CPAC Speaker Calls for Eradication of ‘Transgenderism’ — and Somehow Claims He’s Not Calling for Elimination of Transgender People

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The right’s war on queer and trans people took center stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference as Daily Wire host Michael Knowles on Saturday called for the eradication of “transgenderism.”

During his speech on Saturday, Knowles told the crowd, “For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

Knowles subsequently claimed that “eradicating” “transgenderism” is not a call for eradicating transgender people and demanded retractions from numerous publications, including Rolling Stone

Erin Reed, a transgender rights activist and writer, tells Rolling Stone that it’s an absurd distinction. There is no difference between a ban on “transgenderism” and an attack on transgender people, she says: “They are one and the same, and there’s no separation between them.”

Reed says that Knowles and others at the Daily Wire, including anti-trans activist Matt Walsh, are not just talking about keeping transgender people out of public life, they’re actively working to make it happen. She noted their support for bills to deprive transgender people of gender affirming medical care, bans on using public bathrooms, and targeting of live performances by trans individuals.

“If you try to separate us from all the things that allow people to experience the world … that does amount to banning transgender people’s existence,” says Reed, a transgender woman, “You can’t go your whole life without using the bathroom, without telling a joke on stage in front of friends, without your medicine. All of that amounts to a ban on transgender people.”

Geoff Wetrosky, HRC’s National Campaign Director, says Knowles and other CPAC speakers were attempting to appeal to a right-wing audience — and putting trans people and other members of the LGBTQ community at risk.

“Their vile, anti-trans rhetoric does not resonate with the majority of Americans who are interested in solutions, not slander. But that doesn’t mean their transphobic hate and propaganda won’t cause harm,” Wetrosky says. “Their words rile up far-right extremists resulting in more stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people. The rights and very existence of trans people are not up for debate. We will keep fighting back until we are all treated equally, with dignity and respect.”

Reed noted that Knowles himself blurred the lines between transgender individuals and “transgenderism” in remarks earlier this week on his own show.

“I called to ban transgenderism entirely … They said that I was calling for the extermination of transgender people. They said I was calling for a genocide … One, I don’t know how you could have a genocide of transgender people because genocide refers to genes, it refers to genetics, it refers to biology,” Knowles said, ahistorically.

“Nobody is calling to exterminate anybody, because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category — it’s not a legitimate category of being,” Knowles continued. “There are people who think that they are the wrong sex, but they are mistaken. They’re laboring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion.” 

Carl Charles, a senior attorney at the LGBTQ rights group Lambda Legal, noted that Knowles’ goals are clear, even as he muddles the meaning of his words. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if by using the inflammatory term ‘eradicate’ Mr. Knowles specifically meant trans people should be killed. What does matter is the reality of what he is saying and the impact it is having and will have at this particular moment in history,” Charles says. “He is advocating that trans people should not be free to live their lives with dignity and autonomy like Mr. Knowles presumably does —  instead, they should be relegated to non-existence: carrying on in secret and shame and living a lie for the rest of their days, which, he must realize, will mean some trans people opt not to do.”

Knowles’ ideology is right in line with Republican politicians who have enacted or introduced bans on drag performances, restrictions on transgender health care, bills that would ban trans people from using the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity, and laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” that bars teachers from teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity. The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), a group that tracks LGBTQ legislation, described these efforts as an ongoing “war against LGBTQ people in America and their very right and ability to openly exist.”

In his speech, Knowles pushed an extremist position on public policy toward transgender individuals. “There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It can be all or nothing,” he said. “If transgenderism is true, if men really can become women, then it’s true for everybody of all ages. If transgenderism is false — as it is — if men really can’t become women — as they cannot — then it’s false for everybody too. And if it’s false, then we should not indulge it, especially when that indulgence requires taking away the rights and customs of many people. It if is false, then for the good of society — and especially for the good of the poor people who have fallen prey to this confusion — then transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

A number of people, including Media Matters’ John Knefel and Harvard Law Cyber Clinic’s Alejandra Caraballo, called Knowles’ remarks genocidal.

People like Knowles may feel even more emboldened as top conservatives regularly spout anti-trans rhetoric. In February, former Vice President Mike Pence decried “radical gender ideology” and claimed the left has “increasingly bizarre obsessions with race and sex and gender.” Former President Donald Trump has also turned up his anti-trans rhetoric recently. In a video posted in January, Trump decried “left-wing gender insanity” and promised to end gender affirming care for minors nationwide, likening normal health care to “child sex mutilation” and “child abuse.” It’s all a transparently fascistic effort to drive LGBTQ people back into the closet and eliminate them from public life while simultaneously firing up the conservative base with fear-mongering.


LGBTQ advocates see the real harm this rhetoric causes, as well as uncomfortable echoes in history. “‘Transgenderism’ is a phony term made up by anti-transgender activists and used to dehumanize transgender people and target them, their lifesaving healthcare, and access to society,” says Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD. “Similar hate speech about ‘eradicating’ human beings has been used by extremists throughout history.”

This post has been updated to include statements from transgender rights activists and pro-LGBTQ groups, as well as with additional comments from Knowles’ radio show.