow men into women’s bathrooms.”

 

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Right-wing campaigns, such as the recent #KeepNCSafe campaign supporting North Carolina’s HB 2, re-brand non-discrimination bills as “Bathroom Bills” and manipulate fear of violence against (non-transgender) women.

Initially, these warnings aimed to bring into question the “authentic” gender of trans women, suggesting that gender is fixed and immutable. However, factions of the Right gradually recognized (thanks, in part, to the visibility—and popularity—of trans women like Laverne Cox) they were swimming against the current of trans visibility and acceptance.

In March 2016, the Human Rights Campaign published research that indicates 35 percent of likely voters personally know or work with a transgender person, as compared to just 22 percent the previous year.12 As more and more people become familiar with the transgender “frontier,” it is increasingly difficult to pass off falsehoods about trans people as indisputable. In order to attract more moderates and expand their base, the Christian Right needed to present a more nuanced message.

Many anti-trans activists have begun focusing more on the theoretical risk of male sexual predators taking advantage of nondiscrimination laws designed to protect trans people by dressing up as women and pretending to be transgender in order to gain access to women. It’s basically the 2.0 version of an Anita Bryant-style witch hunt—rather than paint all trans people as personally deviant and dangerous, opponents suggest that granting nondiscrimination protections to trans people will effectively enable the deviant and dangerous behavior of others.

In February 2016, anti-trans opponents went so far as to stage such a scenario. The previous December, the Washington State Human Rights Commission had added “gender identity” to the state’s pre-existing public accommodation protections.13 Opponents quickly introduced several pieces of legislation to overturn the protections, but when they failed to advance, conservatives instead pushed for a voter initiative. As part of their effort to garner support, opponents sought to incite “bathroom panic” by recruiting a non-transgender man to enter a women’s locker room at a Seattle public pool.14

The Human Rights Commission responded to the stunt with a statement explaining, “Men cannot go into the women’s locker room, as this man claimed he had the right to do. Only women, including transgender women, can go into the women’s locker room. Persons who enter the wrong gender-segregated facility for nefarious purposes can be asked to leave in no uncertain terms. And they would have no recourse.”15

As Sunnivie Brydom, managing editor for The Advocate, notes, “There has never been a verifiable, reported instance of a trans person harassing a cisgender person, nor have there been any confirmed reports of male predators ‘pretending’ to be transgender to gain access to women’s spaces and commit crimes against them.”16

Facts and clarifications, however, seemingly do little to dissuade these anti-trans attacks. The Family Policy Institute of Washington (FPIW), a Focus on the Family affiliate, persisted in claiming, “[P]eople of any sex can enter a locker room of the opposite sex and defend their right to be there based on gender identity, a subjective concept that is impossible to prove.”17

Increasingly, right-wing opponents are attempting to “prove” that their manufactured risks are viable. According to YWCA Pierce County CEO Miriam Barnett, trans rights advocates have reported that the anti-trans alliance coordinating Washington’s repeal effort (primarily led by FPIW under the name “Just Want Privacy”) has instructed men gathering signatures to position themselves outside of women’s bathrooms. If a woman declines to sign, they are encouraged to follow her in, ostensibly to demonstrate how dangerous trans-inclusive bathroom policies are.

Using these sorts of scare tactics and provocations, the repeal effort targeting the 2015 expansion of nondiscrimination protections gained substantial momentum, but ultimately the campaign failed to gather the necessary number of signatures to qualify for the ballot.18 Nonetheless, LGBTQ activists remain wary. Kris Hayashi, Executive Director of the Transgender Law Center, warns, “I anticipate seeing much worse going into 2017.”19

Who’s Behind It All?

A national coalition of Christian Right powerhouse organizations has been plotting this campaign since long before the concept of a “post-marriage equality moment” even existed. Not merely a response to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision on same-sex marriage or Laverne Cox’s celebrity status, this recent wave of anti-trans attacks has deep social, political, and theological roots. Three key groups leading the effort are Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Focus on the Family (FOTF) is one of the most powerful Christian Right parachurch organizations in the country. With annual revenue of over $88 million20 and 13 international offices (in addition to its massive headquarters in Colorado Springs), FOTF’s influence is truly global.

In a series of articles on “transgenderism” originally published in 2008, FOTF reveals a remarkable depth of awareness regarding some of the deep internal rifts within the LGBTQ community:

For decades, lesbian, gay and bisexual activist (LGB) leaders worked hard to keep those who called themselves “transgender” or “transsexual” as far out of the public eye as possible. By their own admission, the last thing they wanted was a bunch of “drag queens” and cross-dressers to scare away potential allies and ruin any hope for their community to achieve its political goals. So the activists only portrayed homosexuals in favorable and non-threatening ways.

