Listening to the malicious, not the marginalised

PinkNews’ headline says it all:

After 30 academics sign letter opposing trans rights, 3600 sign letter in support

(Update, the same day: it’s more than 4,000 now) This is the reality, away from the social media echo chamber and the furious clickbait columns. Again and again, the public is overwhelmingly in favour of treating trans people with dignity and respect.

That’s something we saw in the Scottish public consultation over gender recognition reform, where the overwhelming majority of the public and all the major women’s groups were fully supportive of reform. The proposed reforms were also manifesto pledges by all the main Scottish political parties.

So it’s very frightening to hear that tomorrow the SNP may kick the issue of gender reform into the long grass – or worse, announce a second consultation.

There’s no way such a consultation can be fair now that all of the major newspapers in Scotland – the Herald and the Scotsman, plus the Murdoch press, the Telegraph and the Mail – are rabidly anti-trans, while social media has been poisoned by US money and activists. The press in Scotland is picking on trans people just like it used to pick on gay and lesbian people.

I really hope the rumours are wrong. Because if the Scottish Government chooses to be cowards on this, the last couple of years of vicious anti-trans abuse will seem like a golden age by comparison. The message it would send to bigots is frightening: if you scream loud enough, if you hate hard enough, we’ll do what you want.

Straight talk about “straight pride”

One of the “straight pride” organisers out for a walk.

Most of the coverage I’ve seen of the so-called “straight pride” march apparently happening in Boston has demonstrated how broken much of the media has become. It’s been treated in “and finally…” style, a gently amusing little story in much the same style as a cat on a skateboard or a dog that can say sausages.

Whereas the reality is that it’s a stunt by a bunch of violent neo-Nazi thugs who want to create a white Christian ethnostate, who are preparing for a race war and who believe non-compliant women should be raped.

Tee-hee! Here’s Carol with the weather!

The organisation behind the proposed march is a rebrand of Resist Marxism, a violent, far-right group with very strong links to neo-Nazi extremists. Leader Mark Shahady organised a violent rally in late October to which he invited the notorious Proud Boys, who attacked protesters.

In December, Shadady hosted an anti-immigration “debate” where a known neo-Nazi organisation called Patriot Front provided “security”. As Antifash Gordon, an anti-Nazi activist, writes on Twitter:

Patriot Front is an openly neo-Nazi organization that endorses the use of “ethnostate rape gangs” to police the behavior of white women after they win the race war they think is coming.

Their leader is a member of Resist Marxism.

These lovely gentlemen attended the Boston Women’s March this year, where they attacked attendees. There’s footage of Sahady attempting to assault a trans woman.

There is much, much more of this. Gordon has a long thread providing evidence.

Here’s how the Guardian chose to cover it: with a sideways look at the hilarity of a straight pride march.

Do say: “If Straight Pride had been invented sooner, they might not have had to close all those branches of Burton.”

Don’t say: “Where are all you guys going? The Boat Show’s that way!”

Apparently there’s a lighter side to ethnofascism, violence and rape.

In fairness The Guardian has since reported on the background of the organisers, but like most such coverage it’s too little too late. A stunt by some utterly despicable, vicious, bigoted people has become a global news event, a funny little item at the end of a broadcast, yet another opportunity for the far right to spread their hate.

This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but with a snigger.

Will LGBT lives matter to the UK’s next PM?

It’s hardly news to discover that a prospective Tory prime minister is a terrible human being, but even by their usual standards the current crop have revealed themselves to be particularly unpleasant.

Speaking to the media yesterday, Esther McVey followed in the footsteps of Andrea Leadsom by taking the side of the homophobic protestors outside the Birmingham primary school: when it comes to equality, “parents know best”. Meanwhile Dominic Raab announced that he didn’t want to “make it easier” for trans kids to be themselves.

The kind of people who scream at five year olds vote in significant numbers, so McVey will happily throw the vulnerable minority of LGBT parents and children under the bus to get those votes. Trans kids don’t vote at all and their parents aren’t a significant electoral force, so Raab is happy to dog-whistle to the anti-trans and religious brigade about the invented spectre of children transitioning. Once more for those at the back: trans children don’t get hormones or surgery in the UK; that isn’t under review.

I’m no fan of the Conservatives, but some of them deserve some credit for their approach to LGBT rights in recent years: David Cameron ignored the majority of his own MPs to get equal marriage passed in 2013, and the Conservatives have also attempted to bring gender recognition in line with international best practice (an attempt that was done badly and turned into a disaster for trans people, but that’s for another post). Penny Mordaunt in particular has been a positive voice in government for LGBT people.

