A new Change.org petition seeks to capitalize on the defeat of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance — spurred by fearmongering about transgender women — by driving a new wedge between people who identify as gay, lesbian, and bisexual and those who identify as transgender. The petition calls on the top LGBT rights organizations to “Drop the T,” i.e. abandon support for transgender rights entirely.
Anti-LGBT conservatives are now actively highlighting the petition to support their anti-transgender positions. The Federalist, a publication that attacks transgender people as part of its editorial policy and is generally anti-LGBT, interviewed the person who claims to have started the petition, but kept his identity anonymous “out of fear of retaliation from the trans movement.” The Heritage Foundation’s chief opponent of LGBT equality, Ryan T. Anderson, similarly promoted the interview, further demonstrating the anti-LGBT motives behind the petition.
GLAAD, Lambda Legal, and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), three of the targets of the petition, have responded, rejecting its message outright. HRC condemned it as “unequivocally wrong,” pointing out that “the bullies at school aren’t just harassing the gay kids, they’re harassing the transgender kids.”
GLAAD insisted, “At a time when anti-LGBT activists continue to attack the basic rights and protections essential to all of our lives, we must stand together, rather than succumb to the ruin of divisiveness.” Lambda Legal, responding Monday morning, added, “We are fighting together for an end to discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression because these are all forms of prejudice and abuses of power that are rooted in hatred, fear, and a lack of understanding of those who are perceived as not conforming to gender stereotypes.”
Though the petition claims to not advocate “intolerance or prejudice against the transgender community,” its language — and that used by its creator in his interview with The Federalist — does just that by rejecting transgender identities. Here are a couple of the petition’s claims against transgender people that indicate its prejudiced intent:
Those who have been scrutinized for rejecting trans people are the real victims.
The petition identifies as one of its top concerns “the vilification and harassment of women and gay/lesbian individuals who openly express disagreement with the trans ideology.” In other words, those who reject trans people are the victims who need to be protected, not the trans people who are actually hurt by their rejections. Anti-LGBT conservatives generally employ this same tactic.
As an example of one of these victims, the petition highlights British feminist Germaine Greer, who was recently scrutinized for her positions on transgender people. Criticizing Caitlyn Jenner for trying to steal the limelight, Greer said last month that transgender women are “not women.” She has previously said that she doesn’t believe transphobia even exists and has described transgender-related surgeries and medical treatments as “unethical.”
Critics attacked her for rejecting the existence of transgender women and thus contributing to the “to the high levels of stigma, hatred and violence” towards them. According to the petition, these reactions to Greer’s actual positions are “particularly loathsome.”
Men will claim to be transgender to access women’s spaces.
The petition literally repeats the very myth that was used to scare voters into opposing Houston’s LGBT protections. Trans rights infringe on women’s ability “to perform normal everyday activities in traditional safe spaces based on sex,” the petition claims, highlighting the “most pernicious” cases of “men claiming to be transgender demanding access to bathrooms, locker rooms, women’s shelters and other such spaces reserved for women.”
As ThinkProgress explained last week, bathroom fears have long been used to oppose not only transgender nondiscrimination protections, but equal rights for women as well. But the claims simply aren’t true; gender identity protections have never enabled any violation by either cisgender (non-transgender) men or transgender people.
If cisgender women follow Greer’s lead in rejecting transgender women’s womanhood and insist that transgender people use the restroom according to the gender they were assigned at birth, they then have to account for transgender men. They would have to insist that these often burly, bald, and bearded fellows — who by their standards would be “not men” — use the women’s room with them. The petition, unsurprisingly, ignores the existence of transgender men altogether.
What this amounts to is discrimination against transgender people for prejudice’s sake. It builds on the premise that trans women are not women, that cis women will feel unsafe around them because of that rejection, and then justifies rejecting any kind of support for transgender people. This actually puts transgender women at great risk for legitimate abuse in men’s restrooms. Or as Kelly Lauren, a transgender woman and drag performer in Chicago, joked on Facebook last week, “Do you REALLY want me in the same restroom as your husband or boyfriend?”
Houston, do you REALLY want me in the same restroom as your husband or boyfriend?
The historic contributions of gay white men are being erased.
Bemoaning the backlash over the film Stonewall, the petition creator argues that the transgender movement is “attempting to re-cast the majority gay white men who participated in the Stonewall riots as transgender.”