But recent years have seen a sea-change in attitudes about cultural acceptance of homosexuality. And LGB activists believe that sufficient political gains have been won at the local, state and federal levels that they can now turn their attention to adding the “T”—for transgender—to the LGB acronym that represents their community.21

Indeed, anti-trans dissonance has long plagued the LGBTQ justice movement, leaving trans and gender-nonconforming people especially susceptible to attack. Contemporary consequences of this internal strife became particularly evident during what became known as the “ENDA debacle” of 2007. After over two decades of legislative advocacy, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) appeared to finally be gaining the necessary support to extend federal nondiscrimination protections to include LGBTQ people. However, when certain LGBTQ power players and political insiders became concerned that the bill didn’t have quite enough votes to pass, they dropped “gender identity” from the list of protected statuses in an attempt to make it more palatable to those legislators who were still on the fence, thereby leaving out trans and gender-nonconforming people. The revision was soundly rejected by a coalition of progressive organizations and activists who refused to deprioritize some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community. In any case, the revised bill failed.

There’s no such thing as a discreet family dispute when you’re a political movement representing millions of LGBTQ people. Of course, Christian Right groups were paying attention, and FOTF has sought to exploit these rifts. From its sprawling 45-acre campus, FOTF has captained the Christian Right’s advances against trans and gender-nonconforming people for years. But this went relatively unnoticed until recently, in part, because many of FOTF’s anti-trans attacks have been mislabeled. For example, James Dobson, founder and longtime president of FOTF, has been warning parents against letting their young boys embrace feminine characteristics since as far back as the 1970s. Critics accuse him of being homophobic, but in reality, he’s also tapping into the undercurrents of transphobia. For Dobson and his followers, the fear wasn’t just about men loving—or even having sex with—other men. What’s also at play is a deeper fear that such a relationship would entail men behaving like women.

For Dobson and his followers, the fear wasn’t just about men loving—or even having sex with—other men. What’s also at play is a deeper fear that such a relationship would entail men behaving like women.

Now those undercurrents have swelled into a raging river, and though LGB activists may finally be prepared to “turn their attention to adding the ‘T,’” as FOTF puts it, the Christian Right already has an established infrastructure and anti-trans game plan, putting them light years ahead. With the help of its political arm, the Family Policy Alliance (formerly CitizenLink), FOTF is mobilizing its constituents across the country, depicting trans-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances as “insanity,” and arguing that they will allow “sexual predators” access to young girls.22

Family Policy Alliance (FPA) is a multi-million dollar operation that oversees a national network of 38 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.23 All but four of the states considering anti-trans legislation this year have an FPA-affiliated family policy council.

FPA says it provides its state-based affiliates, like the previously mentioned Family Policy Institute of Washington, with “training, funding and strategic coordination to engage in elections, advance pro-family legislation, mobilize churches on critical issues and be a voice for biblical citizens within their states.”24

North Carolina’s affiliate is the North Carolina Family Policy Council (NCFPC). In the case of NCFPC, FPA has played an especially significant role in supporting the group financially. According to the most recently available tax filings from both organizations, FPA contributed nearly $170,00025 to NCFPC in 2013, which amounts to approximately one third of NCFPC’s operating budget that year.26

John Rustin, president of the NCFPC (whose total compensation in 2013, incidentally, was just shy of $170,000) wrote a letter to Gov. McCrory following 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.”27 And that is exactly what happened.

While FOTF taps into the motivating elements of fear in order to advance the Christian Right’s anti-trans agenda, the Family Research Council (FRC) attempts to provide the intellectual backing for their campaign.

FRC, a Christian Right political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., came into existence during the same time period as FOTF, and the two organizations have remained in close relationship throughout their shared history; from 1988-1992 FRC was even subsumed as a division of FOTF. Today, the two function as organizational partners, collaborating on numerous projects.28

In June 2015, FRC laid out a five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement.” The 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, a proponent of so-called “reparative therapy”—a psychological treatment based on the assumption that homosexuality is a mental disorder that can and should be fixed or changed—has argued that transgender people suffer from “delusions.29 O’Leary claims that “same-sex attraction is a preventable and treatable psychological disorder,”30 and has suggested that “sexual liberationists” are “targeting children” in order to expose them to “molesters and exhibitionists masquerading as sex educators.”31

Ignoring trans-affirming positions from the American Medical Association32, the American Psychological Association33, and the American Psychiatric Society34, the two dredged up obscure and outdated scientific theories in an attempt to pathologize transgender people, then outlined a strategy for advancing anti-trans public policy.35 Specifically, FRC argues against providing trans people with gender-affirming healthcare, access to gender transition procedures (often understood to be life-saving for transgender people), legal recognition, protection from discrimination, and the right to serve in the military.

As longtime transgender rights activist Brynn Tannehill explains, it’s a plan “to legislate transgender people out of existence by making the legal, medical, and social climate too hostile for anyone to transition [from one gender to another].”36

Sprigg and O’Leary, like most other right-wing opponents of trans and gender-nonconforming people, draw many of their arguments from Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University. In that position, McHugh has actively worked against the medical treatment of trans people since the 1970s. In a 1992 essay published in The American Scholar, a quarterly literary magazine, McHugh actually indicates that part of his incentive for taking over Johns Hopkins’ psychiatry department in 1975 was to shut down the institution’s Gender Identity Clinic, which since 1966 had been at the forefront of transgender medicine.37

“It was part of my intention, when I arrived in Baltimore in 1975, to help end it,” he wrote.38 In 1979, he succeeded.

