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.