I regret to inform you that the Sunday Times and the Christian Legal Centre are at it again

Another weekend, another bunch of anti-trans stories in the Sunday Times (following on from four stories in the Saturday edition). Today’s selection includes a 3/4 page tale of a deeply troubled man who transitioned and then de-transitioned, something that’s incredibly rare but that does happen, usually because some trans people face terrible hostility when they come out.

His story is being used to demonstrate that children are being coerced into surgical transition, even though it doesn’t do anything of the sort.

Point one: he was middle-aged when he began transition.

Point two: his transition was DIY and ignored the specialist advice that he should consider social transition before considering any medical treatment.

In other words, the story demonstrates something rather different: that troubled middle-aged men who decide to ignore medical advice don’t always get the happy ending they hope for.

It’s a sad story about a sad individual with various personal problems who faced terrible hostility (hostility the Times and its sister titles help to fuel) after a transition they began despite medical advice.

That’s not how it’s being spun here, though. The Sunday Times is using it as yet more evidence of the fictional transgender cult – and the fact that the Christian Legal Centre is representing him casts even more doubt on the whole thing. The CLC is very good at coaching people to make lurid but conveniently unverifiable claims that fit its culture war narratives, claims that frequently turn out to be untrue. The Times has published many of those stories, but doesn’t return to them when they’re thrown out of court.

The CLC are a bunch of culture war ambulance chasers, and they tend to represent two kinds of people: howling bigots and deeply troubled individuals. This looks like the latter. I feel sorry for the man in the story, but he’s just the CLC’s latest useful idiot.

 

“Abominable” isn’t

I took the kids to see Abominable yesterday. I didn’t have high hopes: the marketing made it look like another school-holiday by-the-numbers animation, and I already knew it made extensive use of one of Coldplay’s worst songs. But it turned out to be a wee gem of a film, and my two loved it.

It struck me while I was watching it that kids’ movies, especially animated ones, are often much more diverse than adult ones. One of the best cartoons I’ve seen with the kids, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, featured a black hero, a black villain and a multi-gendered, multi-racial supporting cast; Ralph Breaks The Internet was a two-hander with a strong young female character; Abominable’s hero is a young Chinese girl and the characters are also primarily Chinese, albeit in a westernised cartoon form.

That diversity is a good thing, of course. Kids come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and films should reflect that – and they often do, even if studios aren’t quite ready to give Elsa from Frozen a girlfriend. And films for older audiences are becoming more diverse too. Last year’s top-grossing US films featured more diverse casts and lead characters– although as Deadline reported, “the only way to go is up when the numbers have been so low for over a decade.”

 

Spreading hate

What does hate look like?

In many cases, it looks just like you.

When we think of hateful bigotry, we tend to imagine stereotypes: the bomber-jacketed skinhead, the spittle-flecked preacher and so on. We don’t imagine nice people: our neighbours, our friends, the mums on the school run.

But the stereotypes are often wrong. To take just two examples I know a bit about: those skinheads are often proudly anti-racist and their gigs raise money that goes directly to refugees; those school run mums are posting poison on the internet.

Here’s an example. Yesterday, Flora margarine’s parent company terminated an endorsement deal with Mumsnet. It wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last major advertiser to cut ties with the wholesome-sounding message board over its inability to police a hard core of viciously bigoted users who use part of its feminism forum to post hate speech about trans people.

Mumsnet posters are claiming a co-ordinated campaign against the site by sinister trans activists, but what really happened is that one woman, the mother of a trans kid, messaged the company and said “are you sure you want to be associated with this?” The company investigated and concluded: hell no.

It’s important to be clear about this. Talking about trans people is not transphobic. Having worries about legal changes is not transphobic. Discussing even anti-trans articles is not transphobic. But that’s not what a hardcore of users are doing, and it’s not why advertisers leave.

The new face of hatred is not a screaming skinhead shouting slurs. It’s nice middle-class people who choose their words carefully.

Writing in Out magazine, Gillian Branstetter talks about the US hate group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and its relationship to the Westboro Baptist Church. Both organisations are hateful, but the ADF understands that wandering around with placards saying “God hates fags” is counterproductive. The ADF is much smarter, and much more dangerous.

