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Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

Radicalisation in real time

Trans people and allies have been warning about the links between anti-trans activism and the far right for several years now, and this weekend has delivered a frightening example. The whole story is detailed here, but here’s the executive summary (updated a day later with additional details):

  • An evangelical Christian blogger produced a video claiming that a trans woman had been exposing herself to multiple children and adults in an LGBT+ friendly spa in LA.
  • There is no evidence to substantiate any of her claims.
  • Her video contains no evidence that the event happened.
  • Despite significant publicity, nobody has come forward to corroborate her claims.
  • The spa appears to have been the subject of online anti-LGBT+ activism for the last several months.
  • Far-right goons decided that a local trans woman was the culprit (in an event that does not appear to have happened) and sent her multiple death threats. The woman had not been at the spa.
  • Far-right and neo-Nazi groups spread the video, as did anti-trans activists.
  • Far-right and neo-Nazi groups organised a protest at the spa. Many of them turned up in military-style armour and carried weapons including metal bars, knives and pepper spray. One of the thugs was carrying a baseball bat with the Trump logo on it.
  • Far-right thugs including members of neo-Nazi group the Proud Boys attacked journalists and counter-protestors.
  • Two people were stabbed by one far-right thug, a middle-aged white man dressed in military-style gear. He stabbed a counter-protester multiple times in the leg; that person is now in hospital.
  • The same man accidentally stabbed another far-right protester in the arm. Images of the stabbing have been shared by multiple “gender critical” accounts claiming that the woman was the victim of a trans person or trans ally, not one of her fellow fascists. This is not true.
  • In addition to images of the stabbing, UK anti-trans activists have been sharing doctored footage by notorious far-right figures to try and perpetuate lies that the violence was perpetrated by trans people or allies rather than fascist or fascist-adjacent thugs. Some of the earliest such posts were on Mumsnet; they’re now being spread by UK journalists.

I’m reading a lot about QAnon and other right-wing conspiracies right now, and this has frightening echoes of Pizzagate: the baseless claim that a child sex ring was operating out of a pizza parlour in Washington, a claim that lead a heavily armed man to visit the parlour intent on using violence to free the non-existent victims. Many people still believe that such a ring existed.

As the Trans Safety Network article linked above puts it:

Anti-trans tensions are reaching an incredibly worrying threshold, where instagram videos alleging wrongdoing, without any actual evidence of wrongdoing are enough to conjure right wing lynch mobs. In the wake of the protests, prominent UK anti-trans journalists and organisers have shared information from curated far-right sources… misrepresenting events is a well known tool of radicalisation and recruitment for the far-right. Extremist right wing provocateurs are creating partisan versions and hiding behind gender critical women and talking points to provide cover while they harass and terrorise innocent transgender people.

The people sharing the far-right posts are not far-right activists: they’re liberal journalists who write for papers such as The Guardian. This is how radicalisation happens.

Writing in The Herald, Neil Mackay quotes Dr Joe Mulhall, a leading expert on the far right.

MULHALL notes that the culture war is also radicalising many – often online – and leading them towards far=right politics. “If someone gets tipped one way on the trans issue, for example, you start to see them echoing anti-Black Lives Matter stuff,” says Mulhall. “We see more anti-trans content from within the far right than against any other minority today.”

English Defence League (EDL) figures “disproportionally talk about trans rights way more than Muslims now”.

“There’s a debate to be had,” says Mulhall, about issues like women-only bathrooms although he personally says he’d leave that to “trans people”. “However, at a base level, wherever you fall on those debates, the trans community is being attacked by the far right. Whatever you think about trans athletes in the Olympics, it’s unacceptable trans people are being attacked.”

The far right sees trans hatred as a “route to the mainstream. Talking about Jews isn’t. It ostracises you. But if you talk about trans issues it opens the doors to the mainstream. The far right are saying things they know will be echoed in the comment pages”.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Fairy tales

Remember when The Telegraph used to be a serious paper? Now it’s reduced to this.

The story is based on claims by one anonymous woman who claims that the children’s channel CBBC somehow turned her child trans. The age of this child? 19.

Categories
Bullshit Hell in a handcart LGBTQ+ Media

You can’t trust this story about the National Trust

The National Trust did no such thing. It merely told its volunteers that if they wanted to wear face paint or glitter to mark Pride month, they wouldn’t get into trouble for doing it.

See also: Stonewall supposedly banning the word “mother” or any of the other anti-trans culture war stories infesting both right- and left-wing media.

This isn’t just disgraceful. It’s dangerous. This week in Hungary, the “anti-woke” government – of which Spiked and other right-wing bullshit factories are very fond – brought in some of the most repressive anti-LGBT+ legislation we’ve seen outside Russia to widespread public support from people who’ve been consistently lied to about “gender ideology” and “woke” policies.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Belief

Over the next few days you’re going to hear a lot about Maya Forstater, the contractor who took her former employer to a tribunal after they didn’t renew her contract. Forstater is vocally anti-trans and claims that she was discriminated against because of this.

