Conservative group hosts anti-transgender panel of feminists 'from the left'

Divide and conquer? The conservative Heritage Foundation hosted a panel of “radical feminists” fighting trans rights.
By Tim Fitzsimons

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which has long advocated against LGBTQ rights, hosted a panel in Washington on Monday titled “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns From the Left.” But instead of highlighting the left’s opposition to the Equality Act, which seeks to add LGBTQ protections to federal civil rights laws, all four panelists had one thing in common: They oppose transgender rights.

“If gender identity becomes a protected class in federal civil rights law, there will be serious negative consequences,” Ryan T. Anderson, a senior research fellow at the foundation and the event’s moderator, said in his introduction. The increase in those identifying as transgender, he added, “has become an epidemic.”

Those invited by Heritage to share their “concerns from the left” included three women from the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF, a self-described radical feminist organization best known for its opposition to transgender rights, and Hacsi Horvath, an adjunct lecturer at the University of California, San Francisco, who formerly identified as transgender.

Throughout their hourlong discussion, the four panelists — at least two of them LGBTQ — shared similar views on transgender people and the rights many in the trans community are currently seeking.

Horvath likened the trans rights movement to “the new eating disorder,” and Jennifer Chavez, a WoLF member, read from a letter that described increased transgender visibility and acceptance as “a social contagion all over the internet.”

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In a Facebook post on Tuesday, WoLF defended its members’ participation in the Heritage panel.

“Our foremost concern is the safety and bodily integrity of the women and children whose lives would be placed at risk or ruined if gender identity legally replaces sex under law,” the post states.

Monday’s event was not the first time WoLF aligned itself with a conservative organization. The group, which says it is “dedicated to the total liberation of women,” has previously allied itself with the notoriously anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family.

WoLF Co-Chair Kara Dansky, a participant in Monday's panel and a former ACLU attorney, announced in 2017 an alliance between WoLF and the Family Policy Alliance, the public policy wing of Focus on the Family. WoLF and the alliance sent a joint amicus brief to the Supreme Court to argue against the case of Gavin Grimm, a trans student from Virginia who sought to use school bathrooms that correspond to his gender identity. The court declined to hear the case, leaving a lower court ruling in favor of Grimm in place.

“We disagree on a lot of things,” Dansky said in a Family Policy Alliance video posted to YouTube, noting her organization supports gay rights and abortion rights. However, she added, “on certain issues, such as gender identity, pornography and prostitution, WoLF finds that the left has pretty much sold out women.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said that passage of the Equality Act is one of the priorities in the Democratic-controlled House. The act would explicitly add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion and national origin.

Heron Greenesmith, a researcher at the liberal think tank Political Research Associates, said this latest iteration of cooperation between conservatives and radical feminists (sometimes referred to as transgender-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs) is at least in part a reaction to the “incredible gains the trans community has made in terms of civil rights and visibility.”

“They are capitalizing on a scarcity mindset rhetoric … saying there aren’t enough rights to go around, and therefore we must prioritize cis women over everyone else,” Greenesmith said, referring to nontransgender women. “That’s right out of the right’s playbook, when they say, ‘Let’s prioritize citizens over noncitizens, let’s prioritize white people over people of color.’”

In 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks extremist groups, issued a report from the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington regarding the Christian right’s attempt to “separate the T from the LGB.” The center noted a trend emerging of transgender rights being “depicted as anti-feminist, hostile to minorities and even disrespectful to LGB individuals.”

“This seems to be part of a larger strategy, meant to weaken transgender rights advocates by attempting to separate them from their allies, feminists and LGBT rights advocates,” the report continued.

The law center's and several other reports quoted Meg Kilgannon, executive director of Concerned Parents and Educators of Fairfax County, a group that opposes transgender rights, as saying during the summit, “Trans and gender identity are a tough sell, so focus on gender identity to divide and conquer.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote to Jennifer Chavez. Chavez read from a letter that described increased trans visibility as a "social contagion all over the internet," not a "mass craze going on around the world."

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Ben Kesslen contributed.