TDOR 2014 and the Right-Wing Roots of Anti-Trans Violence

Since 1999, Nov. 20th has been set aside as Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR provides space to remember and honor those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. The annual event originated when trans activists and allies came together to mourn the loss of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman who was brutally murdered in Allston, Massachusetts on Nov. 28, 1998. Beyond a few transphobic mentions in the local media (the Boston Globe referred to Hester as “a man who sported long braids and preferred women’s clothes,” while the Boston Herald called her a “transvestite” and “a large man who lived as a woman”), her death garnered little attention, let alone outrage.

transgender day of remembrance PRA

While significant legal advances have been made for the LGBTQ community in the 15 years since Hester’s murder, trans people continue to experience horrific and disproportionate rates of violence. As the official TDOR website states:

“We live in times more sensitive than ever to hatred based violence, especially since the events of September 11th. Yet even now, the deaths of those based on anti-transgender hatred or prejudice are largely ignored. Over the last decade, more than one person per month has died due to transgender-based hate or prejudice, regardless of any other factors in their lives. This trend shows no sign of abating.”

Yet most media outlets, policymakers, and even the mainstream LG(BTQ) movement, have a long history—that continues to this day—of marginalizing the experiences, contributions, and needs of transgender people and people of color. The 1969 Stonewall Riots—often considered a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history—are frequently claimed by White, gay men as a triumph of their own doing, even though it was primarily trans women of color and homeless youth who led the charge. And whereas Rita Hester’s murder in 1998 was largely ignored, the murder of Matthew Shepard—a young, White, gay man—just two weeks later prompted nationwide vigils and helped lead to the eventual passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009. The legislation expanded the 1969 U.S. federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

Indeed, disregard for the role of trans people and people of color has plagued the LGBTQ justice movement since its earliest days. Meanwhile, these are the members of our community who bear the brunt of the violence and oppression directed toward LGBTQ people.  In its annual report on hate-violence experienced by LGBTQ and HIV-affected persons in the United States, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) documented more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence in 2013, and 18 hate-violence homicides. NCAVP’s findings also reflect the disproportionate impact of this violence: almost three-quarters (72%) of the documented homicide victims were trans women, and more than two-thirds (67%) were trans women of color.

TDOR interrupts this pattern of neglect, insisting that the LGBTQ movement—as well as our broader communities—acknowledge and mourn these lives.

Who Are The Architects of Anti-Trans Violence?

To a certain extent, talking about violence against trans people as a “hate crime” abstracts it from any social or political context, and suggests that these attacks are isolated incidents caused by rogue individuals. As Kay Whitlock has argued in a PRA discussion paper:

“While the hate frame may be powerful in terms of increasing awareness and mobilizing opposition to the threatening, violent actions of individuals and small groups directed against targeted communities, it also, paradoxically, obscures the relationship of such violence to its systemic underpinnings […] It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

And so we must acknowledge—and then challenge—the architects responsible for manufacturing and perpetuating a cultural climate that justifies violence against trans and gender nonconforming people. 

Christian Right Church Leaders

Earlier this year, delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in June signed a “Declaration on Transgender Identity.” With 16-plus million members, SBC is the world’s largest Baptist denomination and the largest Protestant body in the United States (in terms of Christian organizations, only the Catholic Church manages to outnumber them). Consequently, SBC’s policy decisions carry tremendous influence.

Unfortunately, the declaration was far from affirming. It states that trans and intersex people are manifestations of “human fallenness” and “contrary to God’s design.” The resolution notes that SBC condemns “acts of abuse or bullying” (unlike many of the document’s other proclamations, the authors couldn’t seem to find any scriptural backing for this piece), but they are quick to note that SBC also opposes hormone therapy and gender affirmation surgery, as well as any legislative or cultural efforts to validate trans people as “morally praiseworthy.”

SBC’s policy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), hosted a conference last month on “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” At the event, ERLC president Russell Moore—who was recently invited by the Vatican to speak at a conference on the “Complementarity of Man and Woman”—took the opportunity to offer advice to pastors ministering to trans people during a live “Questions & Ethics” session, saying “The people who are coming to you—that biologically male person who says ‘I think I’m a woman,’ or vice versa—that person really experiences that and believes that. … You don’t have to agree with that at all, and I would say we can’t. The Bible teaches us that God created us male and female.”