But he didn’t stop there. As a member of the American College of Pediatricians, a right-wing breakaway group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002,39 McHugh recently helped author a new position statement claiming that respecting transgender children’s identities causes them harm and is akin to “child abuse.”40

The American College of Pediatricians was founded in 2002 when a small group of anti-LGBTQ physicians and other healthcare professionals split from the 60,000 member American Academy of Pediatrics.

The American College of Pediatricians was founded in 2002 when a small group of anti-LGBTQ physicians and other healthcare professionals split from the 60,000 member American Academy of Pediatrics.

As I have written elsewhere, Sprigg, O’Leary, and McHugh also selectively highlight the scholarship of a small group of highly controversial academics and activists described by their critics as “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs). Although most categorized as TERFs reject the label and consider it to be insulting, they openly espouse the notion that trans women “aren’t really women,” and 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, providing the Right an intellectual foundation upon which to build an argument that would appeal to both conservatives and certain sectors of the Left.41

Much like the example of the 2007 ENDA debacle, TERF scholarship is merely an outgrowth of anti-trans trends that have been consistently prevalent in feminist circles for decades. The Right has simply become more adept at exploiting them.

Rounding out the hearts-and-minds campaign work of FOTF and FRC is the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a right-wing Christian legal group based in Scottsdale, Arizona.

ADF was founded in 1994 by five of the Christian Right’s top strategists of the day, including FOTF’s James Dobson. Today, ADF counts more than 3,000 “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 claims 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.”42

Founded in 1994 under the name “Alliance Defense Fund,” ADF’s initial goal was to collect money from Christian Right donors and parcel it out to other, already established groups that were active in courts.43 Over time, however, ADF has come to dominate the smaller organizations it once served to support. Acknowledging this shift, in 2012 ADF changed its name to “reflect the organization’s shift in focus from funding allied attorneys to litigating cases.”44

And ADF continues to grow, both in terms of the size of its coffers and the scope of its work. From 2001 to 2013, annual contributions and grants increased from $14.7 million to $38.9 million.45 With that growth, ADF’s strategy has also expanded, now reaching far beyond the courtroom, aggressively implementing its agenda in statehouses, churches, and schools.

In 2014, ADF teamed up with FOTF to promote a “Student Physical Privacy Policy” for schools, which provides model guidelines supposedly designed to protect students in areas such as bathrooms and locker rooms.46 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 further scrutiny and interrogation when it comes to their privacy.

After testing the waters in a handful of districts, ADF launched an all-out offensive in December 2014. 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.” ADF also warned that any school district supporting trans-inclusive policies “would clearly expose itself—and its teachers—to tort liability.”47 At the same time, ADF promised pro bono legal defense to schools choosing to adopt ADF’s model policy.

Within weeks of ADF’s announcement, the Gloucester County School Board in Virginia adopted ADF’s model policy.48 The policy was subsequently used to deny Gavin Grimm, a transgender male student at Gloucester High School, access to the boys’ restroom. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the district, and in April 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Grimm, concluding that Title IX protects the rights of transgender students to use sex-segregated facilities that are consistent with their gender identity.49

Nonetheless, thanks to joint outreach efforts made by ADF and FOTF,50 school boards across the country are now equipped with the language, tools, and resources to adopt new, trans-exclusionary policies, writing oppression and discrimination into their student handbooks.

ADF is highly involved in the current outbreak of anti-trans legislative efforts, too. Like their discriminatory school policy, ADF has drafted a model state level bill, the language of which is evident in anti-trans legislation proposed in Kentucky, Nevada, Minnesota, Texas, and elsewhere.51

The Transphobic Roots of Homophobic Theology

A fourth key player on the frontlines of anti-trans attacks is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). With more than 15 million members, the SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the country, and has often been considered a bellwether for Christian conservatism.52 In 1976, the denomination’s Executive Committee passed its first resolution on homosexuality, declaring that affiliated churches and agencies should not “afford the practice of homosexuality any degree of approval through ordination, employment, or other designations of normal life-style (sic).” Since then, the denomination has passed more than 40 resolutions dealing directly or indirectly with LGBTQ people.53

In a 1992 editorial published in the Christian Index, Albert Mohler (who previously served as vice chairman of FOTF’s board of directors) wrote that “Southern Baptists no longer have the false comfort” of regarding homosexuality “as someone else’s problem. The moral and theological integrity of our denomination is at stake, at every level.”54

With this declaration, Mohler, now president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) in Louisville, Kentucky, positioned himself as an early leader in the SBC’s anti-LGBTQ crusade. In the subsequent decades, he has continued to write, preach, and aggressively campaign against LGBTQ people. Of the various topics covered on his website—which features a personal blog, regular commentary, and recordings from his two different radio programs—homosexuality is second only to theology in the list of categories, with nearly 400 different entries.55

Albert Mohler, considered one of the most influential evangelicals of all time, has a long history of preaching and campaigning against LGBTQ rights. Photo by James Thompson via Flickr, License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Albert Mohler, considered one of the most influential evangelicals of all time, has a long history of preaching and campaigning against LGBTQ rights. Photo by James Thompson via Flickr, License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In response to LGBTQ activist and writer Matthew Vines’ controversial 2014 book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, which made a case for LGBTQ equality from a Christian perspective, Mohler organized a formal response in the form of a free e-book titled God and the Gay Christian? A Response to Matthew Vines.56 Four other SBTS professors contributed to the text, including Denny Burk. 