Alongside branding standards, the ADF instructs its employees to replace words like “transgender” with “sexually confused,” “gay” with “homosexual behavior,” and “intersex” with — I’m not kidding — “sexually mutilated.”

Perhaps most telling, however, is how Mr. Trent and his colleagues are instructed to describe their own work and the policies they defend. They don’t engage in “bigotry,” according to the style guide. They’re merely “defending biblical, religious principles.” They don’t oppose “sex education programs” in schools; they oppose “sexual indoctrination.” It’s not “gay marriage”; it’s “marriage imitation.”

The Mumsnet crowd do this too. They use the debunked faux-diagnosis of “autogynephilia” as a way to call trans people fantasists, fetishists and perverts. They use “protecting sex-based rights” to agitate against trans people’s rights. They say  they’re just a place where nice, friendly harmless women come together to debate the issues, campaign against Childline, try to defund trans-supportive charities and force charities to cancel discussions on preventing child abuse.

… these tricks of language rely on the “naive conception” of bigotry. The ADF, allies of the president, and many others in Washington hope to manipulate the view that racism, ableism, misogyny, homophobia, or transphobia cannot be called for what it is until it’s screaming in your face, carrying a five-foot poster declaring your eternal damnation.

…The Alliance Defending Freedom — as well as the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, the Federalist Society, and many others — are fighting for a world without LGBTQ+ people in it, where anyone can feel free to deny trans people our most basic rights because they feel God hates us. That fact should not go unnoticed simply because they aren’t holding signs declaring it.

“We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved”

It’s National Coming Out Day in the US today. It’s often pitched as a celebration, but National Coming Out Day began as activism. For LGBT+ people, the personal is political – so coming out is a political act.

Life is different if you’re LGBT+. The US Supreme Court is not currently discussing whether it should be legal to fire people for being heterosexual. Radio 4 does not invite lobby groups to tell its listeners that cisgender women will attack them in hospital wards. Straight people do not have to worry that strangers will beat them up for holding their partner’s hand in public*. Cisgender people do not have to pass extensive psychiatric assessments to get simple medication. Nobody’s protesting outside schools that tell children straight people exist. Cisgender people do not give themselves bladder infections because they’re too scared of being yelled at or worse to use public toilets. Heterosexual teenagers don’t need to fear homelessness or physical or sexual abuse if they tell their parents they’re straight.

By coming out, by simply getting on with our lives, we can help fight that prejudice and bigotry.

But not everybody can come out, or is ready to. It’s hard enough dealing with your own stuff without also setting yourself up as a target for every arsehole on Earth, bringing 57 varieties of bigoted bullshit into your life.

We’ve come a long way in a fairly short time, but even in supposedly enlightened countries like the UK there are people who hate LGBT+ people. Those people do not always keep their bigoted beliefs a secret, wrap them in “reasonable concerns” or keep their hatred in the closet. Many of them are vocal. Some are violent. And not everyone is strong enough to come out and have to deal with that.

Helen Boyd, author of the insightful and thought-provoking memoirs My Husband Betty and She’s Not The Man I Married, has written a powerful open letter about that very thing.

your visible pride flag is for the young people who are LGBTQ+, who can’t come out, or be out, because they have so little autonomy in their lives, who don’t get to choose who their parents are or what their religion is or even where they go to school. It’s for the young people who are bullied because they are different and no one at their school is helping. It’s for the young people who worry about disappointing their mom or dad or grandma or uncle, who think it’s impossible to live a happy, productive life as an LGBTQ+ person, or who believe there is something wrong, or evil, about them because of who they are or who they love.

…We come out in order to tell our young people that they can be loved, feel safe, have a job, be successful, have families. We come out so they know their elders are out here loving them even when we don’t know who they are yet. We come out so they know we’re here and that someone cares about them living their lives to their fullest potential. We come out so that those young people live to be adults because too many of them don’t.

We come out because we can and we know others who can’t, won’t, shouldn’t – yet, or maybe ever.

