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Tsunami of Anti-Trans Bills Reveals the State of Republican Politics

by Steve Desroches

Ari Drennen’s voice is hoarse. As the LGBTQ Program Director for Media Matters for America, a left-leaning watchdog organization that monitors right-wing media, she’s been fielding interview after interview about the recent tsunami of anti-transgender legislation, as well as laws aimed at drag queens and the LGBTQ population in general. But in the past months, most of the rhetoric from the right-wing and Republican Party has been targeting transgender Americans, and more specifically children. While transphobia is of course not a new phenomenon, the speed with which the anti-trans movement has coalesced is dizzying. Since January 2022, 395 anti-trans bills have been proposed in 45 states, with 28 being signed into law in 14 states, including Tennessee, South Dakota, Utah, Arkansas, and Georgia. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services investigates parents who bring their children to doctors for gender-affirming care, treating it as if it’s child abuse. Republican Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey ‘s office set up a website for citizens to submit a “complaint or concern about gender transition intervention” they’ve witnessed in the state, which also became the first to, for all intents and purposes, ban adults from accessing gender-affirming care. Earlier this month, Republicans refused to let Montana State Representative Democrat Zooey Zephyr, who is transgender, speak after she said those in favor of an anti-trans bill targeting children would have “blood on their hands.” In the same week, Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said that “mothers are mutilating and murdering their babies through transgenderism and abortion” on her latest frothing-at-the-mouth rant. On April 20 the United States House of Representatives passed a law targeting trans women, on a party-line vote with unanimous Republican support, that prevents those assigned male at birth from competing on female sports teams from kindergarten to 12th-grade schools and universities that received federal funding. And then there’s the response to Bud Light choosing to put transgender social media influencer Dylan Mulvaney on a series of commemorative cans, prompting Kid Rock and Ted Nugent to post videos of them shooting cases of beer with a rifle. And there is, of course, pretty much everything Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says and does. So for trans activists like Drennen, this past year has been a disturbing whirlwind.

“It wasn’t even a matter of debate until 2021 when conservatives decided to make an issue of this,” says Drennen from Washington, D.C.

As part of her work at Media Matters, Drennen follows the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and misinformation spewed on conservative media outlets like Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, as well as the numerous and proliferating amount of right-wing radio shows, podcasts, social media, and YouTube channels. From her vantage point, these transphobic attacks re-emerged after an initial retreat when so-called “bathroom bills” largely failed in 2016 or the backlash from voters and corporations was so strong Republicans gave up. The current national mood on abortion rights and same-sex marriage seems to favor Democrats, so the Republican Party and conservative activists went looking for a new culture war wedge issue.

Terry Schilling, president of the right-wing think tank American Principles Project in Arlington, Virginia, proposed “throwing everything at the wall” to see what would stick. And the issue that resonated most within the American right was transgender women in sports and the very idea of trans children. Drennen says it quickly became a strategy of the Republican Party to try and woo back the white suburban women who had previously voted for Trump, but switched to voting for Democrats in 2020 by creating the narrative that transgender people were a threat to equal treatment of women and a danger to the American family.

Politically, those opposed to trans equality have had their successes. And while Republican governors initially spoke against such legislation, the pressure from the Republican base is so strong governors like Spencer Cox of Utah and Kristi Noem of South Dakota caved and signed hateful bills into law. It’s clear transgender rights will be a major issue in the Republican presidential primary leading up to the 2024 election, as well as down the ticket. But it may stop there, as Drennen doesn’t see the issue being popular with independents and Democrats. And polling supports that view, as most voters cite inflation, gun violence, abortion rights, and health care as their priorities. Nevertheless, for those in the Republican base and in right-wing media, this issue has become an “obsession” and are “blood thirsty on the issue” says Drennen. As such, culturally, it’s a dark time for transgender people and the threat of violence looms even larger than it already was for a community disproportionately a target, which is even worse for trans people of color.

Dallas Denny, Board President,
Trans Week

Dallas Denny shares those concerns and feels the danger. As board president for Trans Week (formerly known as Fantasia Fair), the oldest continuous transgender event in the world, held every October in Provincetown since 1975, Denny has been a leader and pioneer in the transgender rights movement since the 1980s. She knows how quickly hateful rhetoric can result in violence as well as further oppression and expulsion from society in general.

“It’s really frightening,” says Denny. “It feels like a pogrom.”

Denny’s use of the word  pogrom, which is Russian for to wreak havoc and demolish violently, is historically used to refer to acts of anti-Semitic violence. But emboldened by their commitment to bigotry, many Republican politicians and conservative leaders are saying the quiet part out loud now. A few weeks ago, Florida Republican State Representative Randy Fine said in defense of an anti-drag queen bill, “If it means erasing a community because you have to target children, then damn right we ought to do it!”  And in early March at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, conservative commentator for the right-wing wing news website the Daily Wire Michael Knowles said, “For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Denny notes that one needn’t be trans to be affected by the violence directed at transgender people. Anyone who doesn’t conform to the conservative view of a so-called proper gender expression is at risk. When a rock star fills a case of beer full of bullets over the company’s support of trans people, “it’s not hard to see the symbolism in the that” says Denny. It’s in part why Provincetown and Trans Week are even more important to the transgender community than ever as the town has been a safe haven for decades. And with the current climate, Trans Week will increase programming about activism for the trans community and its allies going forward more so than ever before.

Ari Drennen, LGBTQ Program
Director, Media Matters for America

Despite the chilling state of the nation and LGBTQ equality, Drennen remains optimistic. The community has faced dark times before and often comes out stronger and more effective, she says, citing Anita Bryant’s homophobic campaign, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the Reagan administration, as examples. While the right is in an “all-consuming cultural freak out,” says Drennen, it’s worth noting that at no time in American history has support for LGBTQ equality been this strong. As the saying goes, “a dying mule kicks the hardest” and with the Christian Right feeling they are losing the culture wars, their actions grow more desperate and fanatical. But equality will win the day, says Drennen.

“Everybody is feeling overwhelmed right now,” says Drennen. “That’s understandable. I think we all just need to take care of each other. The coming months might see things get worse before they get better. But they will get better. We’ve done it before and we’ll do it again. Things do get better.”

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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