Burk, a professor of biblical studies at SBTS’s Boyce College, has previously encouraged Christians to stop using the phrase “gay Christian” because, he suggested, it’s an impossible contradiction in terms. “Christians never speak of ‘lying Christians,’ ‘adulterer Christians,’ ‘fornicating Christians,’ ‘murderer Christians,’ or ‘thieving Christians,’” he wrote.57 In more recent years, Burk has graduated from the long established anti-gay school of theology, making a name for himself as one of the Christian Right’s leading anti-trans pioneers.

Reflecting on TIME’s transgender “tipping point” pronouncement in a June 2014 blog post, Burk wrote, “Just as homosexuality has been mainstreamed, so the revolutionaries seek to mainstream transgender (sic) as well.” “Christians,” he continued, “are going to have to meet the transgender challenge as a matter of great pastoral and missional urgency. We must be clear about what the Bible teaches and be faithful to live that message out in a culture that is increasingly out of step with biblical norms.”58

A resolution “On Transgender Identity” authored by Burk and adopted by the SBC’s Resolutions Committee in 2014 reinforces patriarchal and misogynistic notions of “complementarity”: the notion that men and women have different but complementary roles in relationships, family life, work, and society. It also declares that gender identity is “determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception.” Burk’s resolution further 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 document is the latest in a long string of anti-LGBTQ resolutions issued by the denomination.59

The Southern Baptist Convention’s 2014 resolution describes transgender and intersex people as “psychological” and “biological” manifestations of “human fallenness”.

In October 2015, Burk presented at the “first-ever” evangelical conference on the subject of “transgenderism” in Louisville, Kentucky. Convened by the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), a network of thousands of conservative Christian counselors who oppose the disciplines of psychology and psychiatry, and the complementarity-focused Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, the event focused on “Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity.”

As reported by Zack Ford at ThinkProgress, in Burk’s lecture, “A Gospel-Centered Assessment of Gender Identity, Transgender, and Polygamy,” the Southern Baptist professor dismissed all research60 that has determined gender identity to be a biological phenomenon and that has found there are serious mental health consequences to 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.”61

Complementarity: Gender Essentialism’s Favorite Formula

The theological roots of the Christian Right’s assault on trans and gender-nonconforming people date much further back—long before anyone felt compelled to insert anti-trans language into official church doctrine. In 1987, the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW) was founded to promote the views of complementarity—specifically that “men and women are complementary, possessing equal dignity and worth as the image of God, and called to different roles that each glorify him.”62

The theological roots of the Christian Right’s assault on trans and gender-nonconforming people date much further back—long before anyone felt compelled to insert anti-trans language into official church doctrine.

Initially, complementarity was used as a core argument for the one-man-one-woman marriage proponents: that God’s design and intention was for wedded partners to create a balance between the unique characteristics predicated by their biological sex as the only appropriate formula for a legal marriage. But with the fight for same-sex marriage equality more or less behind us (unless, of course, you happen to be in the market for a gay wedding cake in a conservative, one-bakeshop town), the Christian Right is unearthing the deeper roots of gender essentialism for its current anti-trans offensive.

Another contributor to Mohler’s e-book response to Matthew Vines was Owen Strachan, a young champion of complementarity. The 34-year-old took over as Executive Director of CBMW in 2012, and in 2014 was promoted to President.63 Under his leadership, the organization has more than tripled its annual revenue,64 exponentially increased its social media presence, and launched a new international outreach program, hosting events in the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Canada, and England.65

Screenshot from a promotional video for the 2015 “Transgender Confusion and Transformational Christianity” conference. Full video at: https://vimeo.com/117870540

At CBMW’s 2016 conference in Louisville on “The Beauty of Complementarity,” Strachan declared that he “would rather die” than let a young transgender girl share the restroom with his daughter (ironically specifying that such an occasion shouldn’t happen “without me in there”). He went on to reject and deny the existence of trans people, instead reiterating the strictly defined roles of gender essentialism. “Men are called to lead, provide, and protect,” he explained, “and women are called to nurture, support, and follow.”66

Strachan has since stepped down as CBMW’s president. Denny Burk, author of SBC’s resolution “On Transgender Identity,” has assumed leadership of the organization.67

Religious Freedom and the Anti-Trans Legal Offensive

Despite the anti-trans campaigns, progress is still evident. In May, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch took a bold stand for transgender people, announcing that the Department of Justice was suing North Carolina for violating federal civil rights protections with its passage of HB 2. Speaking to the people of North Carolina, her home state, Lynch said, “You have been told that this law protects vulnerable populations from harm. That is just not the case. What this law does is inflict further indignity for a population that has already suffered far more than its fair share. This law provides no benefit to society, and all it does is harm innocent Americans.”68

The lawsuit seeks to establish HB 2 as discriminatory under Title VII and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act and in violation of the Violence Against Women Act.