* Not all straight people, of course. People dating people from ethnic or religious minorities can be attacked for who they love too.

We don’t need mental health awareness. We need action

Today is World Mental Health Day, and the theme is suicide prevention. Many politicians and commentators will say or write suitably concerned things about the importance of getting help, without acknowledging that they are part of the reason people need help in the first place.

Mental health is political.

The causes are often political. And the shocking lack of support and treatment for people is political too.

I’ve lost two friends  to suicide this year. One of them took his own life while on a too-long waiting list for treatment. His death was the result of political choices. The system might not have been able to save him. But the system never tried.

The grotesque underfunding of the NHS, underfunding that makes vulnerable people wait years for treatment if they live long enough to access it, is not accidental. It’s the result of many years of swingeing cuts, of ideologically driven changes to the way the NHS works, of a deliberate lack of funding for the training of health professionals, of a refusal to fairly tax corporations and the most affluent people in society to adequately fund health and social care.

I’m particularly aware of this because I’ve seen how desperately underfunded mental health services are. It’s even worse if you’re trans: people who are trans have to wait even longer for help, which is why the suicide, self-harm and substance abuse rates in our community are so frightening. In some cases the gap between initial referral and actual treatment can be four or even five years.

That’s political too. Trans healthcare is a grotesquely underfunded and overworked subset of mental health provision. Once again, that’s the result of political choices – choices affecting the wider NHS, and choices such as the UK governments’ persistent refusals over many years to heed warnings of growing demand for trans-related healthcare. The current crisis in the gender clinic system was predicted years ago by credible experts. Politicians chose not to listen, let alone provide any additional funding.

Commentators play their part too. My own mental health has been severely impacted by the daily demonisation of and scaremongering about trans people in mainstream media – Radio 4 was at it again this morning, platforming anti-trans bigots without any dissenting voices – and on social media, where I have to block thousands of people just to be able to use the apps normally.

It’s not just us. It’s the immigrants blamed for putting pressure on the NHS to distract from funding cuts and creeping privatisation. It’s the EU nationals forced to apply for settled status to continue living here, the non-white people demonised in the national press as criminals and terrorists, the so-called “snowflakes” laughed at for daring to talk about their mental health, the people from ethnic, sexual and romantic minorities whose very existence is questioned and whose rights are deemed less important than those of others.

And most of all, it’s poverty.

There’s a reason people in Glasgow’s affluent West End live longer than those in the deprived East, and that reason has existed since the West End came into being: it isn’t race, it isn’t religion and it isn’t sexual orientation or gender identity.

It’s money.

Money enables you to buy better living conditions, better food, a better education for your children, in many respects a better life.

That’s not to say affluent people don’t get mental health problems. Of course they do. But they don’t rot on the same waiting lists that poor people do. They aren’t bullied by the DWP like poor people are. They aren’t on zero-rights, zero-hour contracts like many poor people are. They aren’t reliant on desperately overstretched and underfunded community mental health services like poor people are.

Mental health problems are not a sudden plague caused by who knows what. They are the inevitable result of successive governments removing the safety net for society’s most vulnerable people, the consequences of creating a society where the most privileged are able to deny their responsibility to help the less fortunate and incite hatred of those who need help most. They are the result of inadequate housing, of slashed funding for mental health services, of inadequate protection against hate crimes and discrimination, of a low-wage, low-rights employment market.

They are the inevitable result of a society that works for the few and despises the many.

It’s not enough to say “if you’re sad, get help”. There needs to be help available. All too often there isn’t. And that’s no accident. That’s political.

We don’t need better mental health awareness. We need better mental health provision. We know we need help. For too many of us, the help isn’t there.

Don’t let the politicians away with it. Don’t let them post “it’s OK not to be OK” and consider their job done. Demand answers. Demand action.

Too many people aren’t OK. And that’s not okay.

Go and get the flu vaccine

I was given the flu vaccine the other day. I hadn’t really thought about it but since a lung cancer scare a few years ago there’s a flag on my medical records and I’m considered high risk for pulmonary infections and COPD, so I get invited to this stuff.