Right-Wing Parachurch Organizations

Focus on the Family explicitly opposes “the celebration of ‘transgenderism’ as one of God’s gifts.”

On its website, FOTF explains its position: “Because ‘transgenderism’ violates God’s intentional design for sex and sexuality, we believe that this is a cultural and theological battle that we must engage and win. The modern ‘transgender’ movement is systematically working to dismantle the concept of gender as the Bible and the world have always known it to be. If the transgender lobby succeeds, there will be striking consequences for marriage, family and society at large.” Those who fail to follow FOTF’s guidance are told, “[T]he problems associated with transgenderism, like confusion and pain, stem from a lack of parental involvement and guidance.”

Right-Wing Think Tanks & Legal Lobbyists

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund), a right-wing legal ministry committed to “religious freedom,” has recently taken up the cause of isolating and shaming transgender students. Arguing against a Massachusetts school’s 2013 decision to allow transgender students to access facilities and recreation activities that aligned with their gender identity, ADF’s Jeremy Tedesco warned the policy created “an atmosphere that could result in sexual assaults committed by minors.”

In letters delivered last month to similarly progressive schools in Wisconsin and Rhode Island, ADF suggested that creating inclusive policies for transgender students would “seriously endanger students’ privacy and safety, undermine parental authority, violate religious students’ right of conscience, and severely impair an environment conducive to learning.”

The Family Research Council, a right-wing lobby group based in Washington, DC, similarly argues that gender identity protections would “purposefully threaten the public safety of women and children by creating the legitimized access that sexual predators tend to seek.”

Concerned Women for America has warned its members that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA)—legislation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity—could force “Christian businessmen” to allow transgender employees to wear male and female clothing alternately, and could “open bathroom doors for predators throughout the nation.”

As Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality, put it, “These bills or policies are gifts to predators![emphasis his].

What’s Next?

Denny Burk, professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College and co-author of the SBC’s anti-trans declaration, has warned that the trans justice movement is “the next phase of the LGBT revolution.” In actuality, the mainstream gay rights movement is already demonstrating a preference for other, international priorities in the post-marriage equality era.

Rita Hester

Rita Hester

Nonetheless, with leaders on the Right conceding defeat on the marriage front, we can expect to see them turning their sights toward other battlefronts, particularly ones they perceive to be winnable.

While it may seem that the trans community is that vulnerable, “winnable” target, what the Right doesn’t recognize is that the power of the gay rights movement—a movement that most would say has beaten the Right—was fueled first by trans women of color. These women—who find themselves at the nexus of White supremacy and heteropatriarchy—were fighting long before Stonewall, and they’ll continue fighting long after Gay Inc. closes its doors. They are fierce and formidable, and, as the Right will soon learn, they are undefeatable.

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U.S. Conservatives and Russian Anti-Gay Laws – The WCF

Russia WCF.1

Earlier this week, representatives of anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ groups from Russia, Italy, Spain, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, France, Serbia, and the United States (including the infamous Scott Lively) convened in Moscow to make plans for the World Congress of Families VIII, which will be held there in September 2014.

As reported by Right Wing Watch in a recent series of articles exploring the slew of anti-LGBTQ legislation (and violence) in Russia over the last several months, the World Congress of Families’ choice of venue is no coincidence. To say that the WCF is the primary force behind this onslaught of legislated homophobia would be far too simplistic of an assessment; however, we would be foolish to ignore the role that it plays.

The WCF was founded in 1997 by Allan Carlson and is a project of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society based in Rockford, Illinois. Though it aims to be an international network of social conservative groups, their Board of Directors is entirely US-based and the vast majority of their support comes from the U.S. Religious Right, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, United Families International, the Alliance Defense Fund, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, and Concerned Women for America.

It is, in short, the “who’s who” of right wing power players leading the charge against LGBTQ people in a merciless struggle to eliminate anyone who doesn’t fit into their cookie cutter mold of what Carlson calls “the natural family.” Below is the definition of “natural family” provided on the WCF’s website:

“The natural family is the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage, for the purposes of:

  • satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love;
  • welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children;
  • sharing a home that serves as the center for social, educational, economic, and spiritual life;
  • building strong bonds among the generations to pass on a way of life that has transcendent meaning;
  • extending a hand of compassion to individuals and households whose circumstances fall short of these ideals.”