Title IX has been a primary point of contention in the fight for trans equality since the Obama administration expanded the reach of its protections in April 2014—less than two months before Laverne Cox graced the cover of TIME. 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.

The ACLU of North Carolina flagged this element of the potential harm caused by HB 2, noting in a press release 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.”69

Interpretation of this new policy had remained uncertain, but the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in favor of Gavin Grimm (the transgender male student seeking equal access to male bathroom facilities), issued in April 2016, established a clear legal precedent.70

The Christian Right anticipated this. 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. George Fox University, a privately owned conservative Quaker school in Oregon that receives federal funding, was one of the first to do so — a reactionary measure taken to prevent a transgender male student, Jayce M., from living in campus housing designated for male students.71

Paul Southwick, a lawyer representing Jayce, argued that George Fox didn’t have any policies or theological positions prohibiting a student from transitioning or expressing a transgender identity.72 Denny Burk, author of SBC’s anti-trans resolution, recognized the risk of this loophole. Upon introducing his initial draft of what would become the SBC’s new policy, he explained, “the resolution will be a reference point for Southern Baptist colleges, hospitals, and other institutions that may be facing legal challenges for their stance on this issue.”73

The ADF also understands the significance of establishing a theological precedent for anti-trans legal offensives. In May 2016, ADF filed a lawsuit designed to exclude trans students from using the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, arguing that the current policy of Illinois’ Township High School District 211, which grants students the right to access bathroom facilities that align with their gender identity, is illegal because it violates the rights of non-trans students.74

In the suit, ADF lays out many of the familiar arguments about privacy and “protecting” girls, but it also includes a new, religious argument, one that builds on the revised standard established by the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby decision. Using this new precedent, ADF argued in Illinois that many parents have “sincerely held religious beliefs about modesty and other religious doctrines”; if their children share bathroom facilities with trans students, the ADF argued, these beliefs would be violated. Therefore, the policy interferes with parents’ ability “to freely live out their religious beliefs.”75

In 2004, ADF President Alan Sears told supporters, “One by one, more and more bricks that make up the artificial ‘wall of separation’ between church and state are being removed, and Christians are once again being allowed to exercise their constitutional right to equal access to public facilities and funding.”76

Twelve years later, Sears and his team are still relentlessly chipping away. As PRA senior research fellow Frederick Clarkson laid out in his 2016 report, When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right, their ultimate goal is to “impose a conservative Christian social order inspired by religious law.”77 To be clear, that conservative Christian social order has no place for trans and gender-nonconforming people, so for it to be realized, it’s necessary to erase their existence.

Existence as Resistance

As the Christian Right attempts to forcefully construct its idealized vision of how the world should be (to the detriment of all who fail to fall in line), they cannot ignore the reality that bad things happen. Sexual assault and rape happen. Children are abused. Women experience untold amounts of violence. None of this can be refuted; however, our notions of who or what is to blame can vary dramatically.

Front and center in the Christian Right’s anti-trans offensive is the notion that increased rights, protections, and access for trans people will equate to increased violence, abuse, sexual assault, and rape (specifically for women and children). Such falsehoods shift blame away from the patriarchal and racist structures that perpetuate the culture of violence that continuously inflicts harm and eliminates any sense of sustained safety for women, children, queer people, trans people, disabled people, and countless others. These structures are essential to the maintenance of the Christian Right’s dominance.

Yet the very existence of trans people challenges this dominance by refuting the narrative that God’s design is limited to two distinct, immutable genders—the primary premise used by the Christian Right to propagate homophobia and transphobia around the world. As trans communities assert their rights, gaining visibility and some measure of social acceptance, the Christian Right is inevitably fighting tooth and nail to defend its world view.

 

Endnotes

1 Katy Steinmetz, “The Transgender Tipping Point,” TIME Magazine, May 29, 2014, http://time.com/135480/transgender-tipping-point/.

2Zach Ford, “Why Time’s Profile Of Laverne Cox Is A Big Step Forward For Transgender Equality,” ThinkProgress, May 29, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/05/29/3442571/time-transgender/.

3 This total doesn’t account for individuals whose deaths were not reported or investigated, nor for victims who were misgendered or not regarded as trans women in death. Diana Tourjee, “’He’s Not Done Killing Her’: Why so Many Trans Women were Murdered in 2015,” Broadly, December 16, 2015, https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/hes-not-done-killing-her-why-so-many-trans-women-were-murdered-in-2015.

