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LGBTQ Nation: GOP presidential candidates use trans bodies as political stepping stones


Except for a couple of rare exceptions, many of the current GOP presidential hopefuls march to the same drum in their culture war on “WOKE,” especially when it comes to the issue of transgender rights.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R), the loudest canon blasting salvos on his self-described “WOKE mob,” signed a series of bills in May that banned gender-affirming care for people under the age of 18, targeted drag shows, restricted discussions of personal pronouns in schools, and mandated people use bathrooms that accord with their sex assigned at birth.

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DeSantis signed these anti-trans and anti-drag bills in front of a cheering crowd at the evangelical Cambridge Christian School in Tampa, Florida.

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CNN has been offering GOP presidential candidates their own primetime Town Hall meetings to plead their case to the public, though the audiences for these events are largely selected for their already favorable attitudes toward the candidates and their political stances.

Nikki Haley grew up Sikh and converted to Christianity. At her Town Hall, when the moderator asked her to talk about her position on trans athletes in school sports, she went total Planet MAGA: “The idea that we have biological boys playing in girl’s sports,” she warned, “it is the women’s issue of our time…then we wonder why a third of our teenage girls seriously contemplated suicide last year.”

While she hasn’t a clue to the actual reasons why researchers are seeing an increase in depression among young people in the aftermath of a global Covid pandemic and the increasing pull by social media here on Earth, one would assume that anyone running for the highest office in the land would have at least an inkling of understanding of her potential constituents, people of all genders and relationship status in all kinds of family constellations.

No Nikki Haley, the most important “women’s issue of our time” is not trans athletes in sports, but rather, reproductive freedoms, quality affordable healthcare, quality P-12 education and affordable higher education, gun safety reforms, paid parental leave, subsidized child care, lower inflation, guarantees of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits, increased SNAP benefits, gender equity in the workplace, humanistic immigration reform, increased retirement benefits, higher sexual assault conviction rates, and peace throughout the world.

While serving as governor of South Carolina, Haley finally read the tea leaves and took action in taking down the flag of the Confederacy from atop the state capitol building. And while relinquishing her soul to far-right conservatives may score her some points in her battle in the GOP primary elections, it won’t be worth much if she ever gets to the general.

Just one day after throwing his tattered hat into the presidential sweepstakes, former VP Mike Pence had his turn on the CNN Town Hall stage. Asked about his stance on transgender rights, he argued, “We’re gonna protect kids from the radical gender ideology and say no chemical or surgical gender transition before you’re 18, period.” This received a heavy round of applause from the pre-screened conservative audience.

By raising the issue of “radical gender ideology,” Pence alleged some sort of organized underground terrorist conspiracy imposed on the youth of our nation, and, more generally, upon the body politic. This, he most likely believes, permits him to avoid any questions of the rights of individuals to determine their own bodily autonomy.

Dana Bash, the Town Hall moderator, challenged Pence on his seeming hypocrisy. She pointed out that on the one hand, he advocates for “parental rights” and the GOP’s talking points regarding individual freedoms and liberties, especially when it comes to school choice, while, on the other hand, he also supports strengthening government to circumvent those same parental and individual rights when it comes to trans youth.

Bash stated: “But in this particular case, parents who say, along with the doctors, that what is best for their kids, what their kids feel most comfortable with doing, is gender transition,” she said. “The parents should not be allowed to do that?”

Pence seemed flummoxed and did not appear to have a response ready for this obvious question. He finally said that he believed the government has the responsibility of protecting the health and safety of all its residents, even though when serving his time as Vice President, he consistently opposed Covid-19 government mandates.

Pence mindlessly compared gender-affirming healthcare for trans people to bodily art. “There’s a reason why you don’t let kids get a tattoo before they’re 18,” he said.

Throughout his hour-long CNN diatribe, he consistently quoted the Christian Bible and punctuated sentences with the words “God,” “my faith,” “the Lord,” and “Christ” so many times that I tended to lose time and place by forgetting whether this was meant as a political stump speech or a Pentecostal tent revival.

But Pence has never been a friend to trans people or the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.

When Donald Trump was running for the Republican presidential nomination, he chose the then-Indiana governor, who became infamously known as a political commodity who fired the first bombardment in the “Religious Freedom Restoration” movement against a Trumped-up war against Christians.

As governor, Mike Pence opposed marriage equality and LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections and helped pass the so-called “Religious Freedom Restoration” law, allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. The state was forced to amend the law after experiencing serious political and financial pushback.

In his first congressional campaign in 2000, Pence argued for public funding of so-called “conversion therapy” for LGBTQ+ people.

On his website at the time, his disdain and stereotyping of LGBTQ+ people stood out: “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Pence signed into law an act passed by his state legislature permitting businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ+ people and members of any other group that owners considered heretical to their beliefs, judgments, and precepts. They could turn away anyone that violated their “deeply-help religious beliefs.”

Since then, this expanding movement has gained support in state houses across the country as exemplified in Mississippi’s “religious freedom” law patterned after Indiana. And in 2016, North Carolina passed H.B. 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, which includes a section that prohibits trans people from entering a restroom facility that differs from the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate.

