What’s behind these new anti-trans and anti-abortion laws?

Photo courtesy of Phil Roeder via Wikimedia Commons | Students walk out in Iowa against a new anti-trans law.

Anti-LGBT and anti-abortion laws are spreading across the country. What do these laws do and what’s driving these changes.

The Right has made significant strides in the last few months in their crusade of misogyny, racism and queerphobia. This is evident in the spread of anti-abortion legislation, bathroom bills, and “Don’t Say Gay” style legislation.

We at UWT should take note given our own queer community and broader interest in justice. Such gains by the Right may embolden those in Tacoma who want to see bathrooms and locker rooms segregated by gender assigned at birth. 

It was only a few years ago that some in Tacoma were pushing for Initiative 1515, a statewide ballot to create such anti-trans legislation according to Derrick Nunnally at The News Tribune.

What do these laws do? Why are politicians pursuing them? And how do they fit into the broader aspect of systemic oppression in relation to capitalism?

What do these laws do?

“Florida’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law has become a template for Republican lawmakers in other states,” according to the independent news program Democracy Now!.

Democracy Now! describes Florida’s law as prohibiting, “[S]chool discussions of sexuality and gender identity with students in kindergarten through third grade.”

However, school-aged children are already being socialized into the sexist heternormative world we live in. From learning to use a gendered bathroom, to reading a story that involves family relations like “mother”, or any other gendered or sexual idea . 

School-aged children are socialized with heteronormative and repressive gender norms. “Don’t Say Gay” bills aren’t about stopping this toxic indoctrination that we have all lived through, but about curtailing any counter to this process. For instance, the bill would prevent a second-grade teacher from using a story with a nonbinary character, as such a story doesn’t actively socialize children into our heteronormative society.

A similar bill to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” was signed into law in Alabama, banning queer- inclusive teaching through the fifth grade with the addition of regulating the bathroom and locker-room usage of students based on one’s gender assigned at birth.   

“I find this to be a safety issue. It is for the protection of our students,” Alabama State Rep. Scott Stadthagen told ABC News in regard to bathrooms and locker rooms. Of course, this statesman doesn’t seem to care about the safety or protection of trans students who are left with the bullying and harassment many deal with in school.

Instead, his ilk seem so concerned with humiliating and harassing trans youth that they’ve also passed a bill criminalizing medical providers for gender-affirming care of trans people under the age of 18. Prescribing hormones to a trans kid can lead to felony charges with 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine, per Kiara Alfronseca writing for ABC News.

This criminalization of gender-affirming care is not unlike recent legislation attacking abortion access, criminalizing both providers and recipients with near-total bans. Such legislation is an affront to the self-determination and bodily autonomy that are an absolute requirement if we are to have freedom, gender equity and gender justice. 

Even with students walking-out in protest and court challenges to these styles of laws, this gross legislation is spreading. Louisiana, Ohio and Texas all have lawmakers pushing “Don’t Say Gay” bills.

Why are republicans pursuing this strategy?

What’s driving the Republican party in their anti-abortion and anti-queer mania? While part of the Right’s agenda is certainly drumming up electoral support, it seems equally important to them to resist the feminist left and maintain misogynistic gender roles and family norms.

Eric Maroney lays out such an argument in Tempest Magazine, where he goes on to explain the nature of the alt-right, the apparent political vanguard of the Republican party. “Members of this group are profoundly animated by anti-feminism and view the erosion of gender roles as a primary cause of Western degeneration.” 

Legislating the white, middle-class, fairy tale nuclear family of the 1950s back into dominance and prosperity seems to be an actual goal for these people, not just an election strategy. Maintaining strict gender roles and norms would be part of this approach.

Another part is questioning the very intelligence and autonomy of women. While attacking abortion directly affects all people who can get pregnant, I think the Right is specifically questioning cis women’s ability to run their own lives, with the conclusion being their subordination in the home.

Capitalism’s need for gendered oppression

It’s not just that I think these lawmakers and their Right-wing base are misogynistic transphobes, but the very system of capitalism has an internal pressure to encourage and maintain the oppressive status quo.

Marxist feminists have demonstrated the role of the care economy in capitalism as foundational to the system, see Tithi Bhattacharya’s book Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. This is both private and unpaid, like raising children, doing the laundry, or caring for the elderly, as well as paid work like teaching the next generation of workers or working in a hospital. 

The gendered nature of this work under capitalism is part of what allows for the high level of exploitation in the care economy.  In 2020, Gus Wezerek and Kristen R. Ghodsee reported, “if American women earned minimum wage for the unpaid work they do around the house and caring for relatives, they would have made $1.5 trillion last year.” 

While our ruling elites benefit from this organization of society, the sexism, gender binary, and heteronormativity needed to maintain it spills over into every facet of society. From rape culture to virulent misogyny in gaming communities to the astounding murder rate of trans people of color, our society is steeped in such bigotry.

Such dynamics have important intersections with race, class, ability, and other identities. The task is to confront the Right on every front and put forward left-wing alternatives while condemning capitalism and oppression rather than the scapegoating the Right represents.

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