4 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, “Hate Violence Against Transgender Communities,” http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/ncavp_transhvfactsheet.pdf,

5 National Advocacy for Local LGBTGH Communities, “An open letter from LGBTQ organizations in the Unites States regarding the epidemic violence that LGBTQ people, particularly transgender women of color, have experienced in 2015,” March 1, 2015, http://www.avp.org/storage/documents/webversion_ncavp_ma_national2015.pdf.

6 Stephen Peters, “New HRC Report Reveals Unprecedented Onslaught of State Legislation Targeting Transgender Americans,” Human Rights Campaign, February 22, 2016, http://www.hrc.org/blog/new-hrc-report-reveals-unprecedented-onslaught-of-state-legislation-targeti.

7 Steve Harrison, “N.C. Gov Pat McCrory signs into law bill restricting LGBT protections,” The Charlotte Observer, March 23, 2016, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/article67845317.html#storylink=cpy.

8 “ACLU-NC Denounces Passage of Most Extreme Anti-LGBT Bill in the Nation,” American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, March 23, 2016, https://acluofnorthcarolina.org/blog/aclu-nc-denounces-passage-of-most-extreme-anti-lgbt-bill-in-the-nation.html.

9 North Carolina Justice Center Fact Sheet, “HB2 Guts Core Worker Anti-discrimination Protections,” March 2016, http://www.ncjustice.org/sites/default/files/Factsheet_HB2_0.pdf.

10 Steve Harrison, “McCrory: If Charlotte approves LGBT protections, ‘immediate’ state response likely,” The Charlotte Observer, February 22, 2016 http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/politics-government/article61307857.html.

11 Honor Sachs, “The Old Threadbare Lie Behind North Carolina’s HB2,” Huffington Post, April 7, 2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/honor-sachs/the-old-threadbare-lie-behind_b_9568054.html.

12 “HRC National Survey of Likely Voters,” Human Rights Campaign, 2015, http://www.hrc.org/resources/hrc-national-survey-of-likely-voters.

13 Valerie Richardson, “Transgender people in Washington state to use restrooms based on identity, not anatomy,” The Washington Times, December 31, 2015, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/dec/31/transgenders-in-washington-state-to-use-restrooms-/?page=all.

14 Alison Morrow, “Seattle man tests transgender rule by undressing in women’s locker room,” USA Today, February 17, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/02/17/transgender-rule-washington-state-man-undresses-locker-room/80501904/

15 Zack Ford, “No, Transgender Protections Do Not Justify Men In Women’s Restrooms. A State Agency Just Said So,” ThinkProgress, February 29, 2016, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2016/02/29/3754688/washington-transgender-protections/.

16 Sunnivie Brydom, “Texas Doubles Down on Transphobic Legislation, Adding $2,000 Fine for ‘Wrong’ Bathroom Use,” The Advocate, March 10, 2015, http://www.advocate.com/politics/transgender/2015/03/10/texas-doubles-down-transphobic-legislation-adding-2000-fine-wrong-ba

17 Just Want Privacy, “Why do we need this initiative?,” https://justwantprivacy.org/why-do-we-need-this-initiative/.

18 Joe Connelly, “I-1515, The ‘Bathroom Initiative,’ Fails to Make November Ballot,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 7, 2016, http://www.seattlepi.com/local/politics/article/I-1515-the-bathroom-initiative-fails-to-make-8346927.php.

19 Kris Hayashi, interview with author, July 8, 2016.

20 990 form for Focus on the Family, 2013, http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2014/953/188/2014-953188150-0bc03f69-9.pdf.

21 Focus on the Family Issue Analysts, “’Trangenderism’ Brings chaos from Order,” Focus on the Family, http://www.focusonthefamily.com/socialissues/sexuality/transgenderism/transgenderism-brings-chaos-from-order.

22 Jim Daly, “Not in My Shower,” Focus on the Family, May 20, 2008, http://jimdaly.focusonthefamily.com/not-in-my-shower/?_ga=1.144130421.1548367314.1458137817.

23 Frederick Clarkson, “Exposed: How the Right’s State-Based Think Tanks are Transforming U.S. Politics,” PRA Eyes Right Blog, Nov. 25, 2013, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2013/11/25/exposed-how-the-rights-state-based-think-tanks-are-transforming-u-s-politics/#sthash.RwAzpLUQ.dpbs.

24 Paul Weber, “About Us,” Family Policy Alliance, 2016, http://familypolicyalliance.com/about-us/.

25 990 form for CitizenLink, 2013, http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2014/200/960/2014-200960855-0ba97027-9O.pdf.

26 990 form for North Carolina Family Policy Council, 2014, http://www.guidestar.org/FinDocuments/2014/561/751/2014-561751596-0be99b27-9.pdf.

27 Jon Rustin, “Why a Special Session to Repeal Charlotte’s Ordinance changes is Necessary,” NC Family Policy Council, March 2, 2016, http://www.ncfamily.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/160302-Charlotte-SOGI-Ordinance-Ltr.pdf.

28 “History of Family Research Council: Thirty Years of Advancing Faith, Family and Freedom,” Family Research Council, http://www.frc.org/historymission.

