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An uncomfortable truth about GOP anti-trans bigotry
This is how genocide begins.
At her CNN town hall on Sunday, GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley joined in her party's vicious anti-trans campaign.
"How are we supposed to get our girls used to the fact that biological boys are in their locker rooms?" she said, in response to a question about how she defines “woke.” "And then we wonder why a third of our teenaged girls seriously contemplated suicide last year."
There’s no evidence that teen girl suicide rates are linked to fears about trans girls. On the contrary, as town hall moderator Jake Tapper mentioned to Haley, trans youth are among those most at risk; more than 50 percent of trans and non-binary youth considered suicide in the last year.
Haley's smears are baseless. They are, however, familiar. Bigots and hatemongers love to frame marginalized people as a threat to (white) women and girls. By doing so, they justify extremities of violence, up to and including murder and genocide.
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In the Jim Crow south, white men and women would accuse Black men and boys of rape or sexual assault to justify lynchings — as in the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was accused of whistling at a white women, and then murdered. In the Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew, Jewish people are accused of controlling 98 percent of prostitution worldwide — a preposterous statistic intended to frame Jewish people as exploiters of and a threat to women.
Haley claims she wants to recognize the humanity of trans kids, and at the town hall touted her opposition to a trans bathroom bill when she was governor of South Carolina in 2016. But her rhetoric is nonetheless inflammatory and dangerous. Nor is she alone. The GOP frames trans issues in a way intended to encourage and justify violence. It's not an exaggeration to call much of this rhetoric genocidal, in the sense that it encourages and is aimed at building sentiment for the elimination of trans people from public life.
RELATED FROM PN: Nikki Haley and the politics of faux-moderation
Anti-trans rhetoric and policy aims to eliminate trans people
The right hasn't exactly been coy about its genocidal intentions. Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire gave a speech at CPAC in March in which he declared, "If [transgenderism] is false, then for the good of society, transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely." The next day on his show he insisted that his rhetoric wasn't genocidal because "transgender people is not a real ontological category. It's not a legitimate category of being."
Trans people, for Knowles, aren't real, and therefore eliminating them doesn't count — openly dehumanizing rhetoric which echoes Nazi insistence that Jewish people's identities were built on deception, infiltration, and lies.
Anti-trans legislation in red states is also in effect, and often in explicit intention, aimed at eliminating trans people. Florida has passed a bill that prevents trans people from using public bathrooms that match their gender identity, effectively allowing citizens and police to target gender nonconforming people in restrooms, and making it impossible for many trans people to use public facilities. Texas has launched investigations into parents of trans children who support their children; the legislature has also banned gender-affirming care for minors. Many states are trying to ban care for trans adults as well.
The eliminationist implications of these policies are clear. As mentioned above, rates of suicide and suicidal ideation among trans youth are terrifyingly high. But gender-affirming care reduces depression in trans youth by as much as 60 percent. (I've seen this personally; my daughter's depression basically vanished after she got gender-affirming care.) Denying trans youth, and trans adults, access to hormones and gender-affirmation is very likely to lead to self-harm and death.
Targeting trans people and making them unable to exist in public also predictably forces them to flee. Though there aren't good statewide statistics given the newness of many of these bans, reporters have found numerous families in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma who are leaving the state because of anti-trans bills. The GOP can eliminate "transgenderism" by denying trans people healthcare, by making it impossible for them to inhabit public spaces, and by making life so unlivable that are forced to leave and abandon relatives, jobs, and homes.
Yes, anti-trans policy is genocidal
Conservatives often object when advocates characterize these anti-trans policies as genocidal. Many of these objections are obviously just excuses — as when transphobes claim they only want to eliminate trans ideology rather than trans people. (See Parker Molloy's lengthy rebuttal.)
RELATED FROM PN: Parker Molloy on the mainstream media's anti-trans bias
Right-wing trolls will also sometimes argue that trans people aren't a race or ethnic group so genocide doesn't apply. But "race" is a cultural category, not a biological truth — any marginalized group can be framed as racially other. It's like saying the Holocaust wasn't a genocide because Jews are a religion not a race. The issue is how a group is targeted by genocidal policies, not whether one group or another technically "counts."
There are also, though, some people who in good faith wonder whether the anti-trans rhetoric and policies on the right can really be called "genocidal." To use the term "genocide" tends to bring to mind the Holocaust, death camps, and the murder of millions. Anti-trans policies and rhetoric are certainly ugly and terrifying. But we haven't reached the level of systematic mass murder.
There are two responses here. First, not all genocides and genocidal policies look like the Nazi death camps. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, for example, Native Americans were subjected to a deliberate campaign of cultural genocide, during which the US government attempted to eradicate their traditions and eliminate them as a group. Under an ideology of "kill the Indian and save the man," some 100,000 Native American children were forced to attend off-reservation boarding schools in which they were not allowed to speak Native languages or participate in Native traditions on pain of brutal punishment.
Obviously, there are many differences between the US campaign of Native cultural genocide and the current attack on trans people. But there are also parallels. Both are campaigns designed to eliminate a group identity and force assimilation. There have even been some efforts in the states to lay the groundwork for removing trans children from their supportive parents.
It's also important to recognize that death camps don't happen all at once. It took the Nazis considerable time and effort to create conditions in which the German people would be open to mass slaughter of Jewish people.
Initially, as Claudia Koonz explains in The Nazi Conscience, antisemitic violence was quite unpopular with the German people (as anti-trans policies are unpopular now). German gentiles, and even many German Nazis, ignored policies calling for boycotts of Jewish businesses. Hitler had laid out vicious antisemitic positions in Mein Kampf in 1925, but once he gained power in 1933, he largely abandoned antisemitic rhetoric to avoid backlash. He also compromised; Jewish World War I veterans were at first exempted from laws banning Jewish participation in schools and public life.
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Some might look at these examples of "moderation" and conclude that the Nazis were not genocidal. And indeed one US embassy official at the time insisted that "Mr. Hitler does not approve of the indiscriminate and general action which has been taken against Jews."
The embassy official was, obviously, wrong. When the Nazis tamped down their rhetoric, they did so to provide deniablity (as when Republicans attack "transgenderism" rather than trans people). When they exempted certain Jews, like veterans, from discrimination, it was a tactical decision intended to make anti-Jewish policies seem reasonable (as when Republican focus on eliminating trans healthcare for young people — often as a prelude to broader bans). And when the Nazis mildly condemned extrajudicial violence against Jews (as they sometimes did) it was in the interest of justifying and legitimizing supposedly more humane state discrimination and oppression.
Things can get much worse
None of this is to say that the current transphobic campaign is the same as the build-up to the Holocaust. There are many differences — not least, I think, an organized and passionate pro-trans resistance, and more robust democratic institutions than were present in Germany after the Nazi takeover.
The dangers, though, shouldn't be understated. Eliminationist rhetoric is extremely volatile, as we've seen with the numerous bomb threats against trans health care facilities. Once a group has been smeared as a threat and isolated by government policy, it's easy for bigots to escalate.
In that context, supposed "moderates" like Haley aren't necessarily opposing violence in forswearing the worst excesses of their party. Often, instead, they're providing cover, and trying to build consensus for worse depredations to come. When Haley says "we need to take care of these [trans] kids" it's meant to be reassuring. But in the context of the current GOP, it sounds more like a threat.
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