Free Speech or Hate Speech?
Liam O’Dell, writing for Indy100, reported on an Oxfam Pride advert that has come under attack by anti-trans activists for using the term “TERF”. Oxfam, now under investigation by the charity commission following the vexatious, bad-faith “lawfare” of hate groups, has shown a lack of solidarity with trans* people by promptly withdrawing the ad. This is cowardly, and by backing down from criticising bigotry against trans* people, they implicitly give succour to prejudice and undermine their standing.
The transphobic-motivated attacks on Oxfam demonstrate the superficiality of the exaggerated “free speech” debate that frames some of the anti-trans moral panic. Transphobes systematically deny trans people and those in solidarity with us platforms (the transphobic media routinely obscures our POV) and reject the very language needed to discuss our marginalisation. This is true whether they insist “TERF” become unsayable, identifying hate groups is taboo, and that the term “cis” is somehow vulgar. (A term that is simply to trans what straight is to gay, white is to Black and most other racially marginalised peoples, etc.)
The transphobic establishment’s professed concern for free speech has always been a veil for their desire to indulge in uncontested hate speech while deeming any pushback an infringement on their rights. Thus, we see a deeply censorious and institutionally backed hate campaign make a mockery of free expression, as aptly illustrated by the new direction of billionaire Elon Musk’s Twitter platform being used to promote anti-trans content and fuel the US political oppression of trans* people. (Resulting in school book bannings, denial of vital healthcare and the attempt to remove trans* children into state “care”.) Alex Woodward has written on this development for the Independent.
Indeed, none of the supposed concerns fueling international, organised transphobia are socially organic but represent a coordinated, top-down coalescence of everyday transphobic ignorance into a far-right popular base for reactionary opportunistic politicians. In writing for Assigned media, Evan Urquhart examines one aspect of the elite roots of the current wave of transphobic hate: Conservative Mega-Donors in the US. Sally Weale writing for the Guardian, highlights a similar point made by Oxford University’s new professor of LGBTQ+ history, Matt Cook. He has aptly exposed the cynicism of the Tory government’s alleged free speech concerns:
“Of course there’s protests about certain people speaking [at universities] and there has been historically, about figures as diverse as David Icke and Enoch Powell, and that’s right, but these people still spoke in university contexts, despite the protests and despite the calls for people not to speak in university forums. It’s only a tiny fraction of cases where people actually don’t speak. So my sense is that it’s not a huge problem. I think the issue has been blown out of proportion. I also think there’s some political expediency in this. It’s a way of fanning a culture war.”
Free speech will continue to be an empty slogan for transphobes until trans* people have anything like the media prominence given to those who obsessively agitate against our freedoms and lives, harass us in every public space, and discriminate against us at work, in politics, through a two-tiered healthcare system and so on. That is until the right ceases equating criticism with erasure and stops alleging that voices amplified by a bigoted press and powerful academic institutions are somehow being shut down by the mere existence of trans* people.
The Consequence of Hate
The consequences of unchecked hate speech, the status quo in contemporary Britain, can be chilling indeed and should be far more of a concern to anyone serious about achieving a better future for humanity. We can read about how this has previously unfolded for trans* people in a new long-form piece for the Conversation by Laurie Marhoefer, examining the Nazi Party’s violent targeting of trans* people during the dying days of the Weimar Republic leading up to Nazi rule.
Elsewhere in the contemporary world, we can see the commencement of political attacks against trans people ramping up. Kyle Knight writing for Human Rights Watch, examines the crisis-ridden Russian government’s targeting of trans* healthcare, doubtless as a part of a broader set of vicious policies to distract its population from the disastrous results of their senseless aggression in Ukraine. Meanwhile, Spanish News reports on Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of the far-right Spanish People’s Party, and his plans to repeal pro-trans laws there.
PinkNews, Mary Sue, and the Guardian (reported respectively by Sophie Perry, Ana Valens, and Robert Booth) all have pieces showcasing how the anti-trans culture war has already negatively impacted the UK (and US) public opinion, adversely affecting the standing of trans* people. The Ipsos LGBT+ Pride 2023 survey has revealed that prejudice is becoming increasingly widespread and entrenched after nearly a decade of media maligning of this minority (including, it should constantly be reiterated, from the aforementioned Guardian).
Only 47% of the UK population believe teens should have access to care such as hormone replacement treatment. With only the US and Hungary lower on the list of countries. The same measly percentage would support a nonbinary gender marker on official documents. Just 40% believed transgender people should be able to access single-sex spaces in correspondence to their genders, only above the US in this category and therefore disturbingly below Hungry, Poland, Romania, and Turkey, all countries with regimes that have adopted extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ policies. Only 36% in the UK believed that transgender healthcare should be covered by relevant insurance (with only Romania, South Korea, and Hungary lower than us).
Bewilderingly, while two in every three British people accept that trans* people face discrimination, one in four said that they disagreed with protections against our discrimination at work or in accessing services, placing us in the lower half of surveyed countries on this question. This paints a picture of a country whose population is increasingly vocally content with the persecution of their trans* siblings, a finding that disturbingly substantiates ILGA-Europe’s choice to lower the UK in its rankings of its annual Rainbow Map.
These abstract numbers result in a human cost, as illustrated by a story for BirminghamLive by Nathan Clarke documenting Quilla Killian’s difficulties in finding a home to rent while facing discrimination as a disabled trans woman. There is an everyday attrition faced by trans* people as we navigate a society that has been whipped into a frenzy of hatred for our mere existence and taught by a corrupt elite to mistakenly turn their ire on an innocent group about whom most are pitifully ignorant.
A*CR has donated to the Trans Action Block, an activist project seeking to secure trans* liberation in the UK. We will continue to strive to find new ways, in word and deed, to support and bolster trans* humanity during these dark days, as trans* people form a nonnegotiable, vital part of the universal class able to free the world from the capitalist death cult. We do not recognise socialism that is not trans* and queer liberatory, just as socialism must be ecologically-conscious, anti-racist, consistently anti-imperialist, robustly feminist, and stand alongside disabled peoples’ struggles for their humanity. For us, it is Solidarity or Barbarism!
Want to participate in the fightback? Join Anti*Capitalist Resistance and become a member of our Trans*Mission group!
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