It’s no coincidence that so many Christian Right groups and other anti-LGBT+ groups use “mums” or “mothers” in their statements: we associate motherhood with kindness, not bigotry and cruelty. But of course mothers can be just as bigoted, just as vicious and just as cruel as anybody else.
Somehow, cisgender mothers of cisgender girls have positioned themselves as having a stake in the fight for trans rights. They follow from a cadre of mothers in American civil rights history who have at times successfully repackaged discriminatory policies as necessary in order to protect the children—their children and children of people like them. In the late 1970s, there was Anita Bryant, the conservative orange juice pitchwoman who lobbied against gay rights on the false premise that gay and lesbian teachers were a danger to their (presumed straight) students. Before that, but throughout the post–Brown v. Board of Education era, women in their role as mothers organized to block school integration. Maternalism is a handy shield against being accurately identified as fueling homophobia and racism. Here, the tactic has found a new face in the fight against trans rights. It is one that will be especially pernicious as anti-trans groups on the right scramble for influence in the post-Trump era in which they will have to reconnect their politics to something less obviously bigoted yet no less damaging.
…Alliance Defending Freedom is at the forefront of religious-right groups, who, after losing their war on same-sex marriage, tried to redirect their attack to trans people. Women and children have figured prominently in their campaigns—like those they say would be endangered unless lawsare passed to segregate bathrooms based on sex as assigned at birth, a means of excluding trans and nonbinary people from public accomodations. Historian Gillian Frank has noted the parallels between the myths about trans women making bathrooms unsafe for cis women and girls, which ADF and others have deployed in such campaigns across the United States, and the racist myths pushed by segregationists stoking fears about integration’s purported threat to white women’s virtue and purity. The idea of protecting girls is meant to win, and with it, they can fuel a stigmatizing moral panic about trans people.
ADF is linked to many of the anti-trans efforts in the UK too.
The spectre of trans women (as ever, it’s always women) dominating women’s sports has been invoked since Renée Richards played in the 1970s. Yet not one trans athlete qualified for the Olympics prior to 2020, and the number of trans athletes across all sports is so few I think most people would struggle to name a single one. The few trans people who do participate in athletics are routinely beaten by their cisgender rivals; and the number of trans kids playing competitive sports in schools is microscopic.
But these campaigns are not about facts. They’re about stoking fear.