Experts say far-right activists are setting their sights on gender-affirming care providers.
Anti-trans laws that target gender-affirming care, transgender youth's participation in sports, and LGBTQ-inclusive education have been enacted across the nation this year. Now people who study the anti-LGBTQ right are watching out for a new growing threat: harassment and protests against facilities that offer gender-affirming care.
People who study the anti-abortion movement say that anti-trans activists are taking a page from its playbook and are using its tactics to oppose gender-affirming care for people of all ages.
For decades, anti-abortion activists have protested outside of abortion clinics and harassed patients and staff, forcing providers and those seeking abortion care to run a very public gantlet of abuse. Since the 1980s, activists have also embraced rhetoric that lifts them up as defenders of women, their families, and their health. Anti-abortion activists have focused on the few people who regret their abortions through groups like the Abortion Survivors Network, whose founder and director has testified in Congress.
It's not unusual for right-wing activists to co-opt language or tactics from other movements, whether on the left or on the right. Some groups that promote "conversion therapy," a harmful practice based on the false claim that sexual orientation and gender identity can be changed, have used the language of LGBTQ equality. The YouTube description of a video produced by an evangelical Christian group and depicting a woman who stopped being a lesbian through the intervention of Jesus, for example, included the phrase, "Powerful Coming Out Story - Love is Love."
Anti-trans activists used tactics taken from the anti-abortion movement against GENder Education and Care, Interdisciplinary Support, or GENECIS, a program in Dallas, Texas, run jointly by the Children's Medical Center Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center to serve youth with gender dysphoria. The program was dissolved in November after it received attention from right-wing groups.
A group called Save Texas Kids notes on its website:
Today, Wednesday 11/17/21, Save Texas Kids, along with several supporters came to the office building of Dallas Children’s Board Member Robbie Briggs. ... This was the best experience yet, and we are looking forward to the rest of the scheduled protests occurring until the end of the year. Save Texas Kids is committed to continuing the fight against the GENECIS clinic's standard of performing irreversible hormone and puberty blocking therapies on children as young as 10.
We ask the board of Dallas Children’s to commit to ensuring the GENECIS clinic refrain from the practice of giving "puberty blockers" and other irreversible "hormone therapies" on anyone under 18. We have no problem with talk therapy for those who experience gender dysphoria. We agree these issues can be hard on those who experience it, as well as their families. We do not however, believe children as young as 10 have the capacity to understand and consent to irreversible procedures that will affect them for the rest of their lives.
After the clinic shut down, Save Texas Kids continued its campaign of harassment, writing, "Now that the GENECIS Center has closed, the question is, will its former staff (who still appear to be employees of Children's Medical) continue to perform cruel, irreversible, scarring procedures including puberty blockers and 'hormone treatments' on young children?" and posting photos and names of people they believe worked for GENECIS. "We fear that these treatments will continue under a different name and different branding unless we stand up and tell the board members we will not stand for it. We believe that Children's Medical needs to send a strong message to these 'providers' namely that no employee of Children's Medical can EVER perform scarring abusive puberty blocker and hormone procedures on children and remain employed."
A group called MassResistance, which has been described as a "longtime anti-LGBTQ hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, said it protested the clinic in March and took credit for the clinic dissolving in a post titled "Major transgender clinic for children in Dallas closes — after months of activism from Texas MassResistance."
Organizers of the GENECIS program didn't say whether the decision to shut it down was directly tied to the protests, saying instead that patients and families would have a more "private, insulated experience" if they accessed services through specialized hospital departments. The Dallas Morning News reported that new patients will not be accepted for hormone treatments or puberty blockers at the medical centers. There was no other program in Texas of its kind.
Raven Hodges, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, "One of the things that I'm noticing just within the past year is that there has been targeting of trans-affirming and trans-care-providing spaces."
He added, "This sort of tactic where they're going after these provider care spaces is straight-up out of the anti-abortion playbook. It's just being lifted to prevent trans people from receiving care."
Hodges said that although the closure of GENECIS seems to be an isolated case so far, it is deeply concerning. They said groups like MassResistance and Save Texas Kids may learn from each other and spread the tactics they're using.
"It's disturbing to see how easily they're able to mobilize and target now. It is a trend, and I'm afraid that it may continue to escalate," Hodges said. "They're definitely taking notes from each other for sure. These things don't happen in a vacuum."
Due to a lack of mainstream media coverage of the issue, the number of clinics that have been targeted with protests and harassment this year is unclear. The conservative evangelical Christian Post website reported that a group of anti-trans activists protested on Feb. 14 outside of hospitals that provide treatment for children with gender dysphoria in Hartford, Connecticut; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Chicago; Dallas; and Toronto.
The American Independent Foundation reached out to several programs that provide gender-affirming care in those cities for more about the protests. Children's Hospital Los Angeles responded with a statement about protests targeting the institution this year: "On March 14 and Oct. 15, a small group of protesters appeared outside Children's Hospital Los Angeles demonstrating against gender-affirming medical care. Our institution provides compassionate and family-centered gender-affirming treatment for children, adolescents, young adults and their families. We consider this care to be life-saving and essential to our mission to create hope and build healthier futures."
People who oppose trans-affirming health care can consult the website gendermapper.org to find maps identifying locations where such care is provided, along with color coding to identify different kinds of clinics and "testimonies" from anonymous parents criticizing doctors who are fully identified by name and location.
Kara Mailman, a senior research analyst with the reproductive rights organization Reproaction, said they're seeing more anti-trans rhetoric in anti-abortion spaces as well. Big right-wing organizations such the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, and the Family Policy Alliance are applying the same kind of rhetoric against gender-affirming health care that they use in attacking abortion rights. They deploy the phrase "transition regret" to push the idea that transgender people may change their minds later about transitioning, based on the model of so-called "abortion regret" that they've insisted is widespread, despite evidence to the contrary. They also insist they're simply trying to protect women and children, Mailman said.
"Anti-abortion, anti-trans activists have definitely started using similar talking points and tactics for clinics that provide both abortion and gender-affirming care — this is especially true of Planned Parenthood clinics, which were already heavily targeted by the opposition but which have come under increased scrutiny/harassment as some have begun offering some forms of gender-affirming care," they said.
Tenaja Henson, a campaign coordinator at Reproaction, said that it makes sense that anti-trans activists and anti-abortion activists, opposing two areas of care that both affect trans people, would work together in such harmony.
"People having access to abortions and people being in their bodies in any way that feels good for them is something that makes white supremacy, transphobia, and colonialism really, really uncomfortable," they said.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.