But the Conservatives were also the party of Section 28.

As the equal marriage vote demonstrated, the majority of Conservative MPs are not in favour of equal rights for LGBT people.

Nadine Dorries claimed equal marriage was “a policy which has been pursued by the metro elite gay activists”. Liam Fox said it was “a form of social engineering” and voted against extending equal marriage to Forces personnel stationed abroad. David Davies is a vocal anti-trans activist with a truly appalling voting record on LGBT issues (and inevitably, on women’s rights too). Of the 21 MPs who voted to oppose inclusive relationship in schools this year, 12 were Tory (plus 7 of their DUP allies and 1 independent. Just one Labour MP joined them).

Their friends in the press aren’t exactly LGBT-friendly either, and the most vocally anti-trans newspapers are the ones most read by Conservative voters and the hard core of Conservative party members who will select the next Prime Minister.

Most politicians would happily sell their own mothers for power, and looking across the Atlantic it’s clear that pandering to bigots and Murdoch is an effective way of gaining that power. Who cares if that means making a vulnerable minority’s lives worse? Given the choice between protecting people and gaining power, they’ll choose power every time.

For too many Conservatives, LGBT people’s lives simply don’t matter.

Screaming at five-year-olds

The ongoing protests against inclusive education in Birmingham continue after the latest talks broke down. With some irony, it seems the anger against “no outsiders” is being whipped up by outsiders. Those outsiders are spreading lies and deliberately stirring up hatred.

Nafir Afzal is the person with the unenviable job of mediator.

“I’ve looked at the curriculum, there is nothing in the curriculum that is LGBT specific. There is nothing about gay sex.

“I’ve seen people walking around outside of that school with stuff that they have downloaded from the internet suggesting this is on the curriculum.

“This is what’s being taught to their children. It’s a lie. And this is what I’m dealing with.”

These aggressive protests, which have left teachers and children in tears, follow a pattern we’ve seen many times: religious zealots, mainly men, spreading hatred.

“What the hell are they doing outside screaming at five year olds? What are they doing?

The people doing the screaming in this particular case are mainly Muslim. The ones doing identical screaming in America and Canada, where hundreds of parents have also protested inclusive education in increasingly angry ways, are Christian.

What both groups have in common is religious zealotry. They don’t represent other people of their communities, let alone of their faiths; they’re hijacking faith, using it as a vehicle to try and force their regressive, bigoted ideologies on the wider population. Where there is doubt or division, they amplify it. Where there is misunderstanding, they add to it. Where there’s a fire, they pour petrol on it.

This is not a local issue. It’s a global one. All over the world, religious extremists are pushing to turn back the clock in secular societies. Those societies keep the church and the state separate for good reasons, and extremists want to change that. And politicians aren’t responding quickly enough, or clearly enough.

Some of the bigots are white, some brown, some Muslim, some Christian. All should be resisted.

Faith is for churches. Schools are for facts.

Do you believe us yet?

This is where it leads. The “reasonable concerns”. The “just asking questions”. The denial of science. The platforming of extremists who seem like such nice people. The endless articles telling you trans people are dangerous.

The Trump administration says it’s okay to let trans people die.

Under the discrimination administration’s latest plans, healthcare can be denied to trans people.

Insurers can refuse to pay for treatment.

ERs can refuse to treat trans people.

Paramedics can refuse to save our lives.

Doctors can refuse to treat our children.

Pharmacists can refuse to dispense hormones (something that’s already happening; in one case the pharmacist held onto the prescription so the trans person couldn’t get it filled anywhere else).

It’s not just us, of course. The rest of the LGBT umbrella is being targeted too, as are women who’ve had abortions.

We’re just the headline. People who aren’t trans read it, think “nothing to do with me” and move to the next article.

This is how human rights are lost.

This is how people die.

I’m not exaggerating. I’ve blogged before about Tyra Hunter, left to drown in her own blood because emergency workers discovered she was trans.

Here’s Sam Dylan Finch, who writes for Healthline.

I remember when I lived in Michigan and a trans woman that I knew had to call 911, because a serious wound she had (from an unrelated medical condition) started hemorrhaging overnight.

