50.50: Opinion

Anti-trans trend in US will inevitably lead to violence

OPINION: The rhetorical and legislative onslaught against trans people in the US has reached a dangerous new high

Chrissy Stroop
Chrissy Stroop
25 January 2023, 6.00am

Photos of the five victims of a mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, US

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Isaiah J Downing / REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

The legal and cultural situation for LGBTIQ Americans – especially transgender Americans – has got worse and worse with every passing year. This trend shows no signs of abating in 2023.

We’re just three weeks into the year, and at least 225 anti-LGBTIQ bills have already been introduced in state legislatures, according to a list compiled by trans rights activist Alejandra Caraballo. Many target gender-affirming healthcare. A smaller number are focused on drag shows, because the anti-trans right tends to incorrectly conflate dressing and performing in drag with being transgender.

Last year, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in 26 states, with 13 states passing some of those bills into law. In some cases, when extreme proposals failed to clear a state’s legislature, right-wing governors and officials circumvented the legislative process. This is how Texas ended up targeting the loving parents of trans children with phony ‘child abuse’ investigations, and how Florida managed to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans minors and defund it for trans adults.

This onslaught follows years of the right (aided and abetted by trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs) fomenting anti-trans sentiment via fear-mongering in the media and in political campaigns. Bathroom and school sports bills served as gateways to more extreme laws, while the campaigns associated with them spread false and violent rhetoric.

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A moral panic in 2022 about so-called ‘groomers’ – a term slung frequently at trans people and drag performers – grew out of this trend. Trans people, drag performers and other LGBTIQ individuals were subjected to intimidation, angry mobs and bomb threats – to say nothing of the murderous rampage at Club Q in Colorado (on the night before the Transgender Day of Remembrance), where five people died and 19 were injured at the hands of a mass shooter allegedly fuelled by anti-trans hatred.

New tactics

As anyone who has spent much time on social media can tell you, ‘genital mutilation’ is a term that right-wingers and TERFs constantly throw at trans individuals. Now, that rhetorical violence is coming home to roost in state legislative initiatives: a dangerous new tactic is to conflate gender-affirming healthcare with ‘genital mutilation’, as a way to ban gender-confirmation surgeries.

Last month, openDemocracy revealed that Republican lawmakers in Texas are attempting to amend the state’s health and safety code, which currently bans the clearly abusive practice of female genital mutilation (FGM), as practiced on minors for religious reasons. The new language would simply ban ‘genital mutilation’, explicitly including transition procedures that are almost never carried out on minors. Conflating these procedures with FGM is false and harmful. Should this initiative pass, it will amount to yet more direct state persecution of transgender individuals.

Texas is following the example of Idaho, where a similar bill was introduced last year (it ultimately failed to pass, due to Republican state senators’ concerns that it went too far in overstepping “parents’ rights” to determine healthcare choices for their children).

This flurry of anti-trans laws has never been about ‘protecting children’ – it’s about attacking the existence of trans people

Meanwhile, other Republican-controlled states are upping the ante in other ways. State legislators in North Dakota are trying to make a person’s gender legally immutable by defining it as “sex as determined at birth” or by DNA. Right-wing lawmakers in Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia have all introduced bills that would ban even non-surgical transition care for anyone under the age of 21 (Oklahoma is also considering banning it for under-26s).

Access to puberty blockers and hormones can vastly improve the quality of life for trans people, for whom going through the puberty associated with their sex assigned at birth can be very traumatic. Attempting to ban young adults from receiving such care is a clear sign that the flurry of anti-trans laws we’ve seen in the last few years has never been about ‘protecting children’ – it’s about attacking the existence of trans people.

These ever-harsher anti-trans laws mean that simply existing as a trans person in the US is becoming harder and more uncomfortable. If trans people are forced to transition later, then we are less likely to get the results that will allow us to ‘pass’ as cisgender, which makes it easier for those who fear and hate trans people to attack us.

More violence

I don’t know what it’s going to take to reverse the cultural and legislative onslaught against trans people in the US. But I hope that those who thought school sports bans or bathroom bills were reasonable might at least baulk at the banning of well-established medical best practices by non-expert legislators, governors and bureaucrats who have decided to interpose themselves between individuals, families and their doctors – and who are now openly targeting adults as well as children.

If we fail to reverse this trend soon, thanks to a public outcry by cisgender allies on behalf of transgender Americans, more violence – perhaps eventually openly state-sanctioned – is inevitable.

Genocide always begins with dehumanising rhetoric, and the enshrinement of such rhetoric in legislation is a step further in that dangerous direction. If we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen here, we must understand that it could – and we must change direction before it’s too late.

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