American Republicans have found their newest scapegoat — trans people — and are using them as a smokescreen to cover for their failures and out-of-touch politics. Starting with the so-called “bathroom bills” in 2015 and continuing to today’s baseless assertions that trans people, and particularly trans women, are violent pedophiles, Republicans are attacking the rights of trans people to be out in society. This rhetoric is not new, but the American right has connected trans rights to the broader “culture wars,” presenting trans people’s existence as a grave threat to society.
The fixation by the modern Republican Party on culture war topics underscores its lack of a unifying vision for the country, instead predicating their agenda on division and alienation. After the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, eliminating the national right to an abortion, Republicans had to galvanize around a new topic to spur their evangelical base to vote. With the exponential increase in anti-trans legislation over the last few years, demonizing an oppressed group has proven to be critical tool in Republicans’ political arsenal.
Just halfway through 2023, at least 560 state bills and 28 federal bills have been introduced, according to Trans Legislation Tracker. This number is already more than the number of anti-trans bills introduced from 2015 to 2022 combined. Spanning everything from the sports to bathrooms to healthcare, every aspect of trans life is under constant threat from malicious attempts to deny and silence their existence.
Gubernatorial victories in Virginia and Florida by Glenn Youngkin and Ron DeSantis, respectively, were animated by an emphasis on “parents’ rights” and the pervasiveness of “wokeness,” a catch-all term that has come to mean anything that challenges the social status quo. The successes achieved by the GOP here have inspired a national push for similar laws, threatening trans students across the country.
Words inspire action, and with the constant disparaging of trans people, violence against them has predictably exploded. Attacks on trans people with everything from demonstrations by hate groups to political violence have reached their highest levels. Trans people are four times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than cisgender people. Last year, the gay bar Club Q was the site of a mass shooting on the eve of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
With hateful diatribes reminiscent of anti-gay paranoia and fascist targeting of those deemed “other,” stochastic terrorism is effectively certain to arise. Republican politicians and pundits are willing to sacrifice trans rights and implicitly condone violence against trans people, all to boost their election chances and popularity. They have constructed a blood-stained distraction built on lies, and without resistance, this campaign will only expand.
In every state except Delaware, Republican lawmakers have introduced anti-trans bills, passing 84 so far. With hundreds of proposed laws, the Republican Party has made clear that it seeks to overwhelm government, push bill after bill, and see what sticks. Florida is at the forefront of the effort to persecute and prosecute trans people and their allies; after all, its governor proclaimed, “Florida is where woke goes to die.”
Governor DeSantis has focused his campaigns and politics on the culture wars, targeting issues concerning race, gender identity, and sexuality, particularly in schools. Florida’s Department of Education rejected hundreds of math and social studies textbooks, citing violations of Florida law for including “prohibited topics” such as critical race theory and social-emotional learning. Controlling what children are allowed to learn in school is posed as an effort to protect children from indoctrination, arguing that one’s feelings have no place in an academic environment. Of course, that same Department of Education authorized whitewashing history and ignoring the existence and persistence of racism from the skewed lens that students should be shielded from historical facts.
But Mr. DeSantis’s administration has not stopped at discussions of race and racism. In what has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law, teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation from prekindergarten through 12th grade is severely restricted. This law comes from the view that trans people, and LGBTQ+ people at large, are inherently sexual. Cisgender straight people, on the other hand, are the default, the “normal.” This othering of everyone in the LGBTQ+ community further jeopardizes their safety in everyday life.
Florida is not alone in the fight to criminalize the existence of trans people. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has attempted to authorize the investigation of parents of trans children for child abuse. While courts have temporarily blocked these investigations, legal proceedings are ongoing.
Last year, Idaho House Bill 675, ominously titled “Genital Mutilation of a Child,” sought to solve the essentially nonexistent problem of transition-related surgeries in children while carving out exceptions for operating on intersex infants, a medical practice that has been internationally denounced.
Just weeks ago, a federal judge in Arkansas struck down that state’s law banning gender-affirming care for all minors, which is safe and medically necessary for the health of trans and nonbinary people.
Anti-trans lobbying organizations have raised tens of millions of dollar fighting against trans rights while simultaneously trying to obfuscate the sources of that money. The Alliance Defending Freedom, for example, reported $78 million in 2021, while the Family Research Council changed its status with the Internal Revenue Service to an “association of churches” to avoid filing public tax returns.
Republicans across the country and the organizations that lobby for their bigoted objectives are becoming more aggressive and expansive in their tactics and aims while hiding the financial drivers of their cause. Sponsors of federal bills masquerade as courageous supporters women’s rights while advocating for laws that accomplish the opposite. Trans people are the current target of the American right’s ire, but that focus will shift. Failing to recognize the implications of the propaganda campaign against trans people and trans healthcare merely emboldens those who seek to maintain a patriarchal, restrictive system.