The tribunal found that Forstater’s views, which she claimed were a protected belief under the Equality Act, were not worthy of respect in a democratic society. Forstater appealed and a judge ruled yesterday that unless you’re actually advocating for a Final Solution, your beliefs are not relevant to your employment – unless, and this is crucial, those beliefs lead you to abuse other people.

This has been predictably misinterpreted by the transphobe crowd, who believe they’ve been given carte blanche to abuse trans people in the workplace. But the judgement does not say that. In fact, it specifically says that trans people are protected from workplace discrimination and malicious behaviour, and that having a protected belief is not a get out of jail card for harassment or hostility.

This is not new. Lots of cases have said that yes, vile views are protected beliefs under the EqA; no, that doesn’t mean you can be a dick to people at work.

Abigail Thorn of Philosophy Tube summed up the verdict and the anti-trans mob’s reaction perfectly:

Judge: “Yeah so you’re free to believe the moon landing was fake and you can maybe even work at NASA if they’ll have you, but you can’t keep calling Buzz Aldrin ‘a lying piece of shit who fucks dogs’ to his face okay?”

MF: “Ah, my beliefs about the “Moon” have been vindicated!”

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

The war on Stonewall

Stonewall is Europe’s leading LGBT+ charity, and for the last few weeks it’s been under sustained attack by The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, Spiked and The Spectator, as well as the UK government’s Equalities Office. The allegations against it are demonstrably false, but that hasn’t stopped gallons of ink being spilt.

Stephen Paton writes in The National about the latest flood of bullshit, and notes:

Without doubt, this Pride Month is taking place against a backdrop of the most open hostility toward lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and queer folk in recent history.

This manufactured outrage against trans people has now begun leading to dire outcomes that will affect the entire LGBTQ+ community in Scotland and the rest of the UK – as many of us repeatedly warned that it would.

With its relentless attacks on Stonewall, the anti-trans brigade has handed the most right-wing British Government in recent history the means to begin cutting ties with Europe’s largest LGBTQ+ rights organisation with little in the way of push back – and it has gleefully snatched that opportunity.

Categories
Bullshit Media

“Rhetorical horseshit”

Former Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger gave an interview to The New Statesman in which he happily claimed that kids today are easily triggered snowflakes who can’t handle robust debate. If you’re thinking that’s the kind of crap you’d expect from a columnist in the right-wing press, you’re not the only one: journalist Mic Wright thinks so too.

Rusbridger’s worldview has become increasingly indistinguishable from the ‘free speech’ teethgnashers at titles like The Times and The Daily Telegraph. A man described by the former Observer editor Roger Alton as “admired, but not hugely loved”, Rusbridger is a creature of the establishment who still thinks himself a radical.

The argument Rusbridger is putting forward is simplistic and, in my opinion, wrong: the only way to defeat vile speech – misinformation, propaganda, hate speech and so on – is with more speech. That may be true in the debating halls of a university but it absolutely isn’t true in the wider world, where misinformation, propaganda and hate speech thrive and have demonstrable real-world effects.

I’m currently reading How Fascism Works by Jason Stanley, which goes into some detail about the dehumanisation of minorities. One of the examples he uses is the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, which has been ongoing since 2016; Facebook was instrumental in sowing the seeds of hatred. Here’s the New York Times:

They posed as fans of pop stars and national heroes as they flooded Facebook with their hatred. One said Islam was a global threat to Buddhism. Another shared a false story about the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim man.

The Facebook posts were not from everyday internet users. Instead, they were from Myanmar military personnel who turned the social network into a tool for ethnic cleansing, according to former military officials, researchers and civilian officials in the country.

Members of the Myanmar military were the prime operatives behind a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade and that targeted the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority group.

Wright:

The veneration of debate by people like Rusbridger always forgets a crucial element: Power. Debates do not occur in some kind of pocket dimension where every speaker has the same level of social, cultural, and economic capital. The former editor of The Guardian, sat in the comfortable surroundings of an Oxford College which he runs will obviously love debate because they are never about his right to exist. It’s a party game for him, not an existential question.

I’ve written about this before. The people who commission click-bait columns about minorities, who frame people’s basic human rights as merely one side of a debate, who knowingly platform bad actors because it’s good for ratings or page views… these people are isolated from the consequences of what they do and the views they broadcast and give legitimacy to. They are not the ones who will be discriminated against, the ones whose rights are threatened, the ones who will experience aggression and even violence. For them, it’s just another item.

As Wright says, “The liberal delusion that debate can and will solve everything is insidious.” By framing matters of life and death as a parlour game, people like Rusbridger help hatred to flourish.

