By AUTUMN RAIN and ERWIN FREED
On Jan. 28, the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing and anti-LGBTQIA group, hosted a panel titled, “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns From the Left.” The speakers were trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERFs) who argued against rights for transgender people, ostensibly “from the left.” Yet one would rightly ask why self-avowed leftists would (1) make the denial of rights to one group of people their central political goal and (2) accept help from a notorious reactionary institute to elevate their platform.
The views held by TERFs are anything but leftist, and they have a long and sordid history courting the right.
Speakers on the panel opposed the Equality Act, a Congressional bill that would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly prohibit discrimination of LGTBQIA people, and specifically based on “gender identity.” Instituting protections for trans people would, in their view, have a deleterious effect on cis lesbians, gays, and bisexuals.
Panelist Hacsi Horvath, who formerly identified as transgender, called being transgender “the new eating disorder” and “the new goth.” He made wild claims that children are being manipulated into transitioning at a young age by the media and doctors, a fantasy that mimics the outdated right-wing conspiracy of homosexual “recruiters.”
In truth, World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines recommend giving options to children who consistently, persistently, and insistently express an identity other than the one assigned them, and desire to transition.
Julia Beck, who was removed from the Baltimore LGBTQ Commission for her transphobic views, used her time to mock a trans woman for identifying as a lesbian. In her view only cis women can be lesbians. She claimed that the “T” in the LGBT acronym is opposed to the first three letters, meaning that advancing transgender rights will only take rights away from gays, bisexuals, and especially lesbians. Beck believes that gender identities “erase” homosexuals, and that trans men, denied the right to transition, would and should become lesbians. She lamented, “we are losing an entire generation of sisters to this madness.”
Two panelists on the 28th were members of the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a group that sued the Obama administration to remove bathroom protections for trans students. These protections, in the form of federal guidelines, were revoked by the Trump administration.
WoLF member Jennifer Chavez, who is a staff attorney for Earth Justice, according to their website, read letters from transphobic parents describing the disgust they had for their trans children’s identities and choices. While we were meant to sympathize with the parents, it was actually a rather brutal reminder of the homelessness afflicting young trans people due to family abuse and rejection.
WoLF co-chair Kara Dansky called the movement for trans rights a “men’s rights movement,” comparing activism for transgender rights to a movement that has committed very high-profile anti-women terror attacks in recent years. In her view, the transgender movement will cause women’s rights to “utterly disappear,” and that women are legally “erased” when trans rights are advanced in law. Dansky, whose bigoted views are quite public, is currently general counsel of the Sentencing Commission of Washington, D.C., where she is empowered to determine what constitutes “fair” sentencing of individuals charged with crimes in the District.
TERFs and the political right
WoLF’s political courting of the right is not an aberration, nor is their collaboration with the Heritage Foundation. WoLF has even been the recipient of funding from the political right, including a $15,000 grant from “The Alliance Defending Freedom,” which has supported the re-criminalization of homosexuality in the U.S. And WoLF collaborated with the Christian fundamentalist Family Policy Alliance in sending a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court to argue against trans student Gavin Grimm’s right to use the boy’s bathroom at his high school.
WoLF is not alone. “Hands Across The Aisles” also seeks a united action between radical feminists and the Christian Right against trans rights. The group reached out to HUD secretary Ben Carson in hopes that he could be convinced to forbid homeless trans women from using women’s shelters. Members include Kara Dansky and Miriam Ben-Shalom, the lesbian activist who fought for years against the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Ben-Shalom has subsequently refocused her activism on attempting to thwart trans rights, and in 2016 Ben-Shalom was disinvited from being the grand marshal of the Milwaukee Pride Parade for her transphobia and opposition to bathroom protections.
The members of the right who collaborate with TERFs consciously view the work as a divide-and-conquer strategy. The director of “Concerned Parents and Educators of Fairfax County” Meg Kilgannon explained this succinctly: “For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”
TERFs and socialists
It is extremely unsettling to find transphobia in the LGB community, and see homophobic talking points reworked in service of the anti-trans agenda. But we should not at all be surprised when alliances are made by so-called “feminist” transphobes with the right, as their central political goal is the denial of rights to trans people.
The error many of us make is concluding that self-avowed LGB “radicals” and self-avowed “feminists” should be taken at their word. There is nothing feminist about fighting to throw certain women into men’s bathrooms and, worse, men’s prisons. There is nothing radical about denying children the right to transition despite expressing persistent and consistent desire to do so. And it’s reactionary, rather than progressive, to side with right-wing fundamentalists in their stated cause of furthering oppression of transgender people. In short, socialists must oppose the ideology and activism of TERFs and instead embrace the fight for trans liberation all over the world.
Political rights for trans people is an essential part of today’s class struggle. Right-wing organizations understand this basic fact and are doing everything they can to confuse the movement. Reactionaries have no problem offering a hand “across the aisle” to individuals and groups that can give them “leftist” credentials. They know that this allows them to enter into political coalitions with a section of the organized left that puts breaks on the left’s organizing united fronts that can effectively contest the bosses’ power.
By separating gender oppression from the larger struggle against oppression, and by extension class exploitation, in general, the right succeeds in politically isolating different sections of the left from each other. Obvious partnerships, like the lesbian and trans movements, are instead put onto opposing sides of the barricades.
Trans people are an extremely vulnerable and oppressed part of the working class, and the class struggle cannot advance when trans-specific demands are abandoned. Our aim as socialists must be to unite the various struggles of workers and oppressed people based on the principle that “an injury to one is an injury to all.”