Republicans publicly embraced transphobia at the annual conservative conference.
Republicans' new anti-transgender messaging was on full display during the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which began last Thursday and ended on Sunday.
Widely known as CPAC, the four-day event featured anti-trans messages from lawmakers, cisgender women athletes, and Donald Trump himself.
On Saturday, organizers held a panel called "My Pronouns are First Place and Winning: Protecting Women's Sports," which featured speakers Linnea Saltz, a graduate student-athlete at Georgetown University who has spoken out against allowing trans women to compete in women's sports, and South Dakota state Rep. Rhonda Milstead (R), who has proposed banning them from women's sports altogether.
The discussion was moderated by Terry Schilling, executive director of the American Principles Project, the group behind much of the conservative effort to create a national debate surrounding transgender girls' participation in sports. In September, the group announced a $4 million campaign to "target persuadable Democrats and independent voters in key swing states" by running discriminatory ads focusing President Joe Biden and other Democrats' support of transgender equality. That same month, Facebook put a fact-check warning on an American Principles Project ad which claimed the Equality Act would harm women's sports.
Milstead said Saturday that when she introduced a bill banning transgender girls from playing on sports teams of their gender, "there was an excitement because this is important."
"We live in America and our freedom is important and our girls are important," she said.
Last week, the South Dakota House passed Milstead's bill, sending it to a Senate committee.
Similar legislation prohibiting transgender athletes from playing sports on the team that corresponds with their gender has been filed or introduced in 24 states. Bills have been advancing in Montana, North Dakota, Utah, and Mississippi, according to the ACLU's tracker for anti-trans legislation.
Trump, whose administration pushed policies to keep transgender women experiencing homelessness out of shelters, encouraged anti-trans discrimination in health care, and denied inclusive policies for trans students, to name just a few, made a number of harmful statements about transgender people in his Sunday speech at the event.
"Joe Biden and the Democrats are even pushing policies that would destroy women’s sports," he claimed. "If this does not change, women's sports as we know it will die. They'll end. It'll end."
Trump, who has made numerous misogynistic comments and has faced at least 24 allegations of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment, forcibly kissing and groping women, and rape — all of which he has denied — said he would stand for the "integrity of women's sports." He spread popular lies about transgender people hurting sports for cisgender women, none of which are supported by any evidence.
Jabs at transgender people more broadly were also popular throughout the conference.
On Friday, for instance, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) attempted to make a joke referencing Hasbro's Potato Head toys, which have provoked conservative outrage in recent days. The company had announced on Thursday that it would start selling Potato Head toys without the traditional gender identifiers, in order to acknowledge families headed by two moms or two dads, while keeping the "Mr." and "Mrs." Potato Head toys in its lineup. Conservatives, angry at the decision, suggested the toys were meant to represent transgender and/or nonbinary people.
"I'm sorry, I think now he’s going by Potato-X. Can't be Mr. Potato Head," Gaetz said at CPAC, claiming falsely that it was "America's first transgender doll."
He added, "American business should be worried about business, not wokeism."
The backlash against transgender individuals, specifically trans athletes, is part of a larger GOP effort to undermine the Equality Act, a federal bill that would clarify and expand protections for LGBTQ people in a number of areas, including housing, health care, public accommodations, credit, and more.
Across the party, Republicans have tried to argue against the historic bill, suggesting among other things that it would endanger cisgender women, with extremists like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia even going so far as to mock a colleague who has a transgender daughter by posting a sign next to her office that read, "There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. 'Trust the science!'"
"The Equality Act will ... put trans rights above women's rights, above the rights of our daughters, our sisters, our friends, our grandmothers, our aunts. It's too much," Greene claimed during a floor speech on Feb. 24. "You see, as a woman, I have competed in sports and I’m so thrilled I was able to do that, but I competed against biological women."
She then claimed "biological women cannot compete against biological men."
Lawmakers and anti-LGBTQ groups are similarly focused on passing bills on the state level to attack transgender rights, introducing legislation that limits transgender youths' health care and participation in sports.
A broader network of groups long opposed to LGBTQ rights is also fighting the Equality Act.
According to NBC News, a coalition called Promise to America's Children is advocating against the legislation and trying to pass laws across the nation that would harm transgender youth, all through the guise of protecting minors.
The group's website blames "a culture" and the U.S. government for trying to "sexualize our children for the sake of a political agenda." It also includes a page for lawmakers to request model legislation "to protect children."
Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called an anti-LGBTQ hate group; Heritage Foundation, which calls trans-inclusive policies "extreme gender ideology"; and Family Policy Alliance, which advocates for the harmful practice of "conversion therapy," are among the groups participating in the coalition.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.