Interestingly, much of Carlson’s understanding of the family is drawn from the work of Pitirim Sorokin, a Russian-born sociologist, and in fact the very idea for a “world congress of families” began in the mid-1990s when Carlson met with Dr. Ivan Schevchenko, head of the Russia’s right-wing Orthodox Brotherhood of Scientists and Specialists.  Which necessarily provokes the question, “When it comes to the culture wars, who’s exporting and who’s importing?”

It seems that the Cold War-era arms race has reemerged as a present-day pogrom—a race to see who can out-hate the gays first.

Following the passage of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law last month, WCF signed a letter of support for the legislation, ignoring the international outcry that erupted in its wake. Praising Russians as the “Christian saviors of the world,” WCF’s managing director

Larry Jacobs
clearly sees Russia as a model to be replicated. Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (another WCF partner) declared that the new law was precisely the kind of “public policy that we’ve been advocating,” lamenting only that he wished it had been even more expansive in its oppressive scope. Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (yet another WCF affiliate) said, “Russians do not want to follow America’s reckless and decadent promotion of gender confusion, sexual perversion, and anti-biblical ideologies to youth.”

Is it possible that these leaders in anti-LGBTQ activism here in the U.S. might also feel a tad jealous of Russia’s success? And as they drool over the censorship and silencing and cheer the potential destruction of LGBTQ families, what are U.S. leaders learning from their Russian heroes? Besides the obligatory assortment of tacky souvenirs and mementos (for members of their “natural families,” of course), what might the U.S. attendees of next year’s WCF-Moscow event bring home with them?

With Russia as their model, will anti-LGBTQ leaders in Tennessee finally succeed in passing the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that is anticipated to be re-introduced next year? Will we see an increase in attacks on same-sex parenting here in the U.S.? Will U.S. Pride parades become less celebratory and more dangerous?

As we seek to understand the various ways in which U.S. players are contributing to the rising homo-hysteria in Russia, we must also be mindful of what they might be bringing back from their travels abroad. No doubt, some souvenirs will be best left unwrapped.

Profiles on the Right: Peter LaBarbera

Peter LaBarbera

Peter LaBarbera

Peter LaBarbera is president of American’s For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), a single-issue group whose only goal isexposing and countering the homosexual activist agenda.” Over the course of LaBarbera’s career, he has held positions at many of the various antigay organizations, including Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council. Establishing his own organization, however, has revealed his single-minded focus on the “evils of homosexuality” and his ability to get his fringe ideas repeated by less extreme spokespersons.

LaBarbera views increased tolerance and acceptance of LGBTQ people as America’s backsliding, on the Janet Mefferd Show he said homosexuality “is Satan’s point of attack on the United States of America, including the church.”  He has often claimed pedophilia is the cause for same-sex attraction, and views homosexuality as a pervasion of Juedo-Christian morality. He has also called for parents to remove their children from public schools that have anti-gay bullying programs, believing that they attempt to convert children to homosexuality. LaBarbera has also proposed sodomy bans in state legislatures which the Supreme Court ruled unlawful.

LaBarbera fears gay judges will undermine religious liberty and proposes a homosexual litmus test for federal judges. In an article written for One News Now, he asserts “I think it’s time that the public be informed if a politician or a high court nominee has a special interest in homosexuality — that is, they are practicing homosexuality or maybe they once practiced homosexuality.”

LaBarbera attacks LGBTQ civil rights issues with an almost singular fervor among his anti-homosexual peers. He often cites bogus scientific data and draws slanderous conclusions to fit his agenda. He and his organization have a well-earned spot on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of hate groups. Recently the IRS revoked AFTAH’s nonprofit status for failing to file required statements about its budget for three consecutive years. Despite AFTAH’s consistent false claims, Glenn Beck and other well-known conservatives often refer to its materials, bringing LaBarbera’s marginal ideas to the mainstream.

LaBarbera is also known by the nickname “Porno Pete,” in many circles. He earned the name after developing a reputation for going to strip clubs, leather bars, and other venues where he could take photos of scantily-clad people and then post the pictures on his website.

Next ProfileThis profile is part of a series on key anti-LGBTQ opponents adapted from Political Research Associates Resisting the Rainbow report.