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Independent journalist Erin Reed discusses Republicans’ anti-LGBTQ proposals

Erin Reed says state legislators ‘are continuing to increase the ways in which they target the community.’

By Will Fritz - April 28, 2023
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Kevin McCarthy outside the U.S. Capitol at a press conference recognizing the passing of the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act on April 20, 2023
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks alongside other House Republicans and advocates during a press conference outside the U.S. Capitol after the House passed the Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act April 20, 2023. (Francis Chung/POLITICO)

The American Independent Foundation on April 24 spoke with independent journalist Erin Reed, author of the Substack Erin in the Morning. Reed’s journalism is focused onLGBTQ rights, and most recently on anti-trans legislation at the state and national levels. Reed spoke with the American Independent Foundation’s Will Fritz on Instagram Live about threats to trans rights in media narratives and actions being taken against trans people by state governments across the country.

Editor’s note: Reed worked for The American Independent Foundation from 2016-2021.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Will Fritz, the American Independent Foundation: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you end up covering anti-trans, anti-queer legislation independently?

Erin Reed: Starting about four years ago, whenever I transitioned, I had to go to a clinic about three hours away from where I live, and it was three hours away, three hours back, six hours worth of round-trip driving. And so I essentially decided to map out clinics and make it easier for people to find them. As I did that, people started connecting with me and what their clinics were and how they worked. And eventually, I kind of became a little bit of a hub for information around this stuff.

That then switched into the laws that were being proposed to target the trans community. And so I started covering all of these laws, all of the bills, I had to learn how to read them, learn what they did. I connected with a lot of activists in a lot of different fields, people at the ACLU, Lambda Legal, GLAAD, all of the different organizations. And then eventually, about eight months ago, I decided to leave my full time job and just start writing about it. 

TAIF: So, you probably saw that Tucker Carlson is out at Fox News now. He was one of the biggest ringleaders of the conservative media targeting trans people. In the wake of the Nashville shooting, he tried to paint trans people as terrorists. He literally said, “The trans movement is targeting Christians.” What do you think this means for trans rights? Like, he’s probably the biggest fish in that anti-trans pond, but there’s still plenty of Matt Walshes and Candace Owenses out there. 

Reed: Yeah, there are still plenty of media personalities that focus on the community, but I think it’s huge, because he had such a platform and basically anytime he, quote unquote, “called a target,” you know, those people would get bomb threats, those people would get death threats. And I know people that worked at Boston Children’s Hospital, I knew people that worked at Vanderbilt. I know people that — I have spoken to Dylan Mulvaney, I know what happens whenever Tucker Carlson focuses the fire of his audience on a group of people. And to see him out, I think, no matter where he goes, no matter what he does, he’s not going to have this big of a platform. And that in and of itself is important, I think, for the long term safety of the community. 

TAIF: My thought would be that those kind of lower-level Matt Walshes aren’t as dangerous. What are your thoughts?

Reed: I definitely think that Tucker Carlson is the most dangerous in terms of his ability to cause targeted harassment. Matt Walsh, because he is not on Fox News, can take more extreme positions, kind of like with Michael Knowles and such. So while he does not have the reach of Tucker Carlson or some of the other media personalities, he still did lead the Nashville rally against child mutilation or whatever it was called, which then led to some pretty heavy-duty bomb threats. You know, I think that the Daily Wire and that group of people, Matt Walsh, Candace Owens, Michael Knowles, to see them start to take over more and more of the party, it’s a little frightening. You know, whenever I watched Michael Knowles get up in front of CPAC and call for transgender eradication, these are things that I think a lot of trans people hear, and we are concerned about [it]. So I think seeing Tucker Carlson leave Fox News makes me hopeful that this is perhaps the beginning of pushing some of these extreme voices to the margins, where they don’t have the mass media impact that Fox News might have. 

TAIF: I want to talk about Missouri, where the attorney general very abruptly announced a ban on gender-affirming care: puberty blockers, hormone treatments, which he called cross-sex hormones, surgeries, everything. (Editor’s note: A Missouri judge stayed the ban until Monday, May 1.) It mentioned protecting children from gender-affirming care, but then the ban was for everyone. Do you think other states are going to start finding creative ways to abruptly ban care like this? Of course, they’ve already been copying each other on legislation, so that would be a possibility. 

Reed: This is actually part of a thread that’s been going on for a little while. Legislatures in the past have had trouble passing gender-affirming care bans for trans youth. They’ve had trouble passing anti-trans laws. This year, they passed a little bit easier because the right wing has taken control of a lot of state-level Republican parties. But back in 2022, Texas, the governor, Greg Abbott, and Attorney General Ken Paxton essentially started investigating the parents of trans youth for child abuse. We then saw other states start using executive actions as well to target the community because they couldn’t pass legislation. We see this a lot in the Ron DeSantis administration [in Florida]. We see the attempt to shut down drag brunches where there are no anti-drag laws, using attorney general interpretations of laws that are from the 1940s. We’ve seen in Virginia, Gov. Glenn Youngkin essentially targeted schools to make all of them ban trans people from bathrooms and to also force teachers to out their trans students. Seeing Missouri use the executive power of the attorney general is part of that same thread. 