As you’d expect, the vaccine didn’t give me flu, make me grow horns or make me autistic, because vaccines don’t do that. What it did do was make me feel a bit crap for a few hours before protecting me from catching – and more importantly, spreading – a really horrible disease.

As Frances Ryan writes in The Guardian, the flu jab saves lives.

Flu is often thought of as nothing more than a week of feeling rotten, but it can be life-threatening, particularly for older people and anyone with an acute illness like cancer or underlying chronic health conditions, like me.

In 2018 I developed flu complications that left me unable to breathe or move and on a ventilator for months. It’s left me with life-changing fatigue and pain, but in many ways I was lucky. Last year 1,700 people died of the flu – despite the fact that this was a relatively mild strain – and further hospital admissions put even greater pressure on an already overstretched NHS.

The vaccine is free for at-risk groups and incredibly cheap for everybody else. You should get it, if only to prevent having to take time off work to feel like shit.

Unfortunately we have a problem persuading people to take vaccines. Ryan:

The UK, like much of the west, is battling an anti-vaxxing movement in which social media has become a gateway for scare stories and quackery. Diseases such as measles are on the rise in England, with the UK recently losing its measlesfree status with the World Health Organization because a growing number of people believe dangerous myths about vaccines.

Things are so serious that one newspaper is taking a stand. Here’s today’s Daily Mail.

The crusading, campaigning Mail is going to fight against the forces of idiocy and darkness that have persuaded parents that vaccines are dangerous.

Forces such as, er, the Daily Mail.

The Mail scaremongered about vaccines for years, and while other UK papers (including the Guardian for a while) did the same it was by far the most vocal. Its sustained, decade-long campaign against the safety of the MMR vaccine continues to inspire and be cited by the global anti-vaxx movement.

As late as 2005, the Mail continued to argue that debunking the MMR/autism scare was fake news and accused critics of disgraced doctor Andrew Wakefield as perpetrating a witch hunt.

The science editor of the Daily Mail argued that ‘the MMR scandal is getting worse. Urgent questions about the vaccine’s safety remain unanswered. The doctor who raised those questions is being subjected to what appears to be a witch-hunt. The parents’ recourse through the courts has been blocked. Now they have to put up with being told yet again that the evidence of their own eyes is fraudulent.’

The Daily Mail spent a decade scaremongering about vaccines: Google “Daily Mail MMR” and you’ll find tons of uncorrected “the truth about MMR” articles and articles that push the long-debunked claim that vaccination causes autism.

Its new campaign is laudable, but it won’t undo the damage it’s done to public safety not just here, but globally.

Useful idiots are still idiots

I’ve written many times about useful idiots, members of minority groups who join anti-minority parties. One of the best-known examples is Winston McKenzie, the former Commonwealth spokesman for UKIP, whose presence in the party was used to prove it wasn’t racist. He ended up quitting the party because it was racist.

Trans and gay people do it too. In the US, the “LGBT for Trump” campaign and the Log Cabin Republicans proved to be a bunch of idiots helping to rainbow-wash one of the most anti-LGBT presidents we’ve ever seen, a president whose campaign against LGBT people may see even basic anti-discrimination protections removed.

Here in the UK we have ageing transsexuals joining anti-trans bigots to rail against the invented dangers of other trans people, and celebrity trans people pulling the ladder up behind them to leave other trans people behind. We even have transgender candidates standing for the thoroughly anti-trans Brexit Party.

You’ll be shocked to discover that despite having trans candidates, the Brexit party – hardly the most progressive, inclusive party around – still hates trans people. Here’s PinkNews on its co-founder, Catherine Blaiklock.

The only people this should come as a surprise to are the idiots who can’t see that they’re being accepted because they’re useful, not because they’re welcome. They are there for one reason and one reason only: to try and persuade the public that the organisation is less hateful than it really is.

Not so reasonable now

Jezebel has posted a very comprehensive analysis of one of the LGBT+ human rights cases in front of the US Supreme Court.

