In the wake of Donald Trump electoral defeat and the failure of the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, the Republicans are actively searching for issues that will reinvigorate their future electoral possibilities. Split between hardcore Trump populists and more old-school country club genre, they sat on their hand during the wrangling over Pres. Joe Biden $1.9 trillion Covid-19 recovery plan. Now floundering, they’ve turned back to the oldest cons in their political arsenal and – yet again — taken up the culture wars to reinvigorate their most reactionary base.
One could well image Republican political consultants, especially at the state level, drawing up hit lists as to the issues they would leverage planning for the 2022 Congressional and state elections. At the top of the list is stopping increased voter turnout. Republicans know that more voters, especially among people of color, equals more Democratic victories. So, as evident in the 2020 election, particularly in Georgia, Republican-controlled state legislatures are moving aggressively to restrict voter participation. The Brennan Center reports that as of March 24, legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states.
A second top issue that Republican strategist will likely further exploit is the war against a woman’s right to an abortion. An increasing number of women live in counties without health and reproductive clinics or are being blocked from securing a “legal” abortion. The New York Times reports that since 2013, at least 275 clinics providing abortion services have shut down. Making matters worse, almost four hundred state-level restrictions were proposed in the first half of 2019 alone. Most recently, South Carolina and Texas have adopted “fetal heartbeat” laws to undercut Roe and formally end legal abortion in America.
Surprisingly, the issue of gender nonconforming — i.e., transgender — young people is again being exploited. It unexpectedly emerged nearly a decade ago when, according to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s LGBTQ organization, the Stonewall Center, an estimatedat 150 colleges across the country had gender-neutral bathrooms in the early 21st century. In 2014, Austin approved a law that requires gender-neutral signage on single-occupancy bathrooms. Its action was followed by similar programs Portland, Washington DC, West Hollywood, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
In response, Texas introduced a “bathroom surveillance” bill that required transgender people to use bathrooms that match their birth gender. It was quickly followed by other Republican-controlled state legislatures implementing similar laws. The Obama Justice and Education Departments instructed public schools to allow transgender students to use whichever bathroom corresponded to their gender identity. However, in 2017, the Trump administrationrescinding that guidance.
On his first day in office, Pres. Biden issued “Executive Order on Preventing and Combating Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.” It stated: “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. … All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.” He also barred discrimination of transgender people serving in the U.S. military.
In February, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a bill that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, substantially expand the areas to which those discrimination protections apply. It is now at the Senate, its fate unclear.
Unfortunately, these efforts – combined with electoral defeats — fueled conservative Republicans at the state level to take up their anti-transgender crusade. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2021, 82 anti-transgender bills were introduced in state legislatures – “surpassing the 2020 total of 79 and marking the highest number of anti-transgender bills in history.” Among the most recent bills are South Carolina HB 4047 (an anti-transgender medical care ban) and Texas SB 1311 (an anti-transgender medical care ban).
In addition, South Dakota, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee have passed legislationbarring transgender youth from playing school sports.
The New York Times notes that the sponsors of the South Carolina bill “gave the bill a name that suggested noble intent: the ‘act to promote continued fairness in woman’s sports.’” The promotion of anti-trans bills is occurring at a time when very few transgender youth are participating in school sports. Elizabeth Skarin, of the South Dakota ACLU, points out, “These efforts appear to be far more slick, and far mor organized.” She adds, “Anytime they give a bill a name in South Dakota, you know something’s up.”
Making matters worse, Human Right Campaign reports that in 2020 “at least 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming people [were] fatally short or killed by other violent means ….” It adds, “the majority of which were Black and Latinx transgender women …”
At the core of the Republican anti-trans youth campaign is a deeply held conviction that is only two genders, male and female. For them, this assumption is grounded in patriarchal religious belief as well as “science.”
Lifeway Research, a division of the Southern Baptist Convention, found in a recent survey that 72 percent of Protestant pastors believe it is “morally wrong for an individual to identify with a gender different than the sex they were born.” Furthermore, 77 percent believe gender-affirming (or sex-reassignment) surgery is “morally wrong.”
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) is a traditionalist evangelical Christian organization that promotes what it calls a “complementarian” — rather than egalitarian – concept of gender issues. In 2017, it released a “declaration” — the Nashville Statement — calling for Christian followers to adhere to traditional definitions of biological-determined sexual identity and conventional heterosexual marriage.
Christianity Today reports that about 150 “conservative Christian leaders” endorsed the statement, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It claims that they are fighting to resist broader social forces promoting gender nonconformity. In 2019, Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) approved measures to affirm the Nashville Statement.
The Christian West — along with other global system of patriarchal belief – long imposed a biologically-grounded belief system defined by two genders (male and female) and one sexuality (heterosexuality). But what if this is not the case? What if gender is, like sexuality and self-identity, more complex, more varied, and evolves over time?
After a millennium of denial, sexual self-identity is becoming a more complex – more honest – category of personal being and social life. The traditional, conventional, distinctions between male/female and straight/gay are proving inadequate for the increasingly complex reality of 21st century sexual culture, at least in the more advanced capitalist countries. For as long as humans have been human, there has been a separate category of “other” that infused both dimensions of sexual identity – gender and sex – with disruptive dissonance. Now the “other” is becoming more familiar, acceptable.
This dissonance has considerable resonance. It included the unacceptable, the illicit, the immoral, the weird, the nonconforming. Postmodern capitalism has fostered a sexual culture in which the other has been mainstreamed, with gender differences acknowledged – accepted! — as a defining feature of human experience and identity, no longer a deviance.
The controversy of sexual identity is most acute involving young people, especially pre-teen children facing what had been dubbed “trans care” — puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries. These efforts seek to suppress puberty. Republican sponsored bills blocking trans care have been introduced in Alabama, Texas and Missouri; a 2020 bill in South Dakota was defeated. Gay-rights groups and others have come out in opposition to such efforts, dubbing them postmodern eugenics.
Personal sexual and/or gender identity is very much a personal issue, perhaps the most intimate. Like most “personal issues,” it is mediated through a complex social – and political – matrix that defines the culture wars. As Republicans seek to strengthen and mobilize their base for the 2024 election, one can well expect the issue of gender-nonconforming young people to be a critical wedge issue.
On March 31st, Pres. Biden issued “A Proclamation on Transgender Day Of Visibility, 2021.” It noted: “Transgender Day of Visibility recognizes the generations of struggle, activism, and courage that have brought our country closer to full equality for transgender and gender non-binary people in the United States and around the world.” Get ready for a political showdown over gender non-conforming youth and other culture war issues.