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A trans teenager died after being attacked in Oklahoma. Days later, CPAC was dominated by anti-trans rhetoric

Donald Trump adviser Stephen Miller appears at CPAC on 23 February (AP)
Donald Trump adviser Stephen Miller appears at CPAC on 23 February (AP)

When he addressed this year’s Conservative Police Action Conference, right-wing commentator Michael Knowles addressed what he called a “kerfuffle” from last year’s remarks, when he said “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life.”

Last year’s statement – widely seen as a call for violence against trans people – was condemned by LGBT+ civil rights groups and the White House, amid an avalanche of anti-trans legislation aimed at young people across the country and fears of abuse and violence fuelled by the denial of trans existence.

At this year’s CPAC, he said he stands by his “observation” that “men can’t become women,” and that the backlash to his statement reveals the “identity crisis” facing an America in decline without religion.

His remarks on Thursday – part of a relatively lengthy diatribe condemning not only trans people but marriage equality, abortion rights and surrogacy – drew little attention outside the poorly attended convention hall, but underscored the ubiquity of anti-trans rhetoric that is threading nearly every single event at the conference and throughout Republican politics.

As LGBT+ communities and families across the nation are reeling from the death of a bullied gender-fluid 16-year-old in Oklahoma, CPAC’s attendees – including close allies of Donald Trump and activist influencers dedicated to ending affirming healthcare – repeatedly misgendered and ridiculed trans people, all while invoking Christianity and Biblical passages.

At last year’s CPAC, Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville dismissed trans girls and women as “biological boys”; sports, he said, must be “protected” because “sports have built this country”.

This year, he promoted legislation to “prohibit any governing body recognized by the US Olympic Committee” from allowing trans women to participate “in any athletic event intended for females.”

Lara Trump – former president Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and potential new Republican National Committee leader – rejected what she called a “fabricated notion that you can change your gender like you change your shoes.”

Republican US Rep Byron Donalds of Florida, who was the first elected official to address this year’s conference, rejected the existence of trans and nonbinary young people and defended “the natural order that keeps society progressing” in his opening remarks.

Former Fox News personality Megyn Kelly called on Americans to “fight” against honest discussions of gender and sexuality, regardless of whether that makes one a “bigot” or a “transphobe”.

“You have to. You can’t remain silent to protect your reputation or how people feel about you,” she said. “I know it’s scary, you’re afraid, you want to be seen as empathetic and not a bigot, not a transphobe – eventually, hopefully, you’ll get to a point where many of us are, which is, I don’t care what you call me.”

Lara Trump – Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and potential RNC leader – rejects what she called a ‘fabricated notion that you can change your gender like you change your shoes’ at CPAC on 22 February (EPA)
Lara Trump – Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law and potential RNC leader – rejects what she called a ‘fabricated notion that you can change your gender like you change your shoes’ at CPAC on 22 February (EPA)

This time last year, state legislatures were considering roughly 300 bills that would negatively impact LGBT+ Americans, including 150 bills aimed at specifically restricting the rights of trans people.

This year, in a trend of surging state-level efforts over the last several years, state lawmakers are now considering nearly 500 bills targeting LGBT+ people, according to the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Republican-dominated legislatures have enacted roughly 100 laws targeting LGBT+ rights over the last few years, mostly aimed at young people and schools.

But policy makers are now increasingly turning their focus to trans adults.

All major medical organisations support the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria, treatments that are also regularly prescribed to cisgender people who are not targeted by gender-affirming care bans. Affirming care includes counseling, social transitioning and teams of physicians working with patients and families. There are no reccomended treatments for children who have not started puberty, and affirming surgeries are exceedingly rare.

Within the last three years, nearly half of US states have moved to end or restrict access to gender-affirming healthcare, and banned trans student-athletes from playing school sports on the teams that don’t align with their assigned sexes at birth. Ten states have also enacted laws restricting what bathrooms trans people can use in schools and public buildings.

An unprecedented nationwide survey of more than 92,000 trans Americans released this month showed an overwhelming majority, roughly 94 per cent, stating they were more satisfied with their lives after transitioning, while nearly half of respondents said they planned to move to another state because of anti-trans laws that threaten their lives. Roughly 4,600 people from the survey said they were forced to move because of those laws.

More than one in 10 respondents said they were forced out of a job because of their gender identity.

Nearly one-third of respondents said they were verbally harassed in the last 12 months, and 39 per cent said they were harassed online. Three per cent said they were physically attacked.

Republican Senator Timmy Tuberville supports legislation to ban trans women from ‘any athletic event intended for females’ at CPAC on 22 February (REUTERS)
Republican Senator Timmy Tuberville supports legislation to ban trans women from ‘any athletic event intended for females’ at CPAC on 22 February (REUTERS)

CPAC dedicated a panel called “Genesis 1:27” – a reference to the Biblical passage that “God created man in his own image” – to discuss ending affirming care for trans youth.

Among the panelists was Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, among interest groups advancing legislation across the US to end affirming care for trans youth and, ultimately, affirming care for all trans people.

He claimed a “transgender industry” is waging a “war on families,” and that “progressives” want to “progress beyond all barriers and institutions, and that means laws, that means age of consent laws.”

“They have a perverted world view and they’re trying to force that on the country,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with these kids’ bodies, there’s nothing wrong with adults’ bodies … There is no such thing as transgender child. There are girls, there are boys, nothing else. … We have to reject any discussion of it.”

Stephen Miller, a close aide to Donald Trump, argued that Republican officials and law enforcement should forcefully apply laws targeting LGBT+ people and expression.

“Did any [district attorney] anywhere talking about trans issues think of arresting anybody for abusing children with trans ideology? No. We write blog posts about it,” he said.

“Until we get serious, all the way down to the local DA all the way up to the state [attorneys general] and every office in between – including judges, electing people who have power and will use that power and measure their success by changing the real world – then we aren’t going to be able to beat the left, and that’s just the honest truth,” according to Miller.

In his remarks, Knowles claimed that recognising LGBT+ people and families is based on a “false” idea that centres “liberation from all limits,” and that giving men “the freedom to use the women’s bathroom” means that “women lose the freedom to have their own bathrooms.”

He rejected marriage equality – “a couple of men, or a couple of women, or three men and a billy goat, for that matter” – and “designer babies” on the “open market of the surrogacy industry.”

“If we have the right to kill babies, surely we have the right to buy and sell them, too,” he said.

If you are based in the US and seek LGBT+ affirming mental health support, resources are available from Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) and the LGBT Hotline (888-843-4564), as well as The Trevor Project (866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678).