Experts on white nationalism say anti-trans rally in DC part of larger threat to democracy


'We are seeing white nationalist groups use anti-LGBTQ bigotry to build political power,' said an expert on white nationalism.

Groups that oppose transgender people's civil rights gathered at a rally in Washington on June 23, the 50th anniversary of President Richard Nixon's signing of Title IX, the civil rights law that bans sex-based discrimination in federally funded schools and other programs.

The event at the city's Freedom Plaza, organized to protest participation in women's sports by trans women and called "Our Bodies, Our Sports," has 14 sponsors listed on its website, including the Women's Liberation Front or WoLF, a trans-exclusionary radical feminist or TERF group that insists trans women are actually men, and right-wing groups designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups, such as the Family Research Council and the Alliance Defending Freedom. Another sponsor was WDI USA, an affiliate of Women's Declaration International, which opposes affirmation of gender identity.

WDI tweeted on June 20 that WoLF and WDI both support abortion rights, even while they collaborate with anti-abortion conservatives.

While the rally was focused on banning trans people from their appropriate sports teams, experts on right-wing extremism say that anti-LGBTQ organizing plays into efforts to spread white nationalism and other right-wing ideologies and is part of a larger overall threat to democracy.

Lindsay Schubiner is a program director at the Western States Center, a nonprofit in Oregon that works to counter right-wing extremism. Schubiner said, "I think we've seen from more overtly white nationalist groups some attempts recently to exploit the current increased focus on spreading homophobia and transphobia on the broader right and institutional environments to really build some bridges to more mainstream conservative groups and to recruit more people further into bigoted and white nationalist ideology and groups."

Attendees included Rep. Barbara Ehardt, an Idaho state Republican lawmaker who introduced a bill on trans athletes in women's sports that in 2020 became the first such ban to be enacted in the nation.

Another attendee was Candice Jackson, who served in President Donald Trump's Department of Education and now works as a lawyer with the firm Freeman Mathis and Gary, LLP, doing work for the Women's Liberation Front since January 2021, according to the Bay Area Reporter. Jackson, who is representing the group in a lawsuit challenging legal protections for trans prisoners, was filmed in video shared on Twitter by journalist Ford Fischer saying at the rally:

This general rule of no longer treating girls negatively compared to boys because of Title IX is the heart of that civil rights law. At the same time, the soul of Title IX has always been its commonsense statutory and regulatory recognition of the many circumstances where, in order to have genuine opportunities, girls and women need our own spaces and activities. Title IX has always allowed schools to track and record a student's factual sex and to provide some activities separately based on sex, sometimes to protect physical and sexual safety like different locker rooms and bathrooms, sometimes to protect dignity and privacy, like separate human sexuality classes, and sometimes for equal opportunities to succeed and achieve, like with sports. ... What happens when we stop recognizing that girls and boys are, well, not literally the same, when it comes to bodies, physicality, sex drive, reproductive role, that there are physical and biological immutable differences between the two sexes that cannot be wished away or legislated away? Women have not been kept out of educational pursuits and public life because we behave or dress in a womanly way ... not because we adopt feminine personalities or because we identify as women, but because we were born members of the female sex, period.

Former presidential candidate and Democratic Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also attended the rally. Gabbard co-sponsored and introduced with far-right U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) a trans sports ban House bill in December 2020. The bill did not progress in the Democratic-controlled House.

Journalist Shane Campbell, who attended the rally, tweeted that around 100 people eventually attended it, along with 20 counterprotesters

While transgender sports bans have been enacted in 18 states since 2020, and Republican lawmakers have pushed for more since 2021, most lawmakers contacted by the Associated Press in March 2021 were unable to cite a local incident of a trans athlete competing or dominating in a sport over cis athletes. Right-wing anti-LGBTQ groups, including some involved in the rally on June 23, have urged lawmakers to use the issue in their campaigns for office since at least 2019. "What we're doing is trying to show Republicans how to win on these key issues," Terry Schilling, director of the anti-LGBTQ right-wing group American Principles Project, told the New York Times.

Western States Center's Schubiner said, "There has been a clear increase in organizing to promote anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-trans bigotry and I think that we can see that trend line moving up. This event in particular looks like an attempt to legitimize and elevate and spread their transphobia and especially to build political power around specific anti-trans policy goals."

Schubiner said groups that are explicitly white nationalist use anti-LGBTQ organizing to their advantage.

The results of such organizing have been evident during a Pride Month marked by threats and violence. Riot-gear equipped members of Patriot Front, which the Southern Poverty Law Center calls a white nationalist hate group, had planned to target a Pride event in Idaho until they were arrested after someone spotted them in a hotel parking lot and alerted police.

"We are seeing white nationalist groups use anti-LGBTQ bigotry to build political power," Schubiner said. "I think that clearly the Patriot Front saw this as an opportunity to elevate their own messaging and get attention and build power."

"I think we've seen from more overtly white nationalist groups some attempts recently to exploit the current increased focus on spreading homophobia and transphobia on the broader right and institutional environments to really build some bridges to more mainstream conservative groups and to recruit more people further into bigoted and white nationalists ideology and groups," Schubiner said.

She noted that one of the sponsors of the "Our Bodies, Our Sports" rally was Turning Point Action, a nonprofit run by Charlie Kirk, founder of the right-wing student organization Turning Point USA, which Schubiner said "can sometimes bridge that divide of more respectable conservatism and more overt bigotry."

Cassie Miller, a research analyst with the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2019 published an article titled "White Nationalist Threats Against Transgender People Are Escalating."

"For far-right extremists, the increased visibility of transgender people is a sign of the growing 'degeneracy' of the nation, wrought by 'cultural Marxists,' leftists and Jews as part of an assault on white, Christian families and strict gender roles," Miller wrote.

Members of the group Proud Boys have entered libraries in California and North Carolina in protest against Drag Queen Story Hours and LGBTQ Pride events.

WECT in Wilmington, North Carolina, reported that on June 11, a group of Proud Boys disrupted a Pride story event at a local library, appearing at the window and shouting obscenities. Police were at the event but did not make them leave because, they said, they were in a public place and had not created a disturbance, a claim attendees disputed.

News reports recently have highlighted anti-LGBTQ threats and comments in Washington state and Texas as well, including a Texas anti-trans activist who tweeted, "Let's start rounding up people who participate in Pride events" and pastors at the anti-LGBTQ Stedfast Baptist Church in Fort Worth, including one who said during a sermon, "These people should be put to death. Every single homosexual in our country should be charged with a crime. The abomination of homosexuality that they have, they should be convicted in a lawful trial. They should be sentenced with death. They should be lined up against the wall and shot in the back of the head."

"The message from that [building of political power] isn't that it'll just go away and we should wait it out," Schubiner said. "This kind of stuff gets normalized and that's really dangerous, and there's no telling where it stops unless folks mobilize to reject it in a really significant way."

She added, "Sometimes it's not necessarily taken as seriously as it should be or as great a threat to everyone who wants to live in a free society and in an inclusive democracy. I think it is more often taken as just a threat to trans people, which obviously is reason enough to act. ... The easier we make it to erode rights for specific groups of people, the easier it is to erode rights for other groups of people and then all of us in general."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.