By choosing Mike Pence, Donald Trump added LGBTQ+ people to his already long list of “infidels,” which included Mexicans and all people of Central and South American-heritage, Muslims, most immigrants of color, people with disabilities, all women, plus anyone who supports the “Black Lives Matter” movement.

With Pence, Trump doubled-down in his desire to divide and conquer the electorate by instilling fear in promising the bigoted the “freedom” to discriminate to the fullest extent of the law without the threat of prosecution.

The United States of America was founded on conservative Christian justifications for oppression, utilizing so-called “religious” rationalizations for slavery, prohibitions on interracial sex and marriage, racial segregation, as well as bans on women’s enfranchisement, contraception, and women’s rights to control their bodies. Religion has been used to justify initial opposition to universal public schooling, injunctions on public education and other services for people with disabilities, restrictions on immigration and voting rights, imposition of school prayer and so-called “Blue Laws” prohibiting Sunday sales. It has also caused the movement for “God-given” rights to carry weapons.

The statements, policies, and actions taken by several conservative religious denominations must be understood as nothing short of bullying. Therefore, the institutional bullying emanating from these religious factions must stop, now.

When religious leaders and congregants (political or not) preach their damaging interpretations of their sacred texts on issues of sexuality and gender identity and expression within and outside their respective houses of worship, they must be held accountable and responsible for aiding and abetting those who target, harass, bully, physically assault and murder people perceived as LGBTQ+.

In addition, they must be held accountable as accomplices in the suicides of those who are the targets of these abusive actions.

When the religious/theocratic right declares that LGBTQ+ people are sinners and psychologically ill and says they must not be allowed to promote their so-called “gay agenda,” the line between religion and government is increasingly blurred. When we are taught to hate ourselves, each of us is demeaned, which denies us all our freedoms and liberties.

Therefore, we have a right, or rather an obligation, to speak up, to fight back with all the energy, with all the unity, and with all the love and passion with which we are capable.

From our vantage point at the margins, we have a special opportunity and responsibility to serve as social commentators and critics exposing the wide-scale inequities that saturate our environment. It is up to us to challenge the culture to move forever forward.

Though certain religious denominations may continue in their attempts to define us, they will fail.

And to those politicians and institutions that stereotype and scapegoat already marginalized communities, consider the definition of the word “integrity,” from the Latin integer, meaning “whole” or “complete.”

The term has come to relate to a person’s inner sense of wholeness or completeness regarding consistency and high standards of character related to beliefs, values, honesty, truth, morality, and ethics. Institutions are also assessed in terms of their overarching integrity based on similar qualities.

Each person must ask themself the question continually over the course of their lives: How much of myself – my integrity, my wholeness – do I desire to hold onto no matter what, and what, if anything, am I willing to sacrifice for one reason or another?

These reasons may include anything from being liked and admired by following the pack –even if doing so violates some basic principle you hold dear – to acting for financial or political expediency.

A central tenet of liberation is the right and the freedom of people to define themselves, to maintain their subjectivity and agency over the course of their lives. With our loving allies within progressive religious communities, in addition to those unaffiliated with religious denominations, we are taking back the discourse and demanding that religious institutions curb their offensive dogma and take their interpretations of scripture off our bodies.

We will accept no longer their repugnant mantra that “We hate the sin but love the sinner.” We will accept no longer their telling us why and how we have come to our proud identities, and their claims that it is a “choice” that we can change.

We will continue to fight against their efforts to legislate us into second-class citizenship and codify their so-called “values” into law. We will fight their attempts to restrict us from entering the social institutions of our choice.

Furthermore, we will not accept their framing themselves as the victims of “religious bigotry” when we challenge their Medieval, hateful, fear-inspiring, cruel, and yes, oppressive interpretations of our lives, interpretations targeted to perpetuate their domination and control.

We are no longer intimidated. We are standing up, joining together as allies, as upstanders, to put an end to their hatred and violence, to their hijacking of scripture to serve their need to control, and to once and for all end the deaths that have taken so many beautiful and gentle spirits.

I refuse to debate my existence on religious grounds ever again with anyone, since there is in fact no “debate.” As Rene Descartes said, “I think therefore I am.” Period, the end.

Our challenge remains in no way “religious intolerance” or “religious bigotry,” but rather, it amounts to our standing up to correct a devastating social injustice. It is not “religious prejudice” to challenge offensive, demeaning, degrading, marginalizing, persecution-causing, violence-provoking, suicide-inducing characterizations.

To DeSantis, Haley, Pence, and all residents on Planet MAGA, stop scapegoating the trans community for the real problems plaguing our nation.

Stop using trans bodies as political stepping stones to elective office.

Work, instead, on retrieving your wholeness.

Editor’s note: This article mentions suicide. If you need to talk to someone now, call the Trans Lifeline at 1-877-565-8860. It’s staffed by trans people, for trans people. The Trevor Project provides a safe, judgement-free place to talk for LGBTQ youth at 1-866-488-7386. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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