Experts warn that anti-trans rhetoric is fueling a major right-wing extremist threat
The right is using hatred of transgender people to build political power.
Openly transphobic rhetoric has heated up on the right recently. GOP members of Congress, state lawmakers, governors, former President Donald Trump, and conservative organizations have all spread misinformation about transgender equality to create a bogeyman for their own political purposes.
Far-right extremist groups like the Proud Boys are using hatred of transgender people as one of many tools to build political power, some experts say.
Lindsay Schubiner, a program director at the Western States Center whose work focuses on disrupting white nationalism, said transphobia is a public safety issue, for both the trans people targeted by it and the American people as a whole.
“Trans people are part of the public and their safety matters, first and foremost, but it’s also true that transphobia and anti-trans attacks are a key part of white nationalist and antidemocratic movements that is not talked about nearly enough,” Schubiner said. “These movements of organized bigotry are dangerous to all of us, to our democracy, and to our civil rights. This threat is not theoretical.”
She added, “White nationalist and paramilitary groups use tactics based on violence, threats, and intimidation. That’s absolutely a safety concern.”
Republican state lawmakers and anti-LGBTQ groups have pushed an onslaught of anti-trans legislation, including bills banning transgender kids from playing on the sports team of their gender and prohibiting transgender youth from getting hormone treatments and puberty blockers.
They’ve also introduced bills aimed at regulating transgender people’s bathroom use and allowing parents to opt their kids out of lessons mentioning LGBTQ people. Such bills have been enacted in Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, and Mississippi.
Anti-LGBTQ groups have used a website called Promise to America’s Children to help create and promote anti-trans bills. The website, which names the Heritage Foundation, the Family Policy Alliance, and the Alliance Defending Freedom as national partners, provides model legislation lawmakers can request for use in drafting bills.
At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference held in late February, Trump made claims, which are not supported by any evidence, that allowing transgender girls and women to compete would “destroy women’s sports.” The conference also devoted an entire panel to the supposed threat posed by transgender athletes.
In February, Boebert was on the House floor to talk about the Equality Act, federal legislation that would provide legal protections to LGBTQ people in housing, education, health care, and more: “Where is the equity in this legislation for the young girls across America who will have to look behind their backs as they change in school locker rooms, just to make sure there isn’t a confused man trying to catch a peek?”
Greene has called transgender equality “gender destruction.”
In February, Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL), the mother of a transgender daughter, put up a trans flag in the hallway near her office and Greene’s in response to Greene’s moves against the Equality Act. Greene responded with a sign that read, “There are TWO genders. MALE & FEMALE. Trust the science!”
Boebert, Greene, and Crenshaw have all had connections to far-right movements. Greene is known for her adherence to the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory; in 2018, Media Matters for America reported that Crenshaw was one of five Republican candidates for Congress that were administrators and moderators of a racist Facebook group.
According to the New York Times, Boebert has “close connections to militia groups.”
As Republicans continue to spread transphobic ideas about transgender people, usually women and girls, as a threat to cisgender women and girls and to families in general, far-right organizations have used transphobia as a recruitment tool.
The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London released a report in April called “Far From Gone: The Evolution of Extremism in the First 100 Days of the Biden Administration,” in which it notes, “Transphobia has long been one of the most major and ubiquitous narratives around which the far right mobilises. The way in which transphobia is utilised as a narrative within the far right must be afforded considerably more academic and policymaker consideration. Transphobia should be recognised as a security concern.”
The report mentions the case of Dr. Rachel Levine, a Biden administration appointee:
During the first 100 days of the Biden administration, much of this [transphobic] vitriol has been channelled towards Dr Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender individual to be confirmed by the Senate, who has been appointed by Biden as assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Sciences. In various social media posts made to the Proud Boys’ main Telegram channel, Levine has been the target of open transphobia. Commonly, the group attempts to deny Levine the right to assert her gender identity, by referring to her using male pronouns and repeatedly asserting that she is a biological male.
“The appointment of Dr Rachel Levine within the Biden administration should be recognised as an important step forward in normalising the visibility of transgender people, yet it should also be recognised as a rallying point for various far-right groups and narratives,” the report warns.
In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center said white nationalist threats against transgender people were increasing: “For far-right extremists, the increased visibility of transgender people is a sign of the growing ‘degeneracy’ of the nation, wrought by ‘cultural Marxists,’ leftists and Jews as part of an assault on white, Christian families and strict gender roles. They believe that trans people, like immigrants and non-whites, are hastening the destruction of an idealized white, Western culture.”
That same year, a group called Super Happy Fun America, some members of which were later present at the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill insurrection by Trump supporters, organized what they called a “straight pride parade.”
“When we’re looking at white nationalist and anti-democratic movements, one thing that is really core to our analysis is that these are movements that don’t exist solely to spread bigotry,” Schubiner said. “They’re spreading bigotry to build political power to achieve their vision of what society should look like. And for white nationalists, that’s an all-white ethnostate within the United States.”
She added, “Today’s white nationalist movement is rooted in a backlash to the civil rights movement. Similarly, I think we can see bigoted and anti-democratic movements’ focus on misogyny and transphobia as also a backlash to increasing civil rights for women and LGBT people.”
The report issued by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation notes that part of what makes the louder transphobic rhetoric so dangerous is that you can already find softer versions of it in other conservative spaces.
“Far-right transphobia poses a particularly acute threat, because often it constitutes a more extreme reflection of narratives already common within more mainstream Conservative movements, and which are likely to be utilised by the far right to recruit more followers,” it warns.
Schubiner said that although there isn’t always a direct line connecting lawmakers and other political figures to far-right groups, they operate through the same larger social movements: “Many of these groups operate in tandem, but even if they’re not directly coordinating, energy and ideas are shared within the social movement, and often flow from the more violent groups to those that work primarily through political and legal strategies.”
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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