CPAC offers a platform for an avalanche of anti-trans attacks
In speech after speech and panel after panel, the guests on the stage at one of the biggest platforms for right-wing activists and Republican officials lobbed casual attacks against transgender Americans, made jokes at their expense, or threatened to strip them of their healthcare and remove them from public life.
The guests at 2023’s Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, revived familiar right-wing tropes aimed at “safe spaces” and “wokeness” and “socialist” Democratic lawmakers, but prominent GOP elected officials and right-wing media personalities repeatedly returned to their alarmist visions of children in danger from LGBT+ people and gender-affirming care.
Their claims run parallel to a wave of legislation targeting LGBT+ Americans, particularly young trans people, and proposed federal legislation that would restrict that care nationally under threat of felony prosecutions.
Far-right congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene told the conference that she plans to introduce a bill she is calling the Protect Children’s Innocence Act that would make it a felony to perform “anything to do with gender-affirming care” for minors.
One panel on 3 March featured Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, among interest groups advancing legislation across the US to end gender-affirming care for trans youth and, ultimately, end affirming care for all trans people. He intentionally misgendered two prominent transgender women activists as men in his remarks on the panel.
That panel also heard from Chloe Cole, a “detransitioner” who has become a central figure in a right-wing campaign to restrict gender-affirming care, despite the vast majority of trans people maintaining their gender identity.
Riley Gaines, an American swimmer who repeatedly called trans swimmer Lia Thomas a “biological male”, also appeared on the panel to speak out against trans athletes; Ms Thomas has been routinely attacked by her former competitors, sports stars, politicians, activists, and even some of her teammates’ parents.
Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire sparked alarm on 4 March with his anti-trans rhetoric during his speech.
“If [transgenderism] is false, then for the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” he said.
John Knefel of Media Matters called it “eliminationist, genocidal rhetoric”.
Christopher Mathias of HuffPost said it was “a straight-up eliminationist anti-trans tirade”.
Mr Knowles has said in the past that his rhetoric isn’t genocidal because he doesn’t believe trans people exist, Jezebel noted.
“There can’t be a genocide,” he said on his programme last week, adding that “it’s not a legitimate category of being. They’re labouring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion”.
A panel on 2 March rejected transgender Americans from team sports as well as honest classroom teachings on race, racism and LGBT+ people, with former college football turned Alabama Senator Tommy Tuberville listing a string of right-wing targets in a series of baseless statements against trans athletes and US education.
“All this woke, transgender athletes, CRT, 1619, they don’t teach reading, writing or arithmetic,” the senator said, referencing “critical race theory” and The 1619 Project, an award-winning New York Times project that reframes the nation’s founding through the lens of slavery.
His remarks on a panel titled “Sacking the Woke Playbook” panel dismissed transgender girls and women as “biological boys”; sports, he said, must be “protected” because “sports have built this country”.
The senator also falsely claimed that “half the kids when they graduate they can’t read their diploma” as he condemned “the progressives, the crazies” who he baselessly claimed are “trying to change family, change things that are our moral values”.
At least 150 bills in 2023 would specifically restrict the rights of trans people, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Several proposed laws would specifically target trans healthcare for adults.
On the opening day of CPAC, Tennessee became the eighth state in the nation to ban gender-affirming care for youth, the fourth to do so this year. A similar measure was signed into law in Mississippi one day earlier.
Gender-affirming care can span several kinds of treatments, including puberty blockers, hormone therapy and social transitioning support. Care standards from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and other leading medical groups do not recommend that affirming surgeries be performed on minors.
Such care is considered safe, effective and medically necessary by most medical organisatons. The American Medical Association, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians, among others, have established clear clinical guidelines for treating young trans people.
Dozens of bills introduced in state legislatures across the US to restrict such care are supported and in many cases drafted by influential right-wing legal groups, conservative Christian organisations and fringe medical groups that have aligned with right-wing public officials to advance their agenda.
If you don’t think “we have to ban transgenderism entirely” counts as genocidal rhetoric, I would encourage you to swap in another group for trans people and see if a lightbulb goes off for you and then consider that trans people are also people.
— Ari Drennen (@AriDrennen) March 3, 2023
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s largest professional association of pediatricians, recommends a “gender-affirming” and “nonjudgmental approach that helps children feel safe in a society that too often marginalizes or stigmatizes those seen as different.”
“The gender-affirming model strengthens family resiliency and takes the emphasis off heightened concerns over gender while allowing children the freedom to focus on academics, relationship-building and other typical developmental tasks,” according to the organisation.
But remarks from elected officials and waves of legislation aimed at trans Americans, alongside what appears to be the makings of a newspaper crusade focused on trans rights, have insisted that something is dangerously wrong with the ways in which children and their families navigate a nuanced and personal process, similar to a concurrent battle for abortion rights against an avalanche of restrictions.
CPAC’s personalities, meanwhile, unjustly linked trans people to “grooming” and “pedophilia” or used “pronouns” as a punchline.
“There is no middle ground on transgenderism,” right-wing activist Candace Owens said in her remarks on 2 March. “If you don’t have the courage to say what needs to be said, we truly don’t need you.”
Speakers at the conference accused their political opponents of “targeting” children with “gender ideology” while within the same breath advancing legislation and proposals that would severely restrict care for young people.
“I don’t know about you,” congresswoman Greene said on 3 March, “but when it comes to kids, I think the Republican Party has a duty. We have a responsibility, and that is to be the party that protects children.”
Nearly one in five transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in 2022, according to a nationwide survey from The Trevor Project. Fewer one in three trans and nonbinary youth reported living in a home that was gender-affirming.
Legislation and inflammatory political debates surrounding it have radically impacted the mental health of a majority of young trans and nonbinary people, according to polling from The Trevor Project and Morning Consult.
A vast majority of trans and nonbinary youth, 86 per cent, reported that debates and laws targeting LGBT+ people have negatively impacted their mental health, weighed down by “anger, sadness, stress, and fear,” with fear “most intensely felt” among trans and nonbinary young people, according to The Trevor Project.
With her Libs of TikTok accounts and attacks against LGBT+ people, teachers and doctors, Chaya Raichik has emerged as an influential right-wing media figure making appearances on Tucker Carlson’s programming and Newsmax, with millions of social media followers and a high-earning blog.
She made her debut at CPAC stage alongside several prominent right-wing media personalities on 2 March.
Libs of TikTok has been linked to harassment and threats against drag performers, LGBT+ people and their advocates, particularly teachers, and doctors and hospitals that provide gender-affirming care to young trans people. Hours after five people were killed and several others were wounded inside a mass shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBT+ nightclub, Libs of TikTok drew negative attention to a drag performance in the state.
At CPAC, she was hailed as a “hero” and “courageous”.
She called a recent VICE article previewing her CPAC appearance as an “insane hit piece”.
Ms Raichik also claimed that the term “stochastic terrorist” was invented because of her, though she also admitted she doesn’t know what it means; the term has been used to describe the leveraging of hateful rhetoric through large social media platforms to promote violence.
“Nothing I love more than to mock and clown the liberal media,” she 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).