Racism in Anti-Trans “Feminist” Activism

Image credit: Still from Heritage Foundation panel livestream. https://youtu.be/ HMj9MOuRswc

California-based epidemiologist Hacsi Horvath raised this alarm about protections based on gender identity at a panel titled “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns From the Left”  at the Heritage Foundation in late January 2019—the latest in a series of panels of anti-transgender activists who root their activism in the rhetoric of feminism platformed by right-wing organizations.

“And, in five years. I mean, just imagine what’s gonna happen when China picks up on this, you know? It’s just gonna be, it is already out of control. It’s gonna be a lot worse if we let this happen. So I would urge you all: don’t play along.”

When invoking the specter of China adopting laws that would criminalize misgendering a transgender person, Horvath asked participants at the Heritage Foundation panel to imagine a world in which a hegemonic, autocratic super-power could stifle free speech, specifically speech against the lives, health, and safety of transgender people. Suddenly, the rhetorical threat posed by transgender people multiplies.  (In fact, China’s human rights record tells a very different story, one of discrimination and persecution, and the resilience of transgender people.)

It’s notable that anti-trans feminists are employing similar racist dog-whistles that have been used by the Right for centuries to create out-sized fear and outrage among their constituents and followers to justify the out-sized time and energy spent advocating against the lives and safety of the communities they target.

Disproportionality has also been weaponized to attack Jewish people, ingrained in the conspiracy theory that Jewish people control the world economy. Within the community of anti-trans “feminists” this antisemitic trope manifests as the conspiracy that transgender advocacy is funded by George Soros. “Who Are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology,” asks Jennifer Bilek in the Federalist. (By framing transgender activism and advocacy as “Transgender Ideology,” Bilek is also playing into the Christian Right messaging trope of gender ideology.) On  4thWaveNow, an anti-trans blog, Michael Biggs explores Open Society Foundations’ funding of, as he calls it, “The Gender Industry Complex.” Conspiracy theories about George Soros’ participation in progressive advocacy are antisemitic, and they also contribute to violence against Jewish people.

Conservative publication The Washington Times ran a piece on this false claim, with an additional racist meme illustrated to depict Soros with features frequently used to stereotype Jewish people. When the article was shared on Facebook by anti-trans “feminist” page Object! Women Not Sex Objects, commenters pointed out the antisemitism in the piece and throughout the Times’ overall reporting. The page moderators responded: “Money can buy political influence as it always has. Always happy to be corrected and aware that we work with strange allies on feminist issues. Our line is always to stick to the issue in hand because if you look to the background of your allies you would never ally with anyone at all!”

Evidence of antisemitism by anti-trans “feminists” is present throughout its academic history. In 1979, Janice Raymond referred to transgender men as the “’final solution’ of women” in her book The Transsexual Empire, often cited to as the basis for anti-trans “feminism.”  And in 2018, Jen Izaakson erased the history of genocide of transgender people and the destruction of decades of research into transgender health during the Holocaust to discredit people using the term TERF (or trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

By fronting White major progressive donors like George Soros, anti-trans “feminists” erase the transgender people of color who built the trans movement. And the cisgender people of color who stand with their transgender siblings. In early 2019, anti-transgender “feminist blog” Feminist Current held an event at the Vancouver Library during which an activist spoke about her work with the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Center, who denied membership to a trans woman. In her speech, Lee Lakeman, the volunteer, invoked Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work developing intersectionality. Lakeman said, “Feminism is the politics that calls for and has always called for an egalitarian future, for non-violent methods to get there, for open dialogue and transparent processes, for an end to the hierarchies of race and class as well as sex, for an end to the violence that supports those hierarchies, for egalitarian sex practices and sex education, for intersectionality — but not the garbage version that’s being peddled.”

In fact, Crenshaw herself writes that intersectionality should be used specifically for people living at the intersections of identity. “Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women. People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse — all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more. Intersectionality has given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.” [emphasis added] By weaponizing Crenshaw’s own work against her specific wishes, Lakeman erased the incredible work that women of color, including Black women like Crenshaw, have done to support transgender people.