29 Zach Ford, “Family Research Council: Transgender People Need Therapy, Not Nondiscrimination Protections,” Thingprogress, February 26, 2013, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2013/02/26/1643041/family-research-council-transgender-people-need-therapy-not-nondiscrimination-protections/.

30 Dale O’Leary, “The ‘Transsexual’ Delusion,” May 13, 2016, https://daleoleary.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/the-%E2%80%9Ctranssexual%E2%80%9D-delusion/#comment-1527.

31 Dale O’Leary, The Gender Agenda (Lafayette, Louisiana: Vital Issues Press, 1997), 211.

32 “LGBT Health Resources: Resources and Literature for Clinicians on LGBT Health Topics,” American Medical Association, http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/about-ama/our-people/member-groups-sections/glbt-advisory-committee/glbt-resources/lgbt-health-resources.page.

33 American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, “Transgender, Gender Identity, & Gender Expression Non-Discrimination,” August 2008, http://www.apa.org/about/policy/transgender.aspx.

34 Jack Drescher and Ellen Haller, American Psychiatrist Association’s Caucus of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Psychiatrists. “Position Statement on Discrimination Against
Transgender and Gender Variant Individuals,” July 2012, https://www.psychiatry.org/home/search-results?k=transgender.

35 Jacob Brogan, “The FRC’s Anti-Trans Policy Paper Is Basically a Flag of Surrender,” Slate, June 24, 2015, http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/06/24/the_family_research_council_s_anti_trans_policy_paper_is_intellectually.html.

36 Brynn Tannehill, “And Then They Came for Transgender People,” Huffington Post, February 18, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brynn-tannehill/and-then-they-came-for-tr_b_9258678.html.

37 “Sexchange,” Baltimore Style, http://baltimorestyle.com/3347/fe_sexchange_jf07/.

38 Steve Sailer, “’1984:’ First Time a Tragedy, Second Time as Farce,” The Unz Review, June 2, 2015, http://www.unz.com/isteve/1984-first-time-as-tragedy-second-time-as-farce/.

39 Hatewatch Staff, “Meet the Anti-LGBT Hate Group that Filed an Amicus Brief with the Alabama Supreme Court,” Southern Poverty Law Center, November 13, 2015, https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2015/11/13/meet-anti-lgbt-hate-group-filed-amicus-brief-alabama-supreme-court.

40 Michelle A. Cretella, Quentin Van Meter, and Paul McHugh, “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” American College of Pediatricians, March 21, 2016, http://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/gender-ideology-harms-children.

41 Cole Parke, “The Christian Right’s Love Affair with Anti-Trans Feminists,” PRA Eyes Right Blog, August 11, 2016, http://www.politicalresearch.org/2016/08/11/the-christian-rights-love-affair-with-anti-trans-feminists/#sthash.hHrJSj8z.dpbs.

42 “Who We Are,” Alliance Defending Freedom, https://www.adflegal.org/about-us.

43 Rob Boston, “With Millions in Assets And Hundreds of Attorneys, Christian Right Is Waging War on the Church-State Wall,” Alternet, March 5, 2013, http://www.alternet.org/belief/millions-assets-and-hundreds-attorneys-christian-right-waging-war-church-state-wall.

44 Alberto Carosa, “The Remnant Interviews CEO of Alliance Defending Freedom,” The Remnant, May 8, 2014, http://remnantnewspaper.com/web/index.php/articles/item/624-the-remnant-interviews-ceo-of-alliance-defending-freedomculum.

45 Josh Israel, “The 800-Pound Gorilla of the Christian Right,” Thinkprogress, May 1, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/05/01/3429448/alliance-defending-freedom/.

46 Jeremy D. Tedesco, J. Matthew Sharp, and Rory T. Gray, “Student Physical Privacy Policy,” Alliance Defending Freedom, December 4, 2014, http://www.adfmedia.org/files/StudentPhysicalPrivacyPolicy.pdf.

47 “ADF recommends Policy to Protect Student Privacy in Restrooms, Locker Rooms,” Alliance Defending Freedom, December 5, 2014, http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/?CID=82478.

48 VA. School District Policy Respects All Children’s Privacy, Safety Needs,” Alliance Defending Freedom, December 19, 2014, http://www.adfmedia.org/News/PRDetail/?CID=82681.

49 G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, April 19, 2016, https://www.aclu.org/cases/gg-v-gloucester-county-school-board.

50 “Tell A School- Share the Student Physical Privacy Policy,” TrueTolerance: a project of Focus on the Family, http://www.truetolerance.org/tell-a-school-share-the-student-physical-privacy-policy/.

51 Rachel Percelay, “A ‘Religious Freedom’ Legal Powerhouse is Leading the National Fight Against Transgender Students,” MediaMatters, November 5, 2015, http://mediamatters.org/research/2015/11/05/a-religious-freedom-legal-powerhouse-is-leading/206588.

52 Trevin Wax, “What to Make of Southern Baptists’ Declining Numbers,” Religious News Service, June 16, 2015, http://religionnews.com/2015/06/16/make-southern-baptists-declining-numbers-commentary/.