Tellingly, a who’s who of anti-trans bigots have signed on in support of Rost, from the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan T. Anderson to the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF, all of whom are attempting to make the same argument: that trans women are not women and that giving trans women civil rights protections would harm other women. (For the members of WoLF, the fact that a ruling against Stephens would possibly reify gender stereotypes in the workplace apparently matters less than ensuring trans women have fewer rights.)

That who’s who also includes some of the most prominent anti-trans activists from the UK. For example Linda Bellos, a regular contributor to UK radio, TV and newspaper discussions about trans issues, travelled to the US to address the primarily right-wing and straight crowd of anti-LGBT+ protesters outside the Supreme Court. Messages of support from other high-profile UK activists were read out to the crowd.

Bear in mind that these people have said repeatedly that they are only speaking out about trans issues because they have “reasonable concerns” about possible unintended consequences of reforming the UK gender recognition system. Nothing more, nothing less. They are absolutely not motivated by a hatred of trans women, and to suggest so is a vicious slur.

And yet here they are, proudly standing in front of supporters of, and in front of banners bearing the logo of and paid for by, the anti-abortion, anti-lesbian, anti-gay, anti-trans, anti-diversity Alliance Defending Freedom.

The links between British anti-trans activism and the US religious right are well documented, but they’re generally concealed on the grounds that holding hands with anti-women, anti-LGBT+ hate groups isn’t a very feminist thing to do even if you hate trans people as much as they do. And the ADF really is a hate group. It was classified as such by the SPLC in the US for its efforts to criminalise homosexuality and enable businesses to discriminate against LGBT+ people. It advises anti-LGBT+ organisations in other countries how best to keep anti-gay laws on the statute books, and it fought vigorously against the US decriminalisation of gay sex.

Here’s Opendemocracy:

The global wing of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has a multi-million dollar budget but does not disclose who its funders are. It opened an office in London two years ago and is now spending hundreds of thousands in the UK.

Recently, this group has publicly opposed ‘buffer zones’ around British abortion clinics and supported calls for “freedom of conscience” provisions to enable medical staff to independently object to providing legal abortion services.

…It was recently denied ‘participatory status’ at the Council of Europe because of its opposition to a convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

…ADF International has worked with the British Christian right for years. It previously collaborated with its “allied organisation” the Christian Institute, for example, to support a London registrar who refused to officiate for same-sex civil partnerships

Imagine standing proudly with people like that.

You’re probably a target too

Arwa Mahdawi writes in The Guardian about the US court cases on LGBT+ discrimination.

These cases are, to put it mildly, a huge deal – and not just for LGBT people. The ruling will have serious implications for straight people who don’t comply with gender norms. It could allow employers to fire women who don’t wear heels or makeup. It could allow companies to discriminate against men who are not considered manly enough. It could give employers a green light to act as the gender police.

That’s not an accident. It’s part of the strategy. Globally we’re seeing a very well-funded attempt by the Christian Right to remove the separation of church and state, and to make the non-religious  and the non-Christian subject to Christian law.

If this were a campaign to introduce Sharia law in secular democracies the mainstream media would be outraged; because it’s a strategy to create Christian theocracies many newspaper proprietors support it and actively promote the key players.

It’s not, and it never was, just about LGBT+ people.

Here’s the Guardian again, this time reporting on the Australian Christian Lobby. Like the ADF in the US, it’s demanding the power for employers to fire people based on the employers’ most regressive religious beliefs. And like in the US, it’s part of a wider move to protect discrimination by, not against, Christian extremists.

ACL director Martyn Iles:

defended the prospect of hiring and firing based on the “Christian sexual ethic … that sexual relations are for one man and one woman” to the exclusion of others.

Once again Christian extremists are asking not just for protection from discrimination, but for the legal right to discriminate against anyone they disapprove of in the workplace, in housing and in healthcare. Gay people. Unmarried mothers. Feminists. Trans people. Women who aren’t saving themselves for marriage. People of other faiths. Anyone who doesn’t conform to a regressive view of human rights and behaviour.

The headlines may say LGBT+, but even if you’re straight and cisgender you’re a target too.

Mahdawi:

We can’t draw a line between feminism and the fight for gay liberation or trans equality. LGBT rights are human rights – we are all in this together.