From the Conservative Political Action Conference to statehouse floors across the country, the far right and Republican party have manufactured a disinformation and hate speech campaign against transgender people. The false rhetoric they are deploying – and the violence and political action it has inspired – makes clear their intentions to deny trans people the ability to live safely and freely.
On Transgender Day of Visibility, and every day, we must affirm trans lives by pushing back against disinformation and conspiratorial thinking.
Anti-transgender disinformation is proliferating online and in conservative media and political landscapes. With deep roots in the white Christian nationalist movement, anti-trans rhetoric and disinformation are centered around the myth that transgender identities are not real.
Lies about trans people are being used by Christian nationalist organizations and politicians to validate legislation targeting the trans community, with more than 385 anti-trans bills introduced across the country so far this year. Further, this disinformation is motivating harassment and violence against trans people, particularly Black trans people, as right-wing groups demonize and criminalize the trans community and anyone who supports them.
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), for example, has long claimed that the “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. The group has already defended laws forcing the sterilization of transgender people abroad. By spreading bogus narratives against trans people, groups like the ADF have captured the attention of lawmakers and the public, urging collective hatred and evisceration of trans people.
Disinformation has devastating consequences for trans children. Some lawmakers are pushing myths like “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” which holds that more kids are coming out as the result of a “social contagion,” to justify passage of laws that ban trans medical care. We saw another disgraceful example of this last week, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill to deny trans youth safe, effective medical treatment and to criminalize doctors who offer them medical care. These laws severely restrict the ability and autonomy of young people to make informed decisions about their health with their parents, doctors and psychotherapists.
This junk science is not new. Right-wing groups and legislators rely on it to validate baseless claims about trans people and discriminatory laws like that in Georgia that deny trans rights, visibility and life-saving care. While this science has already been widely debunked, especially the problematic work of Dr. Lisa Littman, mainstream media and news organizations are echoing the propaganda promoted by the Christian nationalist movement.
In line with the ADF, groups including the American College of Pediatricians launder this junk science, giving more oxygen to narratives that cause lifelong harm.
To be clear, Christian nationalist groups and right-wing politicians are citing discredited claims to validate their arguments against trans people. Studies show that trans children are more likely to continue to identify as trans as they grow up. Further, trans kids who are not affirmed in their gender identity are more likely to engage in self-harm, and children who are pushed into gender-reversion tactics, like conversion therapy, are four times more likely to attempt suicide.
These groups also prey on anxious parents with transgender children online. Using platforms like 4thWaveNow, Christian nationalists overwhelm parents with false evidence, playing on their fears with already debunked lies and tired tropes. These online communities can exacerbate confusion felt by parents of trans children and enable the unchecked spread of anti-trans disinformation.
This violent rhetoric – like the call to eradicate “transgenderism” at CPAC – has corrosive consequences for us all. Hospitals that provide gender-affirming care, such as Boston Children's Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, regularly receive bomb threats. Drag Queen Story hours, for kids of all backgrounds, are targeted by violent hate groups. And adults supportive of trans kids, from doctors to school board members to parents, are marked for death.
Trans people are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than cisgender people – and as anti-trans disinformation intensifies, so too does the threat to trans people and those who support them.
But it’s not too late to act. The good news is that there is an antidote to disinformation. We must all do our part to educate ourselves and our friends and families about how to spot disinformation, report it and call out hateful speech or acts wherever and whenever they arise. We have a responsibility to uplift and affirm transgender people and amplify their voices, especially those fighting against hate.
When we embrace and celebrate people for who we are, no amount of disinformation or hate can quell our collective power.
Imara Jones is the founder and CEO of TransLash Media, and its investigative podcast, The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality.
Margaret Huang is the president and CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center and its lobbying arm, the SPLC Action Fund.
Editor’s note: This op-ed first appeared on Newsweek.com.
Picture at top: A person takes part in a rally during a Transgender Day of Visibility event named, “We Are A State of Love: A Gathering of Visible Solidarity With LGBTQ Youth” on March 31, 2022, outside of the State House in Boston. (Credit: Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)