The dark secrets of the anti-trans conservatives
The Heritage Foundation employs a leading advocate of Intelligent Design
Welcome to a big Sunday edition of Progressives Everywhere!
There is no shortage of urgent news and stories to dig into this weekend, from right-wing treachery in state politics to right-wing treachery in international state politics, so I’ll save the preamble and jump right into it. (And don’t worry: There’s some positive news and very useful information in this edition, too.)
But first, thank you to our latest crowd-funding donors: David, Cheryl, Ted, Roseanne, Lester, and Matthew!
Throughout the legislative debate over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Republican lawmakers have tried to stress that their legislation would have a very limited impact on children, teachers, and the school dynamic. They’ve repeatedly swatted away allegations of bigotry, denied that they’d force teachers into the classroom closet, and claimed that the bill, as its official title tries to suggest, is instead all about parental rights in education.
All it takes is a little bit of digging to expose them as absolute frauds.
The name is no coincidence — conservatives have been using the term “parental rights” for years as a dog whistle in their attempts to discriminate against inclusive education. The people and organizations behind the bill have been unambiguous about their intentions and motivations — this is just the latest evolution of their attempt to stop the inevitable shift in culture.
“There have long been anti-LGBTQ bills in some form in state legislatures,” says Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. “Years ago it was seeking to ban marriage equality, then bathroom bans. Now it’s an exponential increase in bills that squarely go after transgender youth. It is a deliberate strategy.
“It is certainly not organically rising up because there really is some problem with trans youth in schools,” Heng-Lehtinen adds. “It is a conscious play by ideologically anti-LGBTQ organizations.”
Those organizations are familiar foes for Heng-Lehtinen. Years of right-wing advocacy, public statements, and legal filings all paint the clear picture of an extremist sect with dangerous fringe beliefs and associations, who want to, as he says, “want to enforce conformity to norms around gender and sexuality for everybody.”
After introducing 149 anti-trans bills in 2021, Republican legislators across the country have already introduced 157 in the first two months of 2022. According to the NCTE, they break down like this:
67 trans youth sports bans
37 trans youth healthcare bans
29 curriculum bills (school or workplace, but mostly schools)
26 other (bathroom bills, school policies, birth certificates/IDs, etc.)
Jay Richards is a far-right “philosopher” who has become one of the most prominent voices in the pushback against inclusive education. A fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society, he regularly publishes columns that can’t help but betray his medieval worldview. Stories meant to present scrupulous, data-driven arguments quickly veer into naked bigotry steeped in Richards’ own blinkered worldview and desire for a theocracy.
In a recent analysis of the White House’s recently released strategy on gender equity and equality, Richards urged the Biden administration to steer away from acknowledging trans people and instead recognize the “innate differences between men and women.”
In another new piece, specifically praising Florida’s new bill, he claims that schools are “now often a pipeline for sexualizing kids as young as kindergarten.” He then pulls a classic homophobic two-step by equating conversation about gender and the many different kinds of families with “sexually explicit material,” then citing a BYU study on how pornography impacts children to justify a blanket ban on these conversations.
Richards writes eloquently, but applying evidence-based science isn’t exactly his forte; when he’s not trashing the LGBTQ community and trying to immiserate children, Richards is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a fringe “think tank” best known for its relentless promotion of Intelligent Design theory.
For the uninitiated, Intelligent Design is a pseudoscientific attempt to insert theocratic creationism into the universally accepted theory of biological evolution. Richards himself is an ardent advocate for Intelligent Design — just last week, he published commentary arguing for its theological soundness, which is hardly an endorsement of its scientific merit.
Richards has made a career out of blurring the lines between science, religion, and reactionary ideology to give cover to politicians and judges to enact and uphold regressive laws that hurt tens of millions of people. He’s connected to some of the most prominent names in the far-right theocratic ecosystem, including his former boss at the Heritage Foundation, Emilie Kao.
Kao has been pushing the parental rights rhetoric alongside more explicit — and entirely discredited — attacks on trans people and allies. In 2021, she introduced Heritage’s “Promise to America’s Children,” an effort to torture trans kids under the cloak of “protecting” the nation’s children. It includes model legislation that has been adopted by lawmakers in states across the country, including bans on trans kids playing school sports, which is considered a Trojan horse for further attacks and rights violations.
She’s railed over and over against the Equality Act, a bill passed by the House that would enshrine gender and sexuality as protected characteristics. Kao uses overly simple biological arguments to discredit the very existence of trans people, diminishing gender and sexuality into political issues, not facts of life. Doing so permits her to call for politics to be removed from the classroom, which becomes the basis for both the attacks on diversity education and any discussion about gender.
This summer, Kao became the VP and senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, another reactionary organization that has been central to the lawsuits that have continually chipped away at the rights and freedoms of LGBTQ people. The organization operates under the delusion that “Christians are being punished for living by their convictions” and must be liberated.
ADF has close ties to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hired one of the organization’s lawyers to work on his anti-abortion policy and regularly speaks at the group’s functions, especially on the topic of “religious liberty."
State Sen. Dennis Baxter, the sponsor of the Senate version of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, is even more intertwined with the fundamental fringe right. In 2019, he introduced a bill written by the Florida Citizens Alliance that would have required schools to teach alternatives to “controversial theories” like evolution and climate change.
Citizens Alliance is a virulently anti-Muslim, anti-gay, fundamentalist Christian group, and unsurprisingly, Baxter claimed that Florida schools were practicing “political and religious indoctrination.”
