“No hate, no fear, all genders welcome here!” The chant reverberated off the Seattle downtown library as a couple hundred protesters stood outside on a chilly, clear evening. They came out on February 1 to defend the rights of trans people in the Puget Sound area. As one young student noted, “The trans community has been there since Stonewall, leading the way. We must stand up for them.” Transphobia, like sexism, is about controlling other people’s bodies and lives.
Under the guise of ending misogyny, a group of trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) were meeting in the Emerald City to promote the dangerous notion that trans people do not exist and that trans rights are detrimental to women. The group’s active political agenda is to strip away all legal protections from the trans community.
The leading TERF organization — the misleadingly named Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) — planned this forum. They have scheduled events in Seattle, New York City, Toronto and Vancouver, British Columbia. Everywhere WoLF goes, it is met with vocal opposition.
One tactic has been to pressure public libraries to not give them a room. In New York City this was successful, but it is a dangerous tactic. As Seattle Radical Women (RW) organizer Gina Petry stated in a letter to the library, it “should not start politically screening those who want to use its facilities. This always results in censoring the left.”
Instead, she called on library administrators to issue a statement in defense of trans rights; to join and publicize a pro-trans picket of the event; and to allow equal time for trans groups and pro-human rights feminists to have information tables and signs inside the library at the entrance to the auditorium.
Unfortunately, the administration did little besides issuing a statement for LGBTQ rights. However, workers from county and city libraries proudly joined the robust defense of trans people.
The afternoon began with a sign-making party and rally organized by the Gender Justice League at City Hall. A wide array of speakers, including representatives of the Seattle Women’s Commission and Radical Women, got the crowd warmed up. There was a short march from City Hall to the downtown library. The vibrant throng of all genders, ages and ethnicities included Seattle Public Library Employees Union Local 2083, Sex Workers Outreach Project, Freedom Socialist Party, and a percussion marching band.
The chanting outside crested like a wave on the concrete walls, loud enough to delay the beginning of the forum. Other pro-trans activists were inside the auditorium causing chaos by blowing air horns. Two folks were arrested and removed from the event.
New name, same ideology. Groups like WoLF are a modern repackaging of an older right-wing tendency in the women’s movement. This branch, called radical feminism, includes lesbian separatists. It promotes the ideology that the male gender is the cause of women’s oppression. They say women need to detach themselves from men to create equality. They denounce trans women as imposters and trans men as traitors. This led to spaces like the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival which only allowed “womyn born womyn” and specifically excluded trans women and boys over age four.
As socialist feminists, Radical Women agrees that the patriarchy enforces female’s second-class status but disagrees that men, as a group, are to blame. Instead, RW targets capitalism, which upholds patriarchy and can’t survive without divisions in the working class. Sexism, transphobia, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia are all used to keep natural allies divided.
Radical feminists play into those divisions, often siding with bosses against male co-workers and crossing the class line. As RW co-founder Gloria Martin wrote in Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, “Class-struggle analysis was anathema” to these activists. WoLF’s lack of class consciousness is underscored by its willingness to work with and take money from hard right groups like the Heritage Foundation and Focus on the Family.
In January 2019, the Heritage Foundation featured members of WoLF at their event: “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the Left.” The Equality Act would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity among other things.
Conservative politicians and media, like FOX news, have lined up to use WoLF to push an anti-trans, anti-woman, anti-queer agenda. Julia Beck, a leader in WoLF, has testified against both the Equality Act and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
WoLF is campaigning to criminalize physicians who prescribe hormone therapy to teens, effectively ending the ability to transition at the prime biological moment. There are also attempts to pass legislation that would keep trans youth from participating in school sports. To keep and extend gains made by the queer community, it’s important that the anti-trans agenda is stopped short.
In Washington state, a new bill, HB 1687, would ban the concept of “trans panic” as a legitimate defense for murder or assault. Since March 3, it has been waiting on the desk of Governor Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law.
Across the U.S., people are working in defense of trans rights. Get involved. Stop WoLF and trans-exclusive radical feminists in their tracks.
As one picket sign stated: Transphobia isn’t a right, it’s a wrong!
Get involved with Radical Women. Contact the national offices — United States: 206-722-6057. firstname.lastname@example.org • Australia: 03-9388-0062. email@example.com • Website: radicalwomen.org