The truth of trans healthcare
A critical assumption underlying Republicans’ anti-trans obsession is that gender-affirming care is experimental and dangerous and thus a threat to unassuming children who have been convinced by bad actors to become trans. Every aspect of this assumption is completely false.
First, gender-affirming care is not experimental despite decades-long baseless claims to the contrary. The American Psychological Association defines experimental treatment as “an intervention or regimen that has shown some promise as a cure or ameliorative for a disease or condition but is still being evaluated for efficacy, safety, and acceptability.” Gender-affirming care is not experimental but rather safe and medically necessary.
Second, children being trans is not a recent trend, and peer pressure is not why some children are trans. Medical transitions have existed since at least the 1930s in the United States, with social transitions occurring globally throughout human history.
Third, there is no secret cabal forcing children to be trans. Trans people have existed for millennia and will continue to exist. Baseless conspiracy theories will not change that.
Medical transitions almost always follow a social transition including changing one’s personal pronouns or using a new name that better aligns with one’s gender identity. Republicans refuse even to acknowledge this fact, preferring to fearmonger that children wake up one day and immediately undergo surgery.
The introduction of medical care in the transition process is gradual, starting with reversible puberty blockers called gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonists. Surgeries about which Republicans warn are exceedingly rare in minors, and if they are performed, the decision is made on a case-by-case basis for older adolescents.
Allegations that trans women are “bathroom predators” who maliciously use bathrooms that align with their gender identity are unfounded, and trans athletes do not have an intrinsic advantage over cisgender athletes.
Gender-affirming care is not only safe, but life-saving. Trans teens are 7.6 times as likely as cisgender teens to attempt suicide and are at a dramatically increased risk to suffer from depression. After gender-affirming care, there are 60 percent lower odds of depression and 73 percent lower odds of suicidality.
Every major medical association supports gender-affirming care, yet Republicans nationwide are waging war on it and the public existence of trans people. They are using the safety of trans people as a diversion to push their conservative agenda.
Broader Republican agenda
Republicans proposing anti-trans legislation are not trying to protect children. They are wielding state power and threatening trans people and their allies as a smokescreen to cover for their failed policies and politics, using inflammatory language that results in vigilantism.
After the 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision eliminated the federal right to an abortion, support for reproductive rights increased. Republicans profess a desire to protect women in their anti-trans crusade while restricting women’s rights to control their own bodies at the same time. And though riling up the anti-choice base of the Republican Party can win a primary, a general election win is more difficult. By shifting the focus on bogus claims against trans people, social conservatives can claim to be protecting children from a “woke mind virus.” Republicans pick and choose when to apply their baseless principles while working to build a regressive society.
Culture war battles, including the current anti-trans push, are a smokescreen to mask Republicans’ inability to grasp the gravity of climate change, real wage stagnation, the national housing crisis, and a racist immigration system. Instead of addressing actual issues, state and federal Republicans have chosen to redirect Americans’ attention to a non-problem while their quality of life falls.
Claiming to be the party that protects children is particularly egregious considering the loosening of gun laws even as gun deaths have risen among children. The Republican agenda is nothing more than consolidating power and perpetuating social inequities under the guise of caring for the vulnerable. There are real-world consequences for Republicans’ violent rhetoric, an inevitability grounded in historical precedent.
Call to violence
The groomer panic surrounding trans people has roots in conspiracies about gay men in the 1970s and ’80s in the U.S. The language of “protect the children” used by current conservatives harkens back to the “Save Our Children” campaign spearheaded by Anita Bryant that argued gay men were pedophiles recruiting children. That assertion, obviously, is patently false. This movement arose just four years after the American Psychiatric Association recognized that homosexuality is not a mental illness.
Persecuting LGBTQ+ people is not isolated to the United States. In Nazi Germany, gay men were imprisoned in concentration camps and called Jugendverführer, meaning “seducer of youth.” Now, prominent figures on the American right are reusing derogatory terms popularized by Nazis and inspiring fascist violence against trans people.
Neo-Nazis have protested drag events, far-right social media account Libs of TikTok has spread the lie that Boston Children’s Hospital is providing hysterectomies to minors, leading to bomb threats, and Tucker Carlson, the right-wing media commentator, said the “trans movement” is the “natural enemy” of Christianity after the Nashville school shooting.
With the constant lies that trans people are violent and the government will do nothing to stop them, anything associated with LGBTQ+ existence is under threat. The Republican Party has not just condoned such language but adopted it as a critical piece of the party platform. Trans rights are just the starting point, and ignoring the consequences of allowing Republicans to oppress a marginalized group will encourage them to keep fighting against civil rights. Such a regression cannot be accepted, and equal rights for all Americans, regardless of gender identity, must be guaranteed.