None of this is about protecting children, but instead inserting right-wing junk science, cruelty, and archaic religious dogma into the lives of kids and families.
Voting Rights and Redistricting
Ohio: Republicans that control the “bipartisan” redistricting committee refuse to obey orders by the State Supreme Court, and on Friday, they once again produced gerrymandered legislative maps that do not comply with the court’s requested standards. The high court will evaluate them and release a decision sometime this week.
On Tuesday, the commission will turn its mischievous gaze to the Congressional map that it has once again been instructed to redraw. The stakes are growing steeper by the day; if they can’t come up with an acceptable map by Friday, they will have to delay the primary elections.
Florida: Ron DeSantis, the subject of an irresponsibly glowing feature story in the Washington Post today, may yet get his wish to have Florida’s 5th Congressional district obliterated. The Florida House just passed a map that would split up the district, which has long been drawn specifically to provide the state’s Black residents more representation in Congress, at DeSantis’s behest.
The legislature has now passed two maps, an unprecedented situation that indicates it has little faith that such obvious racial discrimination will be upheld in court. As Rep. Al Lawson, who has long held the district, said in a statement, one map is “clearly unconstitutional” and the other is the “in case we get caught” map.
California: A broad coalition of interest groups and advocacy organizations have teamed to push a ballot initiative in Sacramento County that would raise sales taxes to generate money for infrastructure spending. If there’s one thing jurisdictions shouldn’t need right now, it’s money for crumbling bridges, but nonetheless, the half-cent sales tax hike would raise $8.5 billion over 40 years.
Nevada: Conservatives in Nevada are trying to qualify a ballot initiative that would create a new private school voucher program in the state. The initiative calls for the establishment of “education freedom accounts” that would be loaded with state cash for use at private and charter schools. It could siphon $300 million a year from the state public education system.
This is the latest salvo in a long-running battle between public schools and advocates for religious private schools, and once again, it may wind up being litigated in the courtroom before it even gets to voters.
Missouri: Once again, the stinkers in Jefferson City are trying to destroy the ballot initiative process that so often results in progressive policy enacted in a state dominated by Republicans. This new proposal is really rich: It would require 2/3rds support to pass a ballot initiative, but just 50% to repeal a law enacted by voters.
National: Voters in at least four states will be asked to vote on abortion-related ballot initiatives this year, the highest number since 1986. That number is likely to grow, especially once the Supreme Court eviscerates or even overturns Roe v. Wade.
Michigan: A new campaign was launched last week to qualify an initiative to severely limit the interest rates that can be charged by payday loan sharks. Rates would be capped at 36%, which is steep, but not in the same stratosphere as the current 391% limit.
Maryland: Having decriminalized marijuana possession in 2014, Maryland is now one step closer to fully legalizing marijuana. The House of Delegates just passed a bill to put a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana and expunge some criminal records on the ballot in November. The bill moves on to the Senate after passing rather handily, though not every Democrat was behind the legislation.
Del. Gabriel Acevero, for example, didn’t think the bill went far enough in repairing the vast damage done to communities of color over the past 50 years.
“It is not enough for us to acknowledge the harm that is done to communities by the intentional war on drugs,” Acevero told the House. “It is not enough for us to address the criminal legal aspect of cannabis legalization for the communities that have been harmed. What is equally as important is that we repair the harm that was done to the communities that have been disproportionally impacted. And unfortunately, that bill does not do that.”
It’s interesting to see these marijuana legalization bills play out, with more moderate lawmakers co-opting the issue to reduce the abolitionist aspects of legalization.
This is rare and unfashionable to say on the internet, but I have to be honest: I don’t have any deep insights or analysis to share with regard to Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine and its people. Foreign policy has not been my area of expertise, so all I can really say is that Vladimir Putin is clearly a deranged mafioso who must be disabused of his ego and delusions at once.
Putin has invaded a sovereign country, rained hell down on its people, and sent his own soldiers to die for what seems to be a quixotic quest to rebuild the Soviet Union. Years after his death, the founder of that downed superpower, Vladimir Lenin, was found to have died of syphilis. Based on his behavior this month, it would not shock me to learn that Putin’s brain is rotting in the same way.
That said, Putin isn’t an anomaly, even in today’s world. His bigotry, selfishness, and seething aggression aren’t what make him unique; instead, it’s the power he has to act on those violent urges. President Biden has done a remarkable job of marshaling reluctant governments into an international alliance that is standing up for democracy abroad, but the attacks on freedom within the United States continue to rage.
In fact, much of Putin’s rhetoric is unsettlingly similar to statements that are regularly made by some of the most prominent Republican lawmakers and governors.
Partisan politics are hardly the first consideration when missiles are being launched at a peaceful nation, but there must be accountability for the neo-Nazis in our country that have made common cause with Putin and benefited from his twisted ambitions.
Donald Trump, Tucker Carlson, and other right-wing zealots have gone even further, explicitly praising Putin in comments made as recently as late last week. Others in the GOP have been split on whether to root for the warlord Russian president or condemn him and hope not to one day incur the wrath of his army of hackers.
These questions should follow them for the rest of the year, as should questions about Marjorie Taylor Green’s open white nationalism and their relationships with fringe-right theocrats described above. The mainstream media is unlikely to follow through, so it’s up to us to keep that drumbeat loud and incessant.
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