53 Tyler Lopez, “Southern Baptists Unleash Judgement, Resolution After Resolution,” Slate, June 12, 2014, http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/06/12/southern_baptist_convention_condemns_trans_community.html.

54 David Roach, “SBC’s Homosexuality Stance Reinforced by 1992 Amendment,” Baptist Press, July 21, 2014, http://www.bpnews.net/43006/sbcs-homosexuality-stance-reinforced-by-1992-amendment.

55 Albert Mohler, “Topics,” http://www.albertmohler.com/topics/.

56 Albert Mohler, “God and the Gay Christian?: A Response to Matthew Vines,” http://www.amazon.com/God-Gay-Christian-Response-Conversant-ebook/dp/B00KBA8L9Q.

57 Kyle Mantyla, “Just Say No… To The Phrase ‘Gay Christian,’” Right Wing Watch, September 28, 2011, http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/just-say-no-phrase-gay-christian.

58 Denny Burk, “A Resolution on Transgender for the SBC,” June 2, 2014, http://www.dennyburk.com/a-resolution-on-transgender-for-the-sbc/.

59 “On Transgender Identity,” Southern Baptist Convention, 2014, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/2250/on-transgender-identity.

60 Boston University Medical Center, “Transgender: Evidence on the Biological Nature of Gender Identity.” ScienceDaily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150213112317.htm.

61 Zack Ford, “How the Southern Baptist are Still Completely Failing Transgender People,” ThinkProgress, October 31, 2014, http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/10/31/3587156/erlc-transgender/.

62 “Our History,” Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, http://cbmw.org/about/history/.

63 ‘Owen Strachan Appointed President of CBMW,” Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, May 12, 2014, http://cbmw.org/topics/news-and-announcements/owen-strachan-appointed-president-of-cbmw/.

64 Nonprofit Report, Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Jun 14, 2016, http://www.guidestar.org/profile/36-3635678.

65 Matt Damico, “CBMW Announcement: Owen Strachan Resigns as CBMW President,” Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, July 12, 2016, http://cbmw.org/topics/news-and-announcements/cbmw-announcement-owen-strachan-resigns-as-cbmw-president/.

66 Owen Strachan at the 2016 CBMW T4G Pre-Conference, “The Goodness and Truthfulness of Complementarity,” April 11, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUBeqe5donQ.

67 Matt Damico, “CBMW Announcement: Denny Burk Named CBMW President,” Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, July 20, 2016, http://cbmw.org/public-square/cbmw-announcement-denny-burk-named-cbmw-president/.

68 David A. Graham, “’State-sponsored Discrimination’: Loretta Lynch Takes on North Carolina’s Bathroom Bill,” The Atlantic, May 9, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/state-sponsored-discrimination-loretta-lynch-takes-on-north-carolinas-hb2/481986/

69 American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, “ACLU-NC Denounces Passage of Most Extreme Anti-LGBT Bill in the Nation,” March 23, 2016, https://acluofnorthcarolina.org/blog/aclu-nc-denounces-passage-of-most-extreme-anti-lgbt-bill-in-the-nation.html.

70 “Federal Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Transgender Student in Virginia Restroom Access Case,” American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, April 19, 2016 https://acluva.org/18447/federal-court-of-appeals-rules-in-favor-of-transgender-student-in-virginia-restroom-access-case/

71 Sarah Warbelow and Remington Gregg, “Hidden Discrimination: Title IX Religious Exceptions Putting LGBT Students at Risk,” Human Rights Campaign, http://hrc-assets.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/files/assets/resources/Title_IX_Exemptions_Report.pdf.

72 Scott Jaschik, “Not the First Exemption,” Inside Higher ED, July 15, 2014, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/15/george-fox-previously-won-exemption-title-ix-so-it-could-discriminate-against.

73 Denny Burk, “A Resolution on Transgender for the SBC,” June 2. 2014, http://www.dennyburk.com/a-resolution-on-transgender-for-the-sbc/.

74 “51 Families Sue Feds, Chicago-area School District for Violating Student Privacy,” Alliance Defending Freedom, May 4, 2016, http://www.adflegal.org/detailspages/press-release-details/51-families-sue-feds-chicago-area-school-district-for-violating-student-privacy.

75 Students and Parents for Privacy v. United States Department of Education, May 4, 2016, http://www.adfmedia.org/files/SPPcomplaint.pdf.

76 Religious Right Research: Alliance Defending Freedom,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State, https://www.au.org/resources/religious-right/alliance-defense-fund-adf.

77 Frederick Clarkson, “When Exemption is the Rule: The Religious Freedom Strategy of the Christian Right,” Political Research Associates, January 12, 2012, http://www.politicalresearch.org/when-exemption-is-the-rule-the-religious-freedom-strategy-of-the-christian-right/#sthash.v1MRBEvp.dpbs.

78 “Laws Enforced by EEOC,” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/.

79 “Why the Equality Act?” Human Rights Campaign, http://www.hrc.org/resources/why-the-equality-act.

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.

 

 

 

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.