Anti-Black racism among anti-trans “feminists” is common and runs the gamut from accusing sex work activists of co-opting language from pro-slavery forces during the Civil War to specifically likening anti-trans “feminism” to the Civil Rights Movement. Rachel Dolezal, in particular, provides anti-trans “feminists” with an opportunity to espouse anti-Black racism. “Why did trans women lead the Women’s March?” asks Jo Bartosch, “It would be like Rachel Dolezal addressing a Black Lives Matter rally.” Feminist Current published an article titled “You can’t ‘feel’ race, but can you ‘feel’ female? On Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner, and unspeakable questions.”

At its heart, the racist rhetoric of anti-trans “feminists” denies the humanity of women of color around the world, transgender and cisgender women alike. And as always, anti-trans advocacy will have the deepest impact on those living at the intersections of multiple identities: transgender people with disabilities, low-income transgender people, and transgender people of color, especially Black, Indigenous, and Latinx transgender women. And therein lies the movement’s true racism.

Anti-LGBTQ media outlets peddle myths about autism and trans identity

Support for transgender rights at the 2017 Women’s March. Photo: Ted Eytan/Wikimedia Commons.

The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), founded in 2002 in opposition to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) support for adoption by LGBTQ couples, was cited in one of several articles published by right-wing news outlets in late November in apparent concern over transgender people “taking advantage of” and “recruiting” people with autism. Church Militant, the Post Millennial, and the Federalist all published articles or op-eds based in some part on The Daily Mail’s mid-November expose on a teacher, Carol, who claims that students with autism are being “’tricked’ into believing they are the wrong sex”:

I’m now so alarmed by the force of the transgender agenda that I’m not sure how much longer I can go on for, as I can no longer be honest with the students. We are being dictated to by groups who don’t know these kids, to make decisions that are harmful to them. And we are giving children a huge amount of agency to make decisions when what they need are boundaries to make them feel safe and secure. It feels as if we are walking into a nightmare.

A concurrently published article from Spectrum, an online news outlet launched in 2015 to publish objective coverage of autism research, points out there are myriad reasons why people with autism are more likely to identify as LGBTQ including “decreased adherence to social conventions” and “greater forthrightness and honesty.” But the correlations are not important to those peddling in conspiracy theories.

Church Militant, a Steve Bannon-connected traditionalist Catholic blog headed by ultra-conservative Michael Voris, took up the story from the Daily Mail, looking at the narrative through a lens domestic to the United States. “They are just young people with mental health problems who want to be part of a group,” reads the sub-heading. Church Militant goes on to cite Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “fringe anti-LGBT hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBT junk science.”

Dr. Cretella told Church Militant that children with autism are “very aware of being different from their peers and/or isolated by them at a very young age. Consequently, when autistic children are exposed to transgenderism, it has a two-fold appeal. . . . Once they declare a transgender identity, they suddenly have a group of ‘friends’ the likes of which they have never experienced.” Dr. Cretella regularly espouses her anti-transgender views through the American College of Pediatricians and at conservative venues across the country, such as the Family Research Council-run Values Voter Summit.

As she did from the main stage at the Values Voter Summit, Dr. Cretella cited Dr. Lisa Littman’s discredited study on transgender identity among young people to Church Militant. Earlier this year Dr. Littman, who conducts her research at Brown University, published a paper that purported to have discovered a rash of youth transitioning in UK schools. In fact, Dr. Littman didn’t talk to any transgender youth at all—nor did she collect data on health outcomes for youth who are allowed to assert their gender identity. Instead, she interviewed parents who frequent three UK-focused message boards, message boards for parents critical of supporting children’s asserted gender identity. The results of the study were unsurprising: the research describes “clusters” of children asserting a transgender identity, frequently after an increase in internet or social media use. Dr. Littman coined the term “rapid onset gender dysphoria” to describe this phenomenon.

