At last week’s federal hearing on youth gender affirming care, Democrats finally stood up for trans people

OPINION: Federal Democrats have so far rarely directly addressed growing anti-trans rhetoric. That changed last week

Last Thursday, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee held a first-of-its-kind federal hearing on gender affirming care for minors. Conservatives on the committee put it together to discuss the alleged dangers of transition care for youths. It’s the latest move in a now long-running conservative crusade against trans rights, and represents a new escalation for Republicans hoping to stamp trans people out of public life.

The hearing provided a forum for conservative activists to further spread misinformation about youth transitioning, while Democrats and activists actively tried to swat down the Republican lies.

The conservative line of attack was obvious from the start, when committee chair Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) called gender affirming care “barbarism” in his opening statement. “This so-called gender-affirming care is anything but affirming and caring, and the language matters,” he said, calling for such care to be banned by the government.

Republicans called in several speakers from the conservative organization Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), along with conservative darling, detransitioner Chloe Cole, and the director of family studies for the ultra-conservative Family Research Council (FRC). On the pro-trans side was Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Miriam Reynolds, a licensed counselor and mother of a trans son.

The hearing itself went as expected. Conservatives ran their standard Gish gallop, bringing up as many misleading anecdotes and bits of data as possible, attempting to overwhelm Democratic opposition. Democrats, in turn, pointed out that the government should not be stepping between parents, kids and their doctors to impose their cultural views on trans people.

“Congress has no business interfering in parents’ freedom to make decisions about appropriate medical care for their children,” said Congressmember Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA) in her opening statement. “It is a cynical and dangerous political attack on transgender children and their families. It is not driven by science or facts, but by polling and political strategists determined to mobilize conservative voters through fear.”

I’ve covered congressional hearings like this before, though not ones about gender affirming care. What struck me while watching was how similar this was to the many hearings I’ve covered on abortion rights under past Republican Houses. The pattern is always the same: Republicans call in conservative activists who come in from very anodyne-sounding organizations to attack whatever thing the right is mad about that day.

In this case, it was the so-called Independent Women’s Forum. It sounds like a neutral organization solely concerned with issues related to women. But a closer look at their leadership and content output shows that it’s a pretty standard conservative advocacy organization. Before appointing herself an expert on gender affirming care, IWF president Carrie Lukas was more concerned with arguing against minimum wage laws, saying that raising the minimum wage makes hiring employees more expensive, pricing some workers out of the market. “It’s far worse to have no job than to have one that pays relatively little,” she wrote previously.

 

Similarly, the Family Research Council is often at the center of these sham hearings, spreading whatever ultra-conservative evangelical issue the group is obsessed with. It was FRC that first picked out trans rights as a fertile target for conservative hatred, writing a playbook for “understanding and responding to the transgender movement” in the summer of 2015. Not coincidentally, that was the same summer that the Obergefell Supreme Court ruling was delivered, formalizing marriage equality in the U.S.

Words from that 2015 FRC memo echoed throughout the House Judiciary Committee hearing, with conservatives making all the usual claims that trans people are “attacking reality,” or trying to “erase women” merely by existing.

Conservatives have found great progress in demonizing trans people since the days when North Carolina’s bathroom bill crashed and burned in 2016. They’ve successfully re-run the anti-abortion playbook against gender affirming care over that time, along with finding other niche areas of life (like athletics) with which to make emotional arguments to voters.

But on Thursday, House Democrats finally showed a backbone in pushing back on these attacks, and it was a welcome reprieve from their usual silence on the issue. Rep. Sheila Jackson (D-TX) took a particularly defiant tone in support of her trans constituents. “I insist on pronouncing today: your life is worth it,” Lee said. “Your son’s life is worth it. Your daughter’s life is worth it. However they are transitioning, and as they live their life. And I plead and beg for those who might be listening, know that we do not believe that this is a question for this committee… I will not sit here and allow the trans community to be abused, and in essence to be rejected and for someone somewhere, let me say, your life is worthwhile.”

Jackson’s message was much needed for a terrified American trans community. It’s much better for Democrats to fight back than to hope that voters are ignoring the avalanche of hateful rhetoric coming from the conservative camp. Democrats take note: trans people are worth fighting back for.

There has been a smattering of strong stances from Democrats against the conservative onslaught on trans people, mostly in state legislatures over the last few years. On the federal level, Democrats are sometimes loath to even single out trans people as the target, instead vaguely referring to conservative attacks on LGBTQ2S+ people as a whole.

It’s good to finally see federal level Democrats besides Joe Biden and the Equality Caucus stand up to Republican bullying of trans people.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

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