One of the EMTs went upstairs to her room, and when that EMT realized she was transgender, was visibly disgusted and left the room. Her mom overheard the EMT mocking her as he spoke to the other EMT, referring to her as an “it.”

But the worst part of it was that, when it was decided that she needed to go to the hospital, they made her walk down the stairs herself without helping her. She was hemorrhaging blood from a leg wound. They stood impatiently and just watched her struggle.

…A trans man named Robert Eads died of ovarian cancer after TWENTY SEPARATE DOCTORS refused to treat him. Lambda Legal reported that one of the doctors said the cancer diagnosis should make Eads “deal with the fact that he is not a real man.”

I have known trans people who have been mocked while they were gravely ill in a hospital bed. I have known trans people who were outright turned away by doctors, or have had pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions that were desperately needed.

I need you to understand that when we say that these protections are a matter of life and death, we mean that LITERALLY. Transgender people have already died in utterly preventable and tragic ways because medical “professionals” turned their backs on us when we needed help.

The scale of this is truly frightening.

The administration wants homeless shelters to refuse entry to trans people. It plans a religious exemption law that enables adoption agencies to discriminate against LGBT families. It has banned trans people from the military. It puts trans refugees in solitary confinement. It has given government agencies and private businesses the right to discriminate against LGBT people provided it’s on religious grounds. Prison policy has been rewritten to place trans prisoners among people of their assigned birth gender, so trans women go to men’s prisons with predictable consequences.

It is slowly but surely removing every single bit of legal protection for LGBT people.


This is not about politics. This is about fundamental human rights. I want you to imagine getting into a serious car accident, and as you are literally dying before someone’s eyes, they are MOCKING you when you thought they had come to help you.

I want you to imagine getting a cancer diagnosis, and going to doctor after doctor, TWENTY TIMES, to no avail. Imagine one callously remarking that maybe the cancer would teach you a lesson. Imagine the time is ticking, and no matter how much you plead, no one will help.

I want you to imagine the humiliation of hemorrhaging blood, and being made to crawl down a staircase, while two ambulance workers that you called for help refer to you as “it” and look at you with disgust. has detailed the assault on LGBT rights and trans rights in particular since Trump took power. It’s a very long list.

Not all of the proposed regulations will get onto the statute books. For example, the administration’s attempts to remove workplace protections for trans people will probably run afoul of other laws, case law, other regulations and various Executive Orders. But the sheer volume of it is shocking. Make no mistake: the administration has declared war on LGBT people and on women.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to be trans in America right now, but I’m very scared that I’m going to feel something very similar here in a few years from now. The same rhetoric, the same “debates”, the same evangelicals and the same deep pockets are fuelling the same anti-trans sentiment here.

The man behind the latest outrage, Roger Severino, is a former staffer and a firm friend of the evangelical Heritage Foundation.

That’s the same Heritage Foundation that supports UK anti-trans activists, the same Heritage Foundation that the leading lights of the UK anti-trans movement fly to America to discuss strategy with.

As our politics lurches ever rightwards, I’m genuinely frightened.

Tthis isn’t about politics. This is about hate. This is about deliberate, cold cruelty, the deliberate othering of a whole group of human beings, a government effectively telling its populace that that group of people are not human.

Diana Tourjée of Vice magazine:

The Christian extremists running the US government will not stop until transgender Americans are dead and gone from public life

…This is not politics. This is social extermination.

Bad-faith theatre

Image by Jude Valentin, YouTube.

Yesterday I linked to a piece about women of colour being overwhelmed with requests to educate people. Not all of those requests are made in good faith, and even the ones that are can be exhausting.

This morning. Afua Hirsch writes about her experience on Sky News. Hirsch was asked to explain why an image was racist.

here was an instantly recognisable trope, familiar to generations of black people, shared on the birth of a baby whose family includes an African American grandmother, by someone paid by the BBC. That there was widespread condemnation of its racist nature – including from the man who posted it – is one of many reasons I was exasperated at having to debate it.

Hirsch’s appearance went viral when she decided she’d had enough of this particular game.

I realised, on air, that I had had enough – not just of having to deal with the content of an idea that compares people like me to another species, but of then being expected to persuade people why that’s bad.

Because this emotional labour is not distributed equally, broadcasters – by placing one black person in a hostile space and then requiring them to explain the injustice of racism – become complicit in that injustice.

The idea that everything is a debate, and that terrible bigotries can be defeated by it, is a bad idea.

