Guest author Brynn Tannehill asks, “What happened when we threw a victory party and no one came?”
Earlier this month, the transgender community achieved a seemingly improbable win. Governor Jerry Brown of California signed AB 1266 (The School Success and Opportunity Act) into law. The fact that this was a bill directly aimed at the transgender community only was remarkable in itself. Bills for transgender people, much less a subset of the transgender population, usually are DOA (see GENDA in NY for details). Facilitating its success was the fact that many different organizations actively worked to see its passage. Sponsors of the bill included the ACLU, NCLR, Equality California, Gender Spectrum, GSA Network, and the Transgender Law Center.
You would think that an improbable win by a grand coalition of progressives on behalf of transgender children against the collective might of the religious right in the most populous state in America would have been something to shout from the rooftops. This was the political equivalent of blowing up the Death Star with a snub fighter.
The news was met mostly with crickets by progressives.
However, if getting the bill passed and signed into law was like taking out the Death Star, the aftermath was “The Empire Strikes Back.” Fox News and CNN both trained their guns on the transgender community. Their satellite networks became platforms for an orbital bombardment of anti-transgender misinformation and animus. Adam Housely on Fox News. Bill O’Reilly of Fox News. Sean Hannity of Fox News. CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Fox host Martha MacCallum hosting Peter Sprigg of the Family Research Council. Mike Huckabee on Fox. Fox and Friends piling on and opining that being transgender is so crazy it is unfathomable. Greg Gutfeld filling in on Bill O’Reily’s show. CNN host Brooke Baldwin invited on certified hate group leader Randy Thomasson, and allowed him to openly insult her other guest, Masen Davis, the executive director of the Transgender Law Center. Steve Doocy on Fox promoted the baseless allegation that the law will lead to more sexual assaults. (h/t to Media Matters.)
It’s almost as if the right wingers decided they can’t beat up on lesbians and gays anymore (and get away with it), and they decided they needed a new straw man to vilify and blame for everything that they see as wrong with America. They need a group they can abuse all they want in perfect safety because they know no one would ever feel sympathetic towards them. If only the right wingers would let slip that this really is their plan.
Oh, wait. They did. Last week. Twice.
Last week Peter LaBarbera openly lamented in his 92 page “opus” that Fox News was afraid to go after gays and lesbians anymore. He did compliment Bill O’Relly for sticking to his guns on transgender issues though. San Antonio Councilwoman Elisa Chan shared similar views that gays are “disgusting,” but that she needed an excuse to oppose a measure preventing discrimination on the basis of veteran status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Chan latched onto transgender people as a way to spear the LGB community. “Maybe what we can do, can we maybe throw some questionable confusions like, OK, this ‘transgender,’ because the definition is so broad… Maybe I say I was not educated on what transgender is about.”
Still, she sees being transgender as a choice that should be discriminated against, but stealthily. “I’m respectful of their choices, right? Even though I don’t believe that, but they’re free people, they can do whatever they want to do. But … don’t just come back and say you’re being discriminated.” Conservative radio talk show host Bryan Suits echoed the sentiment: “If you make yourself an outsider, you’d better be prepared to be an outsider.”
Radical anti-LGBT groups like the Liberty Council have identified transgender people as the “weakest link” and the “red-headed stepchild” of the LGBT community, and proposed a divide and conquer strategy. It wouldn’t be the first time that have tried similarly divisive strategies. Remember the ham-handed attempts by NOM to peel away Blacks with the marriage equality issue?
There are big differences between the two situations, though. This time it isn’t just crazy people with tiny audiences piling onto the transgender community, it’s the two largest cable news networks. Second, everyone and their dog was rushing to defend lesbians, gays, marriage equality, and downing Proposition 8. There were pro-equality folks all over MSNBC, CNN, and anywhere else a talking head would fit. In short, the LGBT was playing offense in the media effectively.
The first rule of a good information operations campaign is “Get there firstest with the mostest.” By that measure, the LGBT community has failed miserably on the issue of framing AB 1266. And it has had the bully pulpit from day one. I wish I could say how the LGBT community tried to frame it, but I can’t; Masen Davis was the only one out there on cable news defending it. The Capitol Resource Institute is trying to gather 500,000 signatures in 90 days to put AB 1266 to a referendum. While it is unlikely they will be able to gather enough signatures in time, if they do there is little doubt that the popular vote will strike it down, especially given the tepid defense.
There’s an irony here. The entire community regards suicides, violence, and ostracization of lesbian and gay youths a national shame. When it comes to transgender kids, though, the message is entirely different. It feels as though taking real steps to protect transgender kids is a bridge too far for the LGB community right now.
And that’s the real shame.
Image by David Badash from a photo at Wikimedia Commons
Brynn Tannehill is originally from Phoenix, Ariz. She graduated from the Naval Academy with a B.S. in computer science in 1997. She earned her Naval Aviator wings in 1999 and flew SH-60B helicopters and P-3C maritime patrol aircraft during three deployments between 2000 and 2004. She served as a campaign analyst while deployed overseas to 5th Fleet Headquarters in Bahrain from 2005 to 2006. In 2008 Brynn earned a M.S. in Operations Research from the Air Force Institute of Technology and transferred from active duty to the Naval Reserves. In 2008 Brynn began working as a senior defense research scientist in private industry. She left the drilling reserves and began transition in 2010. Since then she has written for OutServe magazine, The Huffington Post, and Queer Mental Health as a blogger and featured columnist. Currently, she is on the board at SPART*A. Brynn and her partner currently live in Xenia, Ohio, with their three children.
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