Texas conservatives launch massive anti-transgender misinformation campaign

Discriminating against transgender people is now a Christian cause.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) speaking Monday morning in support of SB6. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) speaking Monday morning in support of SB6. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Texas’s anti-transgender bill, SB6, is scheduled to have its first hearing on Tuesday, and the debate over whether to impose North Carolina-style bathroom discrimination throughout the state’s schools and public buildings is heating up. There will be a total of three different press conferences at the capitol in Austin on Monday taking different positions on the bill. At Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s (R) conference, there will be a massive new media campaign to reject transgender equality.

According to Patrick, “Operation One Million Voices” will educate pastors across the state to rally support in favor of the bill and against transgender protections.

Leading this effort will be Vision America, an organization founded by Rick Scarborough, the former Baptist preacher who once proposed a class action suit against homosexuality and who has repeatedly said that AIDS is God’s punishment for gay people. He also said he is willing to be burned to death for opposing marriage equality, but so far, that has not transpired.

John Graves, president of Vision America, was on hand at Patrick’s press conference to explain Operation One Million Voices. “We’re very happy to announce, as the lieutenant governor said, over a million Christians that we’re going to educate and mobilize in this process,” he said. According to Graves, they’ve already recruited over 300 pastors from across Texas who represent “over 150,000 people.” Over the next two months, the campaign will educate the pastors to educate the members of their churches “to find out what the truth is on this issue.”

In other words, the campaign is nothing short of a misinformation campaign to impose religious dogma as law. Echoing talking points Patrick and other opponents of transgender equality have used, Graves called it “an issue of privacy and of safety for the women and children in this state.” A coalition of various conservative groups are all coordinating together to spread this message that transgender people are a threat to bathroom safety.

A set of talking points distributed by the Texas Pastor Council, one of the members of the coalition, conspicuously doesn’t use the word “transgender” at all, but does refer to “individuals confused about their sex/gender” and the notion of “UNequal rights for a tiny segment of troubled individuals that threaten the vast majority.” Transgender people are neither confused nor troubled.

The group’s suggested tagline is, “We choose Mothers over Money, Daughters over the dollar, and Privacy over Predators.”

Patrick himself insisted at the conference that “this is not an LGBT issue, it’s not a transgender issue, it’s about preventing a free pass to sexual predators who are not transgender.”

Of course, there’s zero evidence to support the claim that mandating discrimination against transgender people will do anything to make anyone safer. Plenty of states and cities across the country have had protections affirming transgender people’s gender identities and they have never resulted in any loss of safety for women or for children. The bill would do nothing but stigmatize transgender people and refuse them equal access to society.

Texas Values, the state’s largest social conservative organization and one of the partners in the aforementioned coalition supporting the bill, has already kicked off the misinformation campaign — using children as props. The group has produced a series of new videos that feature children who they’ve taught to repeat transphobic viewpoints. The video below, for example, features a ten-year-old student from Dripping Springs Independent School District, which has accommodated a transgender student a year younger than her.

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Young Shiloh has already been taught to reject her transgender classmate as a “boy” who would make her “very, very uncomfortable.”

Another video features a 16-year-old who believes it’s a “dangerous world,” but that SB6 will protect her “privacy, safety, and dignity.”

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But despite these fear-mongering campaigns, transgender people and their allies are loudly rejecting their opponents’ claims. They are also rallying at the capitol this week, and trying to illuminate what the impact of SB6 will be.

Activist Phyllis Frye explained to ABC13 one of the consequences. “It will also force trans men to go into the women’s restroom,” she said. “And if the women want some scruffy-looking guy who has been on hormones and has a low voice, probably a balding head and is bulking out — if they want transmen in the women’s restroom because their birth certificate says ‘F’, that’s what this bill is going to do.”

The ACLU has also produced a video, directed by Richard Linklater, inviting Texans to “pee with LGBT” and “take a seat” for equality.

The fight over SB6 is shaping up to make Texas the new epicenter of the fight over transgender equality. Given the scale of the misinformation campaign Patrick is envisioning to demonize transgender people as a threat to safety, it could actually have untold consequences for the safety of trans people regardless of whether the legislation advances.