Categories
Media

Comedy for the terminally online

Bo Burnham’s latest Netflix special, Inside, is extraordinary. I laughed like a drain and then cried my eyes out.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media Technology

Stick your rainbow

I wrote a piece for T3 about Pride Month and the way some tech firms’ support for the LGBT+ community doesn’t go beyond putting a rainbow on their social media logo.

Earlier this year, a damning study by GLAAD confirmed what marginalised people already know: every single major social networking platform is “categorically unsafe” for LGBT+ people. But hey! They’ve put a rainbow on their logo!

If tech firms really mean it, we need them to do more than post platitudes. We need them to make their platforms safe for marginalised people by actually enforcing their policies against harassment and hate speech. We need them to stop financially supporting anti-LGBT+ politicians in order to get tax breaks. We need them to donate to LGBT+ organisations and advocacy groups who can make a practical difference in the lives of the people who’ve been affected negatively.

But most of all, they need to hire and promote LGBT+ people – particularly people who are also marginalised by race, class, disability or gender. Good decision-making will only come from people who really understand the problems, and who understand the positive and negative impacts of their decisions.

But if you think the tech world is bad, they’ve got nothing on the Tories. Today the Government Equalities Office and the Conservative party have posted their scheduled Pride tweets despite being demonstrably anti-LGBT+. It’s particularly galling to see the GEO claiming credit for equal marriage in Northern Ireland, something the Conservatives and their DUP allies fought tooth and nail.

As I wrote in my piece:

it’s a hollow, selfish gesture: the aim isn’t to help LGBT+ people, but to burnish the corporate image. Telling the world that you agree LGBT+ people exist means nothing when LGBT+ people’s rights, healthcare and safety are under unprecedented attack worldwide.

And it means even less when you’re the ones doing the attacking.

Categories
LGBTQ+ Media

How nice people are turned nasty

This, by Katie J.M. Baker in Lux magazine, is a good analysis of how an apparently benign website, Mumsnet, became a hotbed of anti-trans radicalism. Baker has previously reported on misogynist men online including incels and self-proclaimed Men’s Rights activists.

I think Baker is right in her judgement that women’s genuine anger and trauma – from abusive men, from a healthcare system that doesn’t care about them, from all the bullshit women endure in this deeply broken society – is weaponised by bad actors in exactly the same way the far right recruits angry young men.

The more I learned about Mumsnet, the more the forum reminded me of my past reporting on the ways men are radicalized by the toxic online “manosphere,” where pick-up artists (PUAs) and men’s rights activists (MRAs) recruit followers by exploiting real fears (such as economic anxiety) and blaming marginalized outgroups (women, people of color, Jews) for societal failures. As people get drawn into these communities, they become obsessed with a misguided sense of victimization and start to focus single-mindedly on their newfound worldview.

It seemed to me that was exactly what was happening on Mumsnet: some of these newly “gender critical” Mumsnetters were relatively privileged women who had never felt marginalized until they gave birth and came to feel isolated in their nuclear households and (rightfully!) outraged at the lack of support for mothers in the U.K. They turned to Mumsnet for solidarity, and somehow became fixated on trans women in the process. It was so textbook that Mumsnetters even had their own vernacular, just like MRAs who famously use being “red pilled” as slang for choosing to see the ugly truth.

…Mumsnet’s women’s rights forum didn’t just offer women a safe space to organize. By providing a platform that tolerated TERFism, it had also handed users a convenient scapegoat for all of their problems — not austerity, not misogyny, but the relatively tiny and extremely marginalized and oppressed trans population.

Categories
Bullshit LGBTQ+ Media

Grifters don’t care about facts

Riley Black, writing for Slate: Stop Trying to Out-Science Transphobes.

But regardless of their aims, transphobes of all stripes appeal to the authority of science—science that is pretty easy to refute.

This is a trap. Allies fall for this time and again. The same conservatives who try to deny my rights based on “science” have also denied that cigarettes cause lung cancer, that humans are driving global climate change, and that evolution is real. They are not dealing in facts.

…What we’re living through is a trans panic akin to the satanic panic of the ’80s and ’90s, when parents and police were convinced there were devil-worshipping cults infiltrating every facet of society. It is not logical. Going over, yet again, how hormone levels, chromosomes, skeletal features, and more vary in many complex ways is not going to make a lick of difference to people who see me and others like me as an abomination, a threat to the nuclear family, or somehow capable of ruining their day because I need to use the women’s room.

As Upton Sinclair put it, “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Hundreds of thousands of pounds are pouring into UK anti-trans activism, whether that’s through dark money, freelance fees, book sales or media appearances. Lying about trans people is pretty good for political gain, and it generates a lot of online ad clicks and newspaper sales too. Who’s going to let facts threaten all of that?