The creator — identified by the pseudonym “Clayton” — expounded on this point in his interview with The Federalist, emphasizing that “the handful of drag queens who were present at the riots were not transgender as we know them today — straight men who have transitioned to presenting as women.” The statement emphasizes how little how the petitioner understands transgender people and their sexualities. In the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, only 23 percent of transgender people identified themselves as heterosexual, with equal proportions identifying as gay/lesbian/same-gender-loving (23 percent), bisexual (25 percent), or otherwise queer (23 percent).
Clayton also misrepresents history to try to reject transgender identities. Historical context actually shows that many of the gender-nonconforming “queens” and “tranvestites” were very much “transgender” as understood by the term today, even if the way they identified themselves at the time didn’t match up perfectly to today’s vocabulary and standards. There’s been no shortage of attempts to erase the roles trans women of color — like Sylvia River, Marsha P. Johnson, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy — played in the riots and the activism that followed. That’s not to say that there weren’t gay white men there too, but this clear attempt at erasure follows a long tradition all the way back to the post-Stonewall rallies where Rivera had to fight her way to the stage to speak. A portrait of Rivera was added to the National Portrait Gallery last month, bringing new visibility to her efforts.
Children should not be encouraged to transition.
The petition describes its “most troubling” concern as the notion that children will be incorrectly diagnosed with “gender dysphoria” when they’re likely grow out of it. Specifically, it claims there is “considerable research that shows that more than 90 percent of children who express “gender dysphoria” at a young age grow out of it by adolescence.” In his interview, Clayton similarly refers to “the transitioning of young children who likely are just gay/lesbian/bisexual kids” as a “harm” caused by transgender rights.
The studies that lead to such conclusions actually prove the opposite. That’s because they analyzed samples of children who exhibited any gender nonconforming behavior, not just those who actually identified themselves as a different gender. Thus, the “90 percent of youth” who grew up to be not transgender largely represents a group that never claimed to be transgender in the first place.
Clayton is right in his interview comment that not all “sissies” and “tomboys” grow up to be trans, but that’s irrelevant. The young people who actually know that their gender is different are very much trans. They identify with their gender identity as completely as their cisgender peers, allowing them to transition is good for their mental health, and there are no known health consequences to treatments like delaying puberty with hormone suppression.
Clayton and his fellow petitioners would reject these young people’s experiences and prevent them from getting the support and treatment they deserve.
Trans equality and LGB equality are in conflict.
The petition ends by asserting that “transgender ideology is not compatible with the rights of women, gay men and children.” Clayton further explained in the interview that because LGB people don’t have to change their bodies “to help us become whom we believe we are,” their identities are too different from trans people’s experiences.
In a revealing statement, he also admitted that part of his motive is throwing transgender people under the bus to advance LGB rights without them, something that has happened all too often in the history of the LGBT movement. “The problem that develops when we are all under the same umbrella,” he said “is that so many of our enemies see us as one and the same.”
“Our communities,” he concluded “linked together in such a slender fashion, no longer have a common ground, if we ever did in the first place.”
But as the LGBT groups’ responses all point out, what unites the experiences of LGBT people is that anti-LGB and anti-T stigma all have the same source. “The hate that killed Matthew Shepard killed Zella Ziona,” HRC wrote, referring to Ziona, a black trans woman who just last month was fatally shot in a suspected hate crime. It is gender nonconformity that makes all LGBT people vulnerable to scorn, prejudice, discrimination, and violence. Clayton and his fellow petitioners only reinforce gender policing by suggesting that some ways of doing gender are right and others are not.
Despite being flagged by numerous users as being hate speech, Change.org has not taken the petition down. The platform has long been criticized for hosting petitions that reject LGBT rights, but has previously told ThinkProgress that it has only a small team capable of responding to flags, and the company takes “suppressing the voice of any one of our users extremely seriously.”
ThinkProgress reached out to for comment specifically about the “Drop the T” petition’s continued presence on the site. Change.org’s senior communications manager Shareeza Bhola acknowledged that multiple flags led the company to “closely review” the petition. “We immediately removed a sentence that violated our Community Guidelines on hate speech,” she said, “and we also disabled the comment functionality based on the hate speech we were seeing there.”
Change.org did not immediately respond to a follow-up inquiry as to what sentence was cut and why the rest of the petition was not in violation of the company’s policy against petitions that “attack or malign an entire class of people” based on characteristics such as gender identity.
Bhola did, however, also note that a reactive petition, entitled “We stand with trans people — Reject ‘Drop the T,’” has since been created. It already has more signatures than the original.
“In a large majority of cases, Change.org is used to advance LGBT rights,” Bhola explained.