50.50: Opinion

We’ve hit crisis point for trans people in America

From Alabama to Florida, our rights are under attack. We can’t counter the Right without understanding its tactics

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
5 May 2022, 10.34am
Supporters of Florida's 'don't say gay' law protest outside Walt Disney World
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Octavio Jones/REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

The more I look back at the deterioration of the situation for transgender individuals and the supportive families of trans children in the United States over the last few years – and even specifically over the last few weeks – the more I am struck by the prescience of Katie Laird, a Texas native and the mother of a trans child, who I interviewed last month.

Since I spoke with Laird, things have got measurably worse, as she suggested they would, saying, “At some point in the very near future, the focus will shift from trans kids to trans adults, and from there it will move out into the broader queer community.”

While most of the state-level measures passed since late March primarily target children and schools, they have also had a broader anti-queer focus. In addition, in a leaked draft opinion indicating the US Supreme Court is planning to overturn the precedent of Roe v Wade, thus abrogating Americans’ right to abortion care, Justice Samuel Alito also attacked the rights to same-sex marriage and consensual homosexual acts in ways that signal the Roberts Court is prepared to abrogate those rights as well.

Meanwhile, the Right’s rhetoric has coalesced around vicious and false accusations against queer adults and adult LGBTIQ allies, the ostensible ‘predators’ from which queer children supposedly need ‘saving’. Just a few developments we’ve seen over the last few weeks will serve to illustrate the point.

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Astonishingly, the governor of Florida, home of both Disney World and an infamous new ‘don’t say gay’ law, has turned against Disney – despite the fact that his state’s economy depends largely on tourism – because Disney vocally opposes the law, which is clearly going to be bad for business.

In addition, Alabama’s governor has signed two anti-LGBTIQ laws criminalising the provision of age-appropriate healthcare to trans minors and requiring trans students to use school bathrooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificates.

The latter law also includes a ‘don’t say gay’ provision similar to the gag rule now imposed on Florida’s public schools.

As justification for supporting these bills, which the state legislature had sent to her desk, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey cited her religious beliefs – that she “believed very strongly that if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl”.

Of course, on paper, the United States constitution and legal precedent make such a religious justification for a policy that is binding on all inadmissible.

Unfortunately, however, the “wall of separation between church and state” is already riddled with breaches, and court watchers expect it to be further undermined when the Supreme Court decides Kennedy v Bremerton School District, a case that involves a high school coach’s very visible prayers at school (American) football games.

The Supreme Court typically hands down most of a term’s worth of decisions in the month of June, which will be upon us shortly.

‘Saving children’ was a rallying cry of the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s, and it is also a rallying cry of today’s QAnon conspiracy theorists

Meanwhile, the Right has grabbed attention by lobbing malicious accusations of ‘grooming’ at teachers, liberals and anyone who supports the rights of queer children to have access to age-appropriate information about sexuality and gender, and for trans children to have access to age-appropriate healthcare.

It’s not the first time those on the Right have tried this tactic, which they return to because, unfortunately, it works. As anthropologist Sophie-Bjork James wrote recently for Religion Dispatches (where, full disclosure, I am a senior correspondent):

“In 1977, former beauty queen and Christian singer Anita Bryant launched one of the first heterosexual rights campaigns in the US in response to a Dade County Commission decision to extend civil rights to sexual minorities.

“But instead of framing her organisation as defending heterosexual supremacy, it portrayed gays and lesbians as threats to children. Her organization was even called ‘Save Our Children’. This tactic proved successful. The ordinance was soon revoked by voters and a favorite tactic of the Christian Right was born.”

‘Saving children’ was a rallying cry of the ‘Satanic Panic’ of the 1980s, and it is also a rallying cry of today’s QAnon conspiracy theorists. Part and parcel of this approach is the false and malicious assertion of a link between queerness and paedophilia, typically accompanied by accusations of ‘recruiting’ or ‘grooming’ children. Queer adults have suffered discrimination over decades as a result of these accusations.

Of course, this rhetoric flips reality on its head, as the DARVO (deny, attack, and reverse victim and offender) tactics of abusers do.

The Christian Right is constantly ‘recruiting’ in the form of proselytising, and its organised efforts on this front include various approaches to infiltrating public schools with the goal of converting children to hardline, anti-LGBTIQ Christianity.

Meanwhile, the Christian Right also has a massive sexual misconduct and child abuse problem, with so many incidents coming to light in evangelical contexts in recent years that one leading evangelical survivor advocate has come to believe the situation is even worse than that in the Catholic Church.

It is not a new insight, of course, that authoritarian politics is abusive.

But as we continue to observe the deteriorating situation for members of the LGBTIQ community in the United States, proponents of fairness, democracy and human rights would do well to make sure that we understand the abusive dynamics in play so that we can strategise about how they might be countered.

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