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Tuesday 12 April 2016

Comment: Understanding the transphobic movement

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 9th July 2015

What lies at the diseased roots of Family First's latest transphobic diatribe? I've tracked down several US Christian Right websites that explain quite a lot about "Girl Boy Other."

The "Family Research Council" (FRC) was founded in 1983 by another US Christian Right pressure group, Focus on the Family. I am primarily focusing on "Understanding and Responding to the Transgender Movement," a 'position paper' written by Dale O'Leary and Peter Sprigg, which appears to be a key strategy paper for the US Christian Right and those of its satellites overseas that choose to follow it down this path, such as Family First here and REAL Women (Canada). The British and Australian Christian Rights appear to be ignoring it.

The paper makes its bias plain in its opening paragraphs. The US Christian Right has a quaint archaic belief in "sexual difference" and implicitly rigid and hierarchical gender roles. This means that it opposes feminism, lesbian and gay rights...and the transgender movement, because we don't. In New Zealand, given that we've had two female Prime Ministers already, we may find this puzzling. It should be remembered that if Hillary Clinton is successful in her quest, she will become the first US female president in two hundred and forty years of that republic's existence, and that the United States defeated the liberal feminist Equal Rights Amendment after a ferocious campaign by conservative Catholic anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly due to a campaign of vicious invective and distortion. Clearly, New Zealand and the United States don't share a common political culture on this front.

Unlike Family First's "Boy Girl Other,' though, at least this source material is honest about where much of its source material actually comes from. It is also startlingly honest when it concedes that mainstream mental health organisations such as the American Psychiatric Association and its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health support the diagnostic use of gender dysphoria as a legitimate evaluative tool, and have established standards of care for psychotherapy, counselling, hormone treatment, reassignment surgery and post-surgical counselling. However, one of the most absurd aspects of "Understanding" is that the paper then goes on to cite material from the seventies (!!!) to substantiate its rejection of subsequent developments and new comprehension of its subject matter. If the papers in question were benchmark studies and had replicated results, this would be understandable, but John Meyer and Paul McHugh don't fall into that category. Forty years of professional practice, subject observation, evidence-based research and disciplinary development have ensued since then.

Furthermore, and laughably, I spotted several anti-transgender medical sources in this paper were affiliated to the US Christian Right's "exgay" organisation NARTH (the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality). They are the aforementioned Paul McHugh, Sander Breiner, Rick Fitzgibbons, Marc Dillworth (Aletheia) and Jeff Johnson (Focus on the Family). I'm sorry, we're supposed to be 'impressed' by the fact that several prominent anti-transgender "medical experts" turn out to be affiliated to a recidivist conservative Christian clearinghouse for discredited "reparative therapy" which falsely purports to "cure" homosexuality. If they're that credulous in that area, one has to wonder about the veracity of its claims in other areas.

One of the other absurd aspects of this paper is a thoroughly unpleasant reference which appears to argue that "most or all" transsexuals "engage in" high-risk behaviour such as self-harm, suicide or attempted suicide and survival sex work. Why? The answer is obvious- the reason is transphobic discrimination, which results in household of origin transphobic violence, expulsion and homelessness, educational disruption and consequently marginal employment opportunities or else survival sex work, as well as possible alcohol and drug problems and mental health concerns. If pre-operative transpeople undertake such behaviour, it is because they are denied access to social and medical services that enable better self-comprehension and a pathway to best practice medical care within the transitioning process. Clearly, trans-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation, subsidised reassignment surgery and counselling and targeted social services are the answer.

Then O'Leary and Sprigg inform us that the transgender movement is after government recognition, antidiscrimination law inclusion, transgender child protection laws, subsidised late adolescent and adult hormonal treatment and reassignment surgery, and thanks to the US Affordable Care Act ("ObamaCare") and an end to military service discrimination, all of which already exist in some manner in more advanced jurisdictions such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. All of the above sound like quite reasonable incremental human rights and civil liberties objectives. Evidently, their Christian Right readers are supposed to join the latest US Christian Right "crusade" against the LGBT community, this time aimed against US and other transgender communities. Still, at least O'Leary and Sprigg are far more honest about their actual (questionable) sources and agenda than Family First, for which I give them some minimal credit. Moreover, this paper is dated "June 2015", which indicates that this targeting of US and other international transgender movements is deliberate and spiteful, in the wake of the US Christian Right's defeat in its failed crusade against marriage equality.

What about other anti-transgender organisations? In California, one of its allies is the "Pacific Justice Institute", a misnamed religious social conservative litigation organisation which defends religious social conservatives from just litigation and legitimate workplace discrimination, harassment and wrongful dismissal. However, it has also colluded in the harassment and invasion of privacy of transgender children in the context of changing rooms, toilets and other facilities. Witness the "notice of privacy" flier cited below, which explicitly encourages right-wing parents to agitate for discrimination against transgender children in changing room and toilet facilities. Some parents and Christian Right activists take this fearmongering and agitation too far and they are the ones who have invaded privacy...but of transgender children, their parents and families, not cisgender counterparts. The PJI was involved in a failed anti-transgender campaign in 2013 to obtain referendum relief against AB1266, California's educational transgender child protection legislation. It deployed a repulsive poster in which a towel was present at the side of some "male" feet, with the words "Welcome to Your Daughters Public School Showers." Thankfully, this disgusting harassment and invasion of privacy campaign backfired. If anything, it turned cisgender fellow students at the affected Colorado school against the PJI, which has been justifiably been categorised as a "hate group" by the anti-racist Southern Poverty Law Center.

In 2015, Californian transphobes "Privacy for All" are trying to get their transgender child endangerment bill, the grossly misnamed "Personal Privacy Protection Bill" against AB1266 onto the California state referendum ballot paper. In 2013, their last attempt fell short by 17,000 legitimate signatures.

Speaking of legitimate, Family First may have breached the copyright of young transmale artist Sam Orchard, reproducing one of his earlier works without his copyright permission. What is it with the Christian Right and copyright law? I've had to resort to the legal cudgels myself against other ignorant fundamentalists who have done that to me. Anyway, what copyright law says is this:

Section 16 of the Copyright Act 1994 (New Zealand) states the original creators or current license holders of particular works have the sole right to copy works, issue copies to the public or broadcast or otherwise distribute their work. It cannot be copied, broadcast or published without their permission. This includes lifting parts of others work, and incorporating them into your own. It's even worse if the bootleg copies in question are distributed- Section 16(1)(a) of the Copyright Act 1994 (New Zealand).

The transphobic movement. If you're the parent of a transgender child, will it endanger your son or daughter?

Not Recommended:
Dale O'Leary and Peter Sprigg: "Understanding and Responding to the Transgender Movement" Family Research Council: (June 2015): http:// pdf
Pacific Justice Institute: AB1266: http:// www.pacificjustice .org/ab1266.html
Cristan Williams: "JD4PJI: The downfall of the Pacific Justice Institute and the Sweet Victory of Trans Youth" TransAdvocate: 01.03.2014:

Sam Orchard: "Moral Quandry" Rooster Tails: 07.07.2015: quandary/
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Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 9th July 2015

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