To be clear, “rapid onset gender dysphoria” is not a scientific term. Nor does it describe any phenomenon known to social science or pediatrics. After significant outcry, the report was discredited by Dr. Littman’s own institution Brown University and called under investigation by PLOS ONE, the journal who initially published it. But the research has become part of the rhetoric among those who most vocally oppose transgender equality, include Dr. Cretella and the American College of Pediatricians.

Two more right-wing publications picked up the Daily Mail article. The Post Millennial published an op-ed from a transgender person warning parents against their kids with autism being taught “confusing and yet ‘magical’ ideas regarding gender.” The Federalist also published an op-ed, this time by a queer person who identifies as non-neurotypical. They write: “So I do understand why many who live with the duality of feeling uncomfortable in their own skin would seek to change their skin instead of their mind. That would be a lot easier. Yet I didn’t have that choice.”

Fundraising card used by Anita Bryant, 1977. Courtesy of Stonewall Library & Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

At its heart, accusing transgender people of “recruiting children” has echoes throughout history, including the first religious campaign against gay rights — Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign against Miami-Dade County’s nondiscrimination protections in the 1970s. Bryant and “Save Our Children” claimed that because “homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.” The myth of recruitment has been deployed in anti-LGBTQ campaigns ever since, leading to the dismissal of LGBTQ teachers and preventing adoptions.

Accusing transgender people of taking advantage of children with autism heightens the rhetoric and moves the center of the discussion towards the Right, forcing those attacked to defend themselves against absurd allegations. Moving the ball is an effective tactic and it is shared by anti-transgender activists and advocates across the ideological spectrum and across the world, with real consequences for transgender people.

“And yet” … Trans Existence in the Face of Religious Right Erasure

Photo by Tim Plenk, 2017

Twenty-five years ago, the Roman Catholic Church offered a rare acknowledgment of error. It admitted that it was wrong to have condemned one of the great fathers of modern science, Galileo Galilei. In 1632, Galileo was summoned to Rome and forced to recant or else be burned at the stake for his endorsement of the Copernican theory of the solar system: that the earth isn’t situated at the center of the universe but rather moves around the sun — a theory viewed then as heresy by the Vatican. After much-anguished consideration, he reluctantly did so and was sentenced to live out his remaining years under house arrest. But Galileo — a devotee of truth above all else — didn’t entirely acquiesce; it’s rumored that as he rose from knees, the scientist quietly murmured, e pur, si muove“and yet, it moves.”

This 17th Century dispute remains one of history’s great emblems of the longstanding conflict between faith and science, reason and dogma. Today, that conflict lives on in the debate over LGBTQ people.

On December 15, 2017, the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) published an open letter on their website entitled “Created Male and Female.” The letter, signed by 20 religious leaders representing a diverse array of conservative institutions, rejects the legitimacy of transgender identities, essentially proclaiming: Transgender people don’t exist.

The letter asserts that gender and sex “cannot be separated,” equating the existence of transgender people to a “false idea” that is harmful and “goes against reason.” Parents are discouraged from affirming their transgender children, and institutional authorities are called upon to maintain “policies that uphold the scientific fact of human biology.”

Those who fall outside the confines of heterosexuality and a strict, biologically-based gender binary were once simply cast off as sinful and amoral. But as more and more people come out publicly as LGBTQ, this harsh disposal of people — real individuals who are also integral to families and communities that love them — sparks a cognitive dissonance that isn’t easily rectified. LGBTQ organizers have capitalized on this tension by mobilizing a “hearts and minds” offensive that can be credited with many of the civil rights gains made over the last decade.

The Religious Right, however, isn’t ready to accept defeat. Once rejectors of scientific fact and reason, conservative Catholic Bishops and fundamentalist religious leaders are now attempting to assert that their rejection of LGBTQ people is less about morality and more about science.

To fight back against progressive advancements, the Religious Right contends that feminists and LGBTQ people are attempting to impose a radical “gender ideology” on the world. They argue that gender as a concept is a new, invented rhetorical device that is antithetical to science and reason.[1] Furthermore, it’s dangerous; the USCCB’s letter states, “Gender ideology harms individuals and societies by sowing confusion and self-doubt.”