Laurie Penny:

There’s a term for this sort of bad-faith argument: it’s called the justification-suppression model. The theory is that bigots refrain from directly defending their own bigotry but get hugely riled up justifying the abstract right to express bigotry. So instead of saying, for example, “I don’t like foreigners,” they’ll fight hard for someone else’s right to get up on stage and yell that foreigners are coming to convert your children and seduce your household pets.

You can’t defeat bad faith with good words, because the other side isn’t debating. They’re performing.

Remember the U.S. presidential debates of 2016? Remember how the entire liberal establishment thought Hillary Clinton had won, mainly because she made actual points, rather than shambling around the stage shouting about Muslims? What’s the one line from those debates that everyone remembers now? It’s “Nasty Woman.” What’s the visual? It’s Trump literally skulking around Hillary, dominating her with his body. It’s theatre. And right now the bad actors are winning.

Libertarians like to talk about “the marketplace of ideas”, but as Penny rightly points out, marketplaces are full of conmen and counterfeiters and criminals. “As always,” she says, “when the whole thing comes crashing down, it’s ordinary marks who lose everything.”

Public debate — at least the way I was taught to do it at my posh school — is not about the free exchange of ideas at all. You only listen to the other guy so you can work out how to beat him, and ideally, humiliate him.

…trying to bring someone over to your side by publicly demonstrating that their ideas are bad and that they should feel bad is like trying to teach a goat how to dance: the goat will not learn to dance, and you will make him angry.

Debate doesn’t stop bigots or fascists. We’ve been exposing far-right ideologies to sunlight for several years now, and the far right is stronger than ever. Since the UK began debating hard-right Brexiteers, racist incidents and discrimination have soared.

We’ve been debating LGBT rights for decades, and the bigots continue to argue against science and basic humanity. Since the UK began debating equal rights for LGBT people and trans people in particular, hate crimes against LGBT people and trans people in particular have soared.

Since the US religious right began an aggressive campaign demanding  we debate women’s reproductive freedom, legislation has been passed to remove that freedom altogether. The goal is to have similar legislation nationwide.

The “debates” over whether it’s okay to compare people of colour to monkeys, whether parents are right to stop their kids being taught about the existence of LGBT people, whether women should have bodily autonomy, whether trans people should have basic human rights… these aren’t debates. The debates were settled a long time ago.

What we have now is bad-faith theatre. The cruel, the career contrarians and the clueless punch down using “free speech” and “reasonable concerns” to disguise what they’re doing, dog whistling to their supporters and demonising their targets. Off-camera they and their supporters let the mask slip. On-camera they stay strictly on message and on brand. Debating these people is merely handing them a megaphone.

Fascists weren’t defeated by debate in the 20th century; they were defeated by bullets. People of colour didn’t get civil rights by asking nicely. The road to equal rights for LGBT rights began with riots.

As Michael J Dolan wrote on Twitter yesterday:

When you argue that fascists should be defeated through debate, what you’re actually suggesting is that vulnerable minorities should have to endlessly argue for their right to exist and that at no point should the debate be considered over and won.

Aggressive questioning

Guilaine Kinouani writes at Race Reflections. In “education requests, exploitation & oppression” she discusses the issue of emotional labour, where complete strangers (usually members of the majority) ask someone (usually a member of a minority group), to educate them on things they could easily Google – or often, things they have already Googled and choose not to believe.

Recurrently and increasingly, I am asked to provide the emotional or intellectual labour of educating privileged folks on oppression, racism and (although much, much less frequently) sexism via requests for of ‘debate’, elaboration or information. These demands for education occur on and off social media. Publicly and privately. They reach me almost daily. Simply reading them recurrently leaves me exhausted. Often frustrated. Sometimes angry that so many would expect such a laborious service, from me, for free. Always, I am left feeling heavy.

Often, questions are phrased not as questions but demands – and refusing those demands leads to vicious abuse. How dare you refuse to stop what you’re doing and do my bidding! Debate me now, coward!

But even when the questioners are not aggressive, there can be aggression.

Each time we are asked to educate mindlessly, not only must we re-experience oppression and racism, we must often carry the weight of the privileged’s inability to tolerate their own responses, distress, discomfort and, the disturbance caused to their benevolent sense of self or worldview, which often gets passed on to us via projection.

There’s an attitude I’ve seen a lot of online and in print by people who have enormous privilege: the way things have been is the way things should be.

If you suggest otherwise, the problem is clearly with you.

