Right Wing Christians and Radical Feminists Form an Odd (Transphobic) Couple

Tony Randall and Jack Klugman in TV version of The Odd Couple.

As OneNewsNow reported on Sunday, an “unlikely pair of groups” have joined forces to “fight against President Barack Obama’s controversial bathroom mandate that ordered schools last year to permit all students identifying as ‘transgenders’ to use whichever restroom they choose.” Those two groups? Family Policy Alliance, a “conservative pro-family Christian” group (read: anti-LGBT activists), and Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), a contingent of radical feminists, some of whom identify as lesbian.

The report identifies WoLF as “a progressive feminist organization,” which is crucial to the story and the power of the alliance, which is intended to suggest that permitting the use of appropriate bathrooms to transgender people is so egregious it’s uniting conservatives and progressives in opposition.

Yet although WoLF itself is little more than a handful of radical feminists with no discernible connection to other progressives, partnerships between anti-LGBT Christian organizations and radical feminists are actually not particularly novel.

As Political Research Associates’ L. Cole Parke explained last year, there’s a long history of cooperation between the two. Parke offers a concise introduction to these self-identified feminists who seem eager to engage with patriarchal Christian activists:

Although there’s a strong and growing presence of trans-feminist thought and activism, the Right is selectively highlighting and leveraging the scholarship of a fringe group of highly controversial academics collectively labeled ‘Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists’ (TERFs), a term coined in 2008 by cisgender women seeking to name a dangerous vein in the feminist movement and assert themselves as trans allies, distinct from their anti-trans counterparts.

The phrase “TERF” is used by trans-inclusive advocates, and most of those categorized under this label reject it. Parke notes that most of these same folks also reject the adjective cisgender to describe their own identity, despite precisely fitting the definition of the descriptor, which essentially means “not transgender.”

Nevertheless, it’s an accurate description of a small but exceedingly vocal contingent of radical feminists. The fact that this faction has shown itself willing to align with far-right religious groups that oppose much of the fundamental feminist doctrine betrays a twisted set of priorities, where the enemy of your hypothetical bogeyman is your new BFF.

As 2017 rears its orange-hued head, LGBT activists and reporters have been tracking the onslaught of transphobic bills, many of which rely on specious claims about protecting women and girls, all of which rely on a thoroughly debunked scare tactic that considers trans women to be secretly perverted predatory men trying to gain access to women’s spaces. (Notably, this argument all but ignores the existence of trans men.)

It’s also wholly unfounded. Although more than 200 U.S. cities and states have trans-inclusive public accommodations statutes on the books, there has been only one confirmed report, ever, of a self-identified trans person behaving inappropriately in a gender-segregated space. I haven’t run the numbers, but it’s fair to say that it’s safer to share a bathroom with a trans person than to meet the president-elect.

On the more serious side, law enforcement officers, city commerce officials, and sexual assault experts from around the country have soundly rejected the claim that allowing trans folks to use the facilities that best match their gender identity leads to any increase in reports of harassment or assault in such spaces. It just doesn’t work that way.

In fact, if anyone has anything to fear it should be transgender people since they’re actually more likely than their cisgender peers to be harassed and assaulted in sex-segregated spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms. And with high-profile politicians like Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick holding press conferences that perpetuate these lies to gin up fear, the people who will bear the brunt of this animus are those who are gender-nonconforming, feminine-presenting, and people of color. But you wouldn’t know any of that by looking at the panicked reports coming from the religious right or their “strange bedfellows,” Women’s Liberation Front.

If there’s anything these bedfellows do share, it’s a dishonest depiction of the issues. In addition to the utterly bankrupt notion that trans people hoping to pee in peace pose some sort of threat, the so-called “mandate” from President Obama was actually a non-binding “Dear Colleague” letter that laid out suggested guidelines for schools that want to support their trans students. It specified that trans students, like cis students, should be allowed to use the facilities and play on the sports teams that correspond with their gender identity.

Although the Departments of Education and Justice indicated in that letter that they could withhold federal funds from schools that declined to implement the guidelines, the Obama Administration declined to enforce that provision, even against blatant offenders like North Carolina’s infamous House Bill 2.

But that didn’t thwart an outsized reaction led by Texas and nearly two dozen other Republican-run states, which collectively sued the federal government for daring to use its education agency to advise schools nationwide on emerging best practices. A district judge ruled in favor of those states and blocked the guidance in August.

Given the arrival of a commander-in-chief who fires off Twitter insults in the wee hours of the morning, and a proposed cabinet that seems hell-bent on destroying the institutions they’ve been charged with running, we must resist the normalization of the idea that we’ve entered a “post-fact” era.