I do think that there will be other states that do this. I am watching Florida right now to see if they’re going to be the next one that uses an attorney general decision to jump on this trend. I’m looking at other states that could do the same thing. There are several very far-right Republican attorneys general who are, for instance, OK with decertifying election results and such, and so I don’t think it’s that far of a step for other Republican states to then use their attorney general to do what the legislature cannot do.

TAIF: How can trans people prepare themselves, living in a state like that where something could happen so abruptly? What can people do to protect themselves?

Reed: I think that for some people, they have to leave, and it’s unfortunate, and not everybody can leave. And I want to make it clear that whenever I say that some people have to leave, these are the people that have the means to do so, that are privileged enough to do so, and unfortunately most people are not privileged enough to just up and leave their place.

For the people that do have to stay, though, I think that all of us have to collectively support those people that have to stay, on the ground. We need to support things like local mutual-aid organizations. We need to support people that run the local LGBT organizations. I think that we need to treat this the same way that we treat the anti-abortion movement and the enforcement of anti-abortion laws-. And thankfully, most local state-level organizations have realized the same thing, and you will see strong coalitions between local abortion funds and local LGBT groups, because they realize how tied-in this is all together.

TAIF: What can people who are outside of those states do? There are 16 states that have banned gender-affirming health care for minors. Is there anything that can be done?

Reed: For people that are in safer states, support the local LGBT orgs that are there, because that’s really important. Local abortion funds as well as the local mutual-aid organizations. You can go to Equality Federation to find all of these state-level LGBT groups. I’ve been a part of Twitch streams where we fundraise for Campaign for Southern Equality, for instance. 

The bigger thing is that there’s not a single state that is perfect on LGBTQ rights right now, not a single one. Many states, for instance, can pass laws that protect the rights of refugees from other states to not get their health care records subpoenaed across state lines, or to not have their kids taken across state lines to detransition them, which we have seen some states willing to do. For instance, Florida has passed a bill that would allow noncustodial parents to take custody of a kid in Florida if they’re getting gender-affirming care in another state. If you have a mutual aid organization in your city that protects your local populations of LGBTQ people, support them. Because there are a lot of states where they have amazing laws, like in Minnesota, there are amazing laws that protect trans people. But Black and brown trans people are still held at higher rates in Minneapolis. And so we need to make sure that those laws and those protections filter down to the people that need them the most. 

TAIF: What should elected Democrats be doing to help fight for trans people?

Reed: Right now, it depends on the level that they’re elected at. I think that this starts at the school board level. If your readers are not going to school board meetings, I would highly recommend that they start, because that’s where a lot of the organizing is happening around the anti-trans side, even in very affirming states. I live in Maryland. My state has many protections for trans people. There are still local school boards that are banning Pride flags. I think that at school board level, make sure that we’re electing good people that care about the rights of their LGBTQ populations and the safety of them. It’s really important to also recognize that most of the legislation targeting the trans community has been at the state level, and we need to make sure that we are electing Democrats that are knowledgeable in this. 

We also need to make sure that we are putting pressure on our moderate Republicans who don’t want to vote for these bills. I’ve spoken to many moderate Republicans who have told me they don’t want to vote for these bills, but they’re scared of being primaried. We need to make sure that they are more scared of losing their election. And then lastly, at the national level we just saw the first national sports ban for trans people pass in the House. One of the talks that I’m having with national leaders now is that you need to make sure you are educated on these issues, because the right is spreading misinformation. They are using Libs of TikTok to pipe misinformation about litter boxes in bathrooms and whatnot. And it is so important that our Democratic leaders at the national level know what’s going on, so that they can speak on these topics importantly and that they can speak on these topics eloquently, and so lI’ve tried to have those conversations to get them started on understanding what is about to happen.

TAIF: What do you think the risk is at the national level? Obviously, they passed H.B. 734, which would require any sports programs that receive federal funding to be divided by “biological sex [assigned at birth]”. But that has little chance of anything happening right now because the Democrats control the Senate and the presidency. But what do you think if the Republicans win the Senate and the presidency in 2024? Do you think that it is a very serious concern that they will try to actually pass these bills? 

Reed: Absolutely, it is a paramount concern that they are going to try to pass these bills. I want everybody to think about where we were four years ago. The main issue was trans people in sports. That was the bill. It didn’t pass, four years ago, they tried to pass it, and then it finally passed, in Idaho. This is how they get started. This is the foot-in-the-door effect. And in fact, we know that the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Principles Project — these are the same orgs, by the way, that are responsible for the recent abortion pill ruling. We know that these organizations used sports bans as the foot-in-the-door effect. And so we see this now in Congress, we see the foot-in-the-door effect with the sports ban. I think that national Dems need to learn how to push back and if they lose, if we lose the election in 2024, I know many people that are terrified and that are getting ready to get out, because we know all of the things that they want to do once they have the majority. We know that they’re going to want to pass sports bans nationally, we know they’re going to want to pass national gender-affirming care bans for trans youth, and even target adults, given what we see in Missouri. 