It is not unusual for example, for those who challenge racism to be called racist, bully or some other persecutory term.

Even when the questions are questions rather than demands, they can be problematic. What may be intellectual curiosity for the questioner is someone else’s lived experience.

All oppressive experiences are traumatic. It hurts. It makes you tired. Sometimes it makes you want to cry. The cumulative effect of subtle and everyday or micro experiences of othering and discrimination is grinding. It is draining. And again, every single time it is hard. But more than that, it wears our health and mental health down. It renders us vulnerable to psychological distress and make us feel unsafe in the world, the very definition of insidious trauma.

Given this impact, the expectation that we should as a matter of course and at the drop of a hat, subject our bodies to such effects is frankly gross in its lack of compassion and consideration.

Manufacturing consent

I’m indebted to Tennessee Pete on Twitter for the link to and commentary on this story:

As he put it:

This is such a good case study for manufacturing consent because it’s just… ‘in response to Iran’

In response to Iran doing what?

No, not in response to any provocation, just in response to Iran. The continued existence of Iran.

For God’s sake, vote

These are the politicians who passed the horrific anti-abortion bill in Alabama. Notice any similarities?

It’s easy to look across the Atlantic in horror at Dark Ages throwbacks such as these yahoos, but don’t forget that right here in the UK abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland, as is equal marriage.

In Northern Ireland, the people most likely to be in favour of women’s reproductive freedom are much less likely to vote than their religious counterparts.

In the 2015 UK elections, 70% of Catholic women voted but just 55% of Protestant women did. That wasn’t a one-off, either. The pattern has been evident in elections from 1998 onwards.

There are multiple reasons for this, including disengagement from politics and a belief that politicians of all stripes aren’t trustworthy. In the US, the religious right actively engages in voter suppression. But the fact is that if you’re a woman or a member of a minority group, voting isn’t optional: it’s crucial. Because the people who want to restrict your rights vote religiously. Pun fully intended.

There’s a wider issue here, which is about representation more generally. Why aren’t politicians more representative of their diverse constituents?

Here’s Bernard Farga of Indiana University. Farga is the author of The Turnout Gap: Race, Ethnicity, and Political Inequality in a Diversifying America. Farga answers an interesting question: how can a country such as the USA, which is becoming significantly more diverse, elect politicians who cater only for one specific group – right-leaning white people?

I think there’s a countervailing force to this “demographics are destiny,” which is polarization. At the same time that demographic change has happened, we’ve seen racial polarization of partisanship where whites have become substantially more Republican. And despite the fact that the nation is becoming more diverse, and maybe 40 percent minority by 2020, whites are still the majority by far, and will be the plurality group for generations to come… if the parties split on race, then the party that’s catering to white voters will still be dominant.

One reason for that is that the groups the politicians choose not to represent have much lower voter turnout.

…the increase in the minority population is disproportionately among very low-turnout groups: Asian Americans and Latinos. Latinos are the largest minority group in the country; Asian Americans are the fastest-growing minority group in the country. So, these two groups, where turnout rates are as much as 30 percentage points lower than the turnout of rate of whites, that’s the demographic change we’re seeing.

So that means the voting population is lagging far behind the demographic shift that we’re seeing otherwise. And when you combine that with polarization, it means that demographics aren’t destiny… demographically, whites are still a majority of the potential electorate, and the clear majority of the voters.

To simplify something that’s obviously a lot more complex and multifactorial: in the short term, political parties can gain power by ignoring minority groups and pandering solely to the demographic that delivers the most votes. It’s why conservatives put so much effort into appealing to older, white, straight, people: the turnout among other groups means they can effectively be ignored. Improving turnout is therefore crucial if we want a fairer, more representative politics.

Farga isn’t optimistic about where the current divisive politics leads.

…beyond who wins and who loses, it’s about having elections that represent the will of the people, and I think when you don’t have that—no matter who wins or loses—in terms of which party, the outcomes are bad. I think that some of the divisiveness and divisions that you see right now—the polarization—is a product one of the parties… feeling that the strategy to win is basically to keep people from voting, that the only way they can win is by certain people not turning out, because that seems to be what was successful in 2016 and a few elections before that, like 2014 and maybe 2010.

That’s dangerous, because when we start talking about outcomes that are not seen as representative of all the people, and then one party disproportionately winning those outcomes, then the other party says, “Well, this is illegitimate.” And that’s where you see democratic breakdown.