LGBTQ people are painted as symptoms of the secularization of society — a process that the Christian Right views as an attack on their very existence. In the struggle for LGBTQ equality, Christian conservatives see themselves as the true victims. Failing to acknowledge the rampant violence, oppression, and discrimination experienced by transgender people every single day, the signatories of the USCCB letter argue that the “movement” to respect transgender people is “deeply troubling” and “compels people to either go against reason — that is, to agree with something that is not true — or face ridicule, marginalization, and other forms of retaliation.”

They aren’t judging people — they’re merely defending the “truth” and valiantly fighting to save society by preserving (and imposing) a Christian Right definition of what that means.

The fact of the matter is that LGBTQ people (many of whom are also Christian) do represent a threat to the Christian Right — not to their existence, but to their dominance over the discourse on truth. The “confusion and self-doubt” that the USCCB letter warns about is a reflection of the cognitive dissonance that has naturally emerged in the wake of brave individuals refusing to succumb to an antiquated mythology that LGBTQ people don’t exist.

In a statement responding to the USCCB’s letter, the National Religious Leadership Roundtable (NRLR) disputed its harmful and inaccurate contents point by point, echoing Galileo’s own “and yet.” Speaking specifically to USCCB’s proclamation that being transgender is a “false idea,” the NRLR countered, “And yet, millions of people of faith in the U.S. and throughout the world live a different reality that is true to them – they are transgender. They are young and old, some are thriving and some struggling, many are faith-filled and others have found only rejection in faith.”

Long before mathematical calculations proved it, and long before the Church reluctantly conceded, the earth’s place in the solar system has always been what it is. Thanks to scientists like Copernicus and Galileo, and thanks to the motivating power of confusion, doubt, curiosity, and courage, that immutable truth is no longer questioned. In the midst of debates and disputes over the legitimacy of queer and trans people, the scientific community (which is never immune to the culture that it exists within), is looked to for both validation and contradiction. But no amount of scientific scholarship and no amount of religious condemnation will ever alter the fact that queer and trans people have always and will always exist.

[1] This framing also conveniently creates a common language for the Right’s assault on multiple (often disparate) issues, including LGBTQ people, “nontraditional” family creation, contraception, abortion, and women’s rights more broadly.

When Silence Equals Death

On Friday, December 15, the Washington Post reported that the Trump administration has prohibited the Center for Disease Control (CDC) from using the terms “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based,” and “science-based.”

CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald rebutted the claim in a Facebook post on Sunday, saying, “I want to assure you that CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution. As part of our commitment to provide for the common defense of the country against health threats, science is and will remain the foundation of our work.”

Fitzgerald neglected to address the other five words included on the originally reported list, which was disclosed to the Post by an anonymous CDC analyst, and confirmed by other CDC officials.

When CDC was founded in 1946 (then called the Communicable Disease Center), its primary objective was fighting and preventing the spread of malaria. Today, CDC is the nation’s top public health agency, and is looked to as a global leader in the prevention and control of “infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, workplace hazards, disabilities, and environmental health threats.”

In her Facebook post, Fitzgerald went on to assert that “CDC has a long-standing history of making public health and budget decisions that are based on the best available science and data and for the benefit of all people — and we will continue to do so.”

It’s true that CDC has historically served as a reliable source of science- and evidence-based research, and has played a critical role in protecting and promoting public health. As a federal agency, however, it is susceptible to the priorities and politics of the White House. The history of the AIDS epidemic is a tragic example of what can happen when those in power insert their oppressive ideologies and agendas into institutions that are otherwise intended to keep us safe.

The first reported AIDS cases emerged in 1981, and it quickly became evident that a national health crisis was developing. On April 23, 1984, CDC announced 4,177 reported cases in the United States, and 1,807 deaths. But as more and more people succumbed to AIDS, the White House remained silent, refusing to address what was at the time dismissed and derided as “the gay disease.”

