By Barry Sheppard, May 13, 2023 [Photo above: Banned Montana House of Representatives member, Zooey Zepher]
The Republican Party, which became a far-right white nationalist, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ party under the Trump administration, has now decided to launch a coordinated campaign against transgender people.
In Montana the Republican controlled House of Representatives recently passed several laws attacking trans rights. One of these banned gender-affirming health care for minors (people under 18) — hormone treatments and surgical care. Such treatments are accepted by the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and 25 other national medical associations.
During the debate, Zooey Zephyr, the only transgender member of the House, gave an impassioned speech against the law. “If you are forcing a child to go through puberty when they are trans, that is tantamount to torture. And this body should be ashamed…. The next time when there’s an invocation [before each legislative session], when you bow your heads in prayer, you see blood on your hands.”
Republicans ban the only transgender member of the House
A week after this speech, Republican lawmakers moved to censure her and ban her from the legislature hall. During the debate on this, Zephyr spoke again:
“Today I rise in defense of my community and of democracy itself…. This legislature has systematically attacked the [whole LGBTQ] community. We have seen bills targeting our art forms, our books, our history and our healthcare. And I rose up in defense of my community that day, speaking of harms these bills have brought and that I have firsthand experience knowing about.
“I have had friends who have taken their lives because of these bills. I have fielded calls from families in Montana, including one family whose trans teenager attempted to take her life while watching a hearing on one of the anti-trans bills.”
Because Zephyr was banned from the House, the case made national news. The media has generally been silent on the scope of the Republican attack.
Mounting nationwide attacks on trans people
Trans Americans are four times more likely to be victims of violent crime than their cisgender peers, a 2021 study reports. Last year a study by a suicide prevention group focused on LGBTQ youth, found that 86 percent of trans or nonbinary youth reported negative effects on their mental health stemming from this legislative attack, and nearly half had seriously considered suicide that year.
The Republican onslaught is escalating. So far this year, 51 bills have passed in 18 Republican controlled states: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Indiana passed a law effective on July 1 requiring children currently taking medications to assist in transitioning to stop doing so by the end of the year. An Idaho law makes it a felony crime to administer gender-affirming care to minors. Seven states have passed such laws denying such care to minors, and 30 states are considering them, including some states controlled by Democrats.
For several years, Republicans have been pushing “bathroom bills” that exclude trans people from multi-user bathrooms, locker rooms and other spaces for both sexes, that align with their gender identity. They argue that otherwise women and children would be subject to assault. Researchers at UCLA found that assertion is false, and in places where trans people can use such facilities doesn’t have any effect on crimes.
In some states “religious liberty” is invoked to allow discrimination by employers, businesses, educators and medical providers against trans people. In recent years states have introduced bills that make it harder for trans people to use their gender identification on state documents like drivers licenses or to change them on birth certificates, or to use a person’s preferred pronouns.
Florida has passed what has been called “Don’t Say Gay” law, making it illegal for teachers to discuss or use any materials that refer to sexual orientation or gender identity for grades up to third grade. Now the Florida board of education voted to expand that up through high school. Teachers must notify parents if they think a child is transgender, and parents can sue schools they think violate “Don’t Say Gay”. The Florida law has been used as a template for other states.
Another law some states have adopted bans “drag shows” in any place where young people “might” see them. The year is young. Many bills are working their way through legislatures.
“If your access to public spaces, your own name, how you are dressed in public, where you can go, what kind of medicine you can take, what goes on between you and your doctor — if all of that is restricted and taken away from you, then how can you be yourself?”, said Mandy Giles the founder of the support resource Parents of Trans Youth.
Ominously, a speaker at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference exclaimed that “transgenderism” must be eradicated, directly calling for the elimination of trans people. Earlier this year Trump said he would “stop” gender-affirming care for minors if he was reelected. These laws and such statements have raised fears among trans youth, as Zooey Zephyr said, which can have tragic consequences. They also raise fears among teachers and doctors over what they can do or say without suffering legal consequences.
Banning books with references to racism, LGBTQI and transgender issues
The banning of books and other educational material includes mentioning of racism as well as LGBTQ topics. This has meant that publishers of such materials to self-censure if they want them used in states that have such bans. One example is a children’s book by Maggie Tokuda-Hall about how her Japanese-American grandparents were “interned” in prison camps during World War II, one example of the mass internment of Japanese Americans. Her publisher, Scholastic, wanted her to delete all references to racism! She refused and went public.
Patricia McCormick wrote a novel for young adults, “Sold”, that included a passage about the sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl by an older man, based on her own experience. It has been denounced as “pornographic”. It contains no graphic language or obscenity. The story is told from the point of view of a child, in her words, that describes her confusion, terror and physical pain. PEN America reported last month that “Sold” was one of the most banned books in the country.
As Zephyr also said, the attacks on trans people are part of a broader attack on all LGBTQ people. Apparently, the Republicans think that singling out trans people is a way into that broader attack. In many countries homosexuality is a crime. That was true in the U.S. for most of its history. It was only the mass movement of gays and lesbians in the late 1960s, part of the radicalization of that period, that began to change such laws. This was spurred by the women’s liberation movement.
Origins of sexist and LGBTQI discrimination
Why are LGBTQ people still discriminated against? Why is there continuing prejudice against them? The answer is that such people challenge by their very existence the deep ideological (including religious) underpinning of the patriarchal family that emerged with the transition to class-based society thousands of years ago. As such it is connected to the oppression of women.
Frederick Engels said that emergence of the patriarchal family marked the historic downfall of the female sex. Controlling what LGBTQ people can do with their bodies is part of controlling what all women can do with their bodies, which includes the present day right to abortion under severe attack. The far right and religious groups are the cutting edge of these combined attacks, but ruling class defenders of capitalism would like to roll back these and other gains won by working people and the oppressed.