I’ll leave you with one last thing on this particular topic. I am more terrified of losing the presidency than I am Congress. Because we have seen multiple governors use executive powers to target people beyond what is going on in the Congress. I can imagine a world where a Donald Trump or a Ron DeSantis gets into office and releases an executive order that says that you can’t use estradiol and testosterone for transition treatments and just pulls it massively, or launches an investigation meant to end supplies of gender-affirming care medication. Most transgender people that I know are stockpiling their medication right now. Because they are worried about what’s going to happen in 2024. 

TAIF: Switching gears just a little bit, in the wake of the Nashville shooting, the Republican Party and the right-wing media seized on to the fact that the shooter was trans to try to stoke fear about trans people. Never mind the fact that there is a demographic that is predominantly responsible for shootings, and it is not trans people. How can we as journalists fight that?

Reed: You know, Republicans will blame everything possible for mass shootings in this country, except for the prevalence of weapons of war in our community. And this is just another case of that. If this were a person of another group, if this were a Middle Easterner, we’d see a totally different narrative. Republicans are unwilling to budge at all on the idea that maybe a little bit of gun control is okay. And in Tennessee, we saw a backlash to the lack of any movement on at least doing some level of regulation. And then that’s what led to the Tennessee Three situation, where you saw Republicans literally want to expel people [from the Legislature], instead of addressing the issues in their own community. This is what we see going on in the country right now. 

I think that as journalists, we need to make sure that we don’t lean into these narratives where we assume that trans people are mentally ill or that people of Middle Eastern descent are inherently violent or extremist. These are narratives that get circulated in the community through harmful tropes, and people report on them sometimes without understanding what they’re reporting on. This idea that trans people are doing mass shootings is bogus, and it’s obviously ridiculous. I think that anybody that has seen mass shootings in the last 20 years knows that. I saw a report and there was something like 1,300 mass shootings in the last 10 years and then, of those, four of them were trans or nonbinary, which is actually lower than the percentage that you would expect because trans people represent one in 100 or even two in 100.

TAIF: Is there anything you can do in a conversation to try to get people to be more open-minded? 

Reed: Honestly, I just think that education is important, finding out the moments where you can educate, finding out the moments where you can step in. And honestly, for cis people and for allies, getting the education yourself, figuring out what gender-affirming care is, knowing trans people, knowing parents of trans kids. We are more and more commonly coming out and making ourselves known to the world. And I just recently saw a Pew survey that shows that 47% of people know a transgender person closely, like their close friends, parents, siblings. Moving forward, including these people in your lives can help you and help educate you. And also, keeping transgender content creators in your media diet, watching shows that feature trans people, reading books that have queer and trans people that are either characters or writers of those books. I recently watched a documentary called “Disclosure,” and it is about how the media diet that we all grew up on feeds all of the anti-trans narratives that we are currently seeing. You know, if you go back to 2011 or before, and you watch a comedy show, you got a 50-50 shot at just a random abjectly transphobic joke, where the punchline is like, Bam, man in a dress, or Bam, a trans person. This reinforces this sort of narrative that we all have to deprogram. I think that this is a big part of why we see in Gen Z, and younger populations, this narrative has not taken root in their heads and in their brains. And so you see a lot more openness around trans people because they didn’t grow up on that kind of a media diet. 

TAIF: Is there anything else you wanted to add on anti-trans legislation?

Reed: They are continuing to increase the ways in which they target the community. This doesn’t just affect trans people. This affects cis people as well. And I think that that’s one of the takeaways, that anti-trans laws are meant to enforce a gender binary that tries to reify certain facts about society that people have assumed are true for generations that aren’t. The idea that men are inherently superior to women or that women should be dressing and behaving a certain way. I just watched Ben Shapiro the other day release a video stating that he believes that local communities ought to pass ordinances that ban men from wearing feminine clothing and then also added, “I guess women could wear pants.” These are the regressive ideas they’re trying to bring back to these drag bands. They don’t only target trans people or people in drag. They target Shakespeare, they target “Mrs. Doubtfire.” They target “Mulan.” They target Disney for having any gender-nonconforming character. And they could target me and you for the ways in which we present ourselves in public if they are allowed to continue down this road. We think about sports bans as targeting trans people, but in reality, most states only have one or two trans people that play any sort of sports. And what it’s really going to do is cause mass genital inspections for cisgender youth. As we’ve seen where sports bans have been enacted in places like Utah, if a person gets their gender challenged, it causes this long investigation into their gender and it’s traumatic. We’ve seen, where bathroom bans have been enacted, more nongender-nonconforming cisgender women kicked out of bathrooms than trans people. Because, surprise, surprise, you can’t always tell whenever somebody is transgender. This affects cisgender people as well.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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