AIDS research was chronically underfunded throughout the early years of the epidemic. When doctors at the CDC and the National Institute of Health requested more funding for their work on AIDS, they were routinely denied it. Historian and journalist Michael Bronski highlights a striking contrast in priorities: “Between June 1981 and May 1982 the CDC spent less than $1 million on AIDS and $9 million on Legionnaires Disease. At that point more than 1,000 of the 2,000 reported AIDS cases resulted in death; there were fewer than 50 deaths from Legionnaires Disease.”

By the time President Reagan finally began addressing the issue of AIDS in earnest, it was 1987. Over 36,000 Americans had been diagnosed and nearly 60 percent of them had died. Reagan declared that AIDS was ”public health enemy No. 1,” but insisted that the crisis was as much a moral issue as it was a medical one, recommending that abstinence was the best form of prevention.

His commentary reflects the influence of the newly established Moral Majority, which was founded and lead by right-wing evangelical Jerry Falwell, who once declared, “AIDS is the wrath of God upon homosexuals.” Whether or not Reagan agreed with Falwell that AIDS was some sort of God-ordained punishment for LGBTQ people, his silence made him complicit in the deadly politicization of homophobia.

Despite significant advancements in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, the world is still without a cure, and the disease continues to have devastating consequences. According to the World Health Organization, “Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV.” It’s estimated that 36.7 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2016.

Luiz Loures, deputy director of UNAIDS, notes, “AIDS spreads most quickly wherever people are being discriminated against.” Though the medical community has thoroughly debunked the notion of HIV/AIDS being a “gay disease,” the association — and its attached negative stigma — remains high.

In Russia, the spread of HIV is currently being described as “catastrophic.” According to the United Nations’ UNAIDS program, in 2015 Russia had the third-highest number of new HIV infections globally. In December 2016, the Russian Federal AIDS Center reported that there were more than 1.1 million diagnosed cases of HIV in Russia.

Speaking about the situation in Russia, Sylvia Urban of the umbrella group German AIDS Service Organization observes that issues of sexuality in general and homosexuality, in particular, are taboo. Anti-LGBTQ oppression and violence in the country have been on the rise in recent years, further emboldened by the passage of Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law in 2013, which banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.”

In an eerie echoing of Reagan’s 1987 comments, Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church and a trusted advisor to President Putin, has called for “moral education” in response to the country’s AIDS crisis, stressing that the “establishment of family values, ideals of chastity and marital fidelity” should be at the forefront of curbing the virus. Vadim Pokrovskiy, head of the Russian Federal AIDS Center, blames this Kremlin-approved “conservative approach” for the fact that the number of HIV-infected Russians has more than doubled in the last decade.

I’ve previously described Russia’s Anti-Propaganda Law as a slow death sentence for the way it effectively isolates LGBTQ people from one another, restricting access to any evidence that they are not alone. The law, along with the culture of stigma-fueled silence that it reinforces, is also a death sentence for the way that it fails to curtail the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Government-sanctioned silence, whether it be in the form of neglectful indifference or outright censorship has serious, and sometimes deadly consequences, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

The Russian Orthodox Church was a key player in the passage of the Anti-Propaganda Law, and here in the U.S., the Christian Right’s fingerprints are all over the CDC’s censorship. The banned vocabulary list is part of a thinly veiled effort to advance a familiar agenda — one that aims to erase transgender people out of existence, eliminate abortion access, and maintain the status quo (i.e. White supremacy, Christian hegemony, and 1% economics).

Government-sanctioned silence, whether it be in the form of neglectful indifference or outright censorship has serious, and sometimes deadly consequences, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

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.

Profile on the Right: Paul McHugh

Dr. Paul McHugh, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University (and former director of the school’s Department of Psychiatry as well as the psychiatrist-in-chief at the Johns Hopkins Hospital), has positioned himself as a go-to source for right-wing Christian organizations when it comes to anti-transgender campaigns. His title and affiliation with a reputable university has been used to bolster the Christian Right’s argument—that biological sex is binary and immutable (thus erasing intersex and transgender realities)—and provide a pathway for their ideologies, cloaked in scientific disguise, to reach the secular and political mainstream. Paul McHugh’s recommendations around transgender healthcare run counter to those made by the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.

