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As Trans Visibility Increases, Is the Far Right Ramping Up Hate Speech?

An SPLC report indicates that transphobic hate speech is rapidly climbing

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 26:  Dozens of protesters gather in Times Square near a military recruitment center to show their anger at President Donald Trump's decision to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military on July 26, 2017 in New York City. Trump citied the "tremendous medical costs and disruption" for his decision.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

"There is absolutely a growing focus on transgender people" in extremist groups, says the spokesperson for National Center for Transgender Equality.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As Pride Month draws to a close, a troubling report from the Southern Poverty Law Center blog HateWatch sheds light on a possible uptick in threats against transgender people.

According to the post, the SPLC has witnessed a significant uptick in threats against transgender people during Pride Month. Although it did not release any hard data or figures to this effect, the SPLC said it had observed leaders of white nationalist groups increasingly making threats against transgender people, including calls for transgender people to be murdered or to take their own lives.

On the encrypted messaging app Telegram earlier this month, for example, white supremacist Christopher Cantwell wrote “assisted suicide is the only help you can give,” trans people, while a columnist for the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer wrote on June 20th that transgender people should “wear some kind of symbol on their clothing so that people can tell them apart,” akin to the yellow star or pink triangle Jews and LGBTQ people were required to wear during the Third Reich.

Gillian Branstetter, spokesperson for National Center for Transgender Equality, tells Rolling Stone that “there is absolutely a growing focus on transgender people” in extremist groups. “One of the reasons trans people have become a top priority for these kinds of groups, I suspect, is because they believe in a form of radical traditionalism that is hinged on the very close-minded view of the family and of gender roles,” she says. “The vision white nationalists are pursuing in our society is one in which archaic gender roles are enforced with an iron fist in a way that strictly empowers cisgender men and no one else.”

Generally speaking, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric has been on full display during Pride Month, with forum users on 8chan calling for violence at the upcoming New York City Pride March and protesters swarming to a Pride March in Detroit, according to Vice News. Far-right extremists have also targeted Drag Queen Story Hour, a nationwide initiative to promote diversity in libraries and bookstores. (Much of the language used by such extremist groups inaccurately conflates drag queens with people who identify as transgender or non-binary.) On June 19th, white nationalist Paul Nehlen used the app Telegram to announce Project Dox Tranny Storytime, calling on his followers to dox drag performers at the event, as well as parents who took their children to the program. (Nehlen was one of the many extremist figures banned from Facebook last May.) One such event in Spokane, Washington drew nearly 200 protesters, and law enforcement officials were called in to intervene.

Kris Hayashi, executive director of Transgender Law Center, attributes the rise in anti-transgender hate speech to the actions taken by the Trump administration, which have actively rolled back transgender health care protections, as well as instituted bans on transgender people in the military. When the government proposes regulations that create barriers in housing and healthcare, as the Trump Administration has done, it is sending the message that we don’t deserve the resources all people need to survive. It is saying it doesn’t care if we survive,” Hayashi says. “[The] consequences of Trump’s hate filled rhetoric have been felt acutely by our community, and Pride Month has been no different.”

It’s also occurring at a time when violence against transgender people, particularly transgender people of color, is on the rise. According to the Human Rights Coalition, at least 11 transgender women of color have been killed in 2019 alone, most recently Chynal Lindsey, who was found dead in White Rock Lake in Dallas on June 1st. The American Medical Association has made a public statement referring to violence against transgender people an an “epidemic,” and the Dallas Police Department announced earlier this month that it was investigating four unsolved murders of black transgender women, including Lindsey and Muhlaysia Booker, 23, who was found dead in May. (A 33-year-old Dallas man was charged with Booker’s murder on June 12th.)

Despite the epidemic of violence against transgender women, says Branstetter, it’s the increased visibility of transgender people in mainstream culture, as well as the increasing acceptance of transgender rights, that is likely setting the stage for such vitriolic hate speech among members of the far right.  “The more visible we’ve become, its because transgender people are making progress — they’re changing their workplaces, their families, their communities,” she says. “To someone who has a very archaic and violent view of society, that is a very real threat. Because it means that view is becoming outdated. And they’re right.”

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