As PRA researcher Cole Parke noted in their October 2016 Public Eye article on the anti-trans strategy of the Christian Right, McHugh has actively worked against the medical treatment of trans people since the 1970s. In an essay published in The American Scholar, McHugh indicates that part of his incentive for taking over Johns Hopkins’ psychiatry department was to shut down the institution’s Gender Identity Clinic, which had been at the forefront of transgender medicine since 1966.

McHugh indicates that part of his incentive for taking over Johns Hopkins’ psychiatry department was to shut down the institution’s Gender Identity Clinic, which had been at the forefront of transgender medicine since 1966.

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

McHugh has continued to be a prominent voice for anti-trans policies and practices. When the Family Research Council (FRC) laid out its five-point plan for “responding to the transgender movement” in 2015, they included statements made by Paul McHugh to support their argument 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.

McHugh also has a platform as member of the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), a small right-wing breakaway group that split from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2002 and was later called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2012. McHugh co-authored an ACP position statement last year (updated most recently in January 2017) called “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” It urges “healthcare professionals, educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex.”

While McHugh’s work is cited as fact by the Christian Right, his own sources are questionable. Among McHugh’s primary sources for the ACP position paper is Sheila Jeffreys, a feminist scholar with no medical background. She is also notably among a small group of highly controversial anti-trans academics and activists described by their critics as “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists” (TERFs). The collusion between the Christian Right and anti-trans feminists demonstrates that anti-trans medical professionals such as McHugh draw from any material that furthers their political agenda, regardless of its credibility.

McHugh’s work has continued to be deployed as factual evidence on both the local and state levels in opposition to trans-affirming legislation. He even admitted that his 2016 non-peer-reviewed report on sexuality and gender—published in The New Atlantis, a right-wing journal—was merely an “opinion piece.”

The Human Rights Campaign recently drilled down on this failure to engage in rigorous peer review as part of a new website called “McHugh Exposed,” launched just ahead of the Earth Day “March for Science” in April 2017. This comes on the heels of McHugh jointly filing an amicus brief to the Supreme Court opposing Virginia trans student Gavin Grimm in his case regarding access to the restroom appropriate to his gender identity. In March 2017, the Supreme Court reversed its decision to hear the case, and vacated a lower court’s ruling in favor of Grimm. How Title IX protections extend to trans students remains open to interpretation.

McHugh’s arguments are in direct opposition to that of the 66,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics, which put out a statement in March 2017 stating that “policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being….Transgender children should be supported, nurtured and cared for, whether in their homes, in their schools or through policies enacted at the state and federal levels.”

Since McHugh’s New Atlantis report was published last fall, almost 700 members of the Johns Hopkins medical community—including individuals from the university’s schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health—have publicly called on Johns Hopkins to disavow what they call his “False LGBT Reports.”

He “has been on a misguided crusade against LGBT patients and communities,” which is “causing significant harm to LGBT communities within Hopkins and beyond.”

The petition states that McHugh not only fails to uphold Johns Hopkins’ values of justice and scientific rigor, but also that he “has been on a misguided crusade against LGBT patients and communities,” which is “causing significant harm to LGBT communities within Hopkins and beyond.”

The Christian Right frequently calls upon scientists and medical professionals on their roster to provide expert witness in the fight against LGBTQ and reproductive justice. Paul McHugh is a prominent one, with over four decades of practice advocating against trans-affirming healthcare.



#First100Days Crash Course: Week 9

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


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

Featured resources:

Additional Readings:

Media (Click to download):



Engage: Schools in Transition


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

Check out the guide HERE.

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

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.

Photo by Mr.TinDC via Flickr.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

Comic strip by Barry Deutsch: leftycartoons.com.

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

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

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

Journalist Tina Vasquez documents that in 1980,

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Co-authored by Gabriel Joffe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors:

Gabriel Joffe is the program coordinator at Political Research Associates. 

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