But as you shake your head at the GOP’s craven ploy, I’d urge you to also stop and remember your own teenage years; how critical sports or other extra-curriculars were to your sense of belonging and self, the development of your confidence, your friendships and support structures — all things our country still systemically denies transgender Americans to a sickening degree. In that light, you realize that this effort is not ludicrous but deeply intentional, from a Republican Party that sees political gain in the further exploitation of marginalized people.
All of which indicates that, rather than seeing the end of Donald Trump’s presidency as a chance to move on from a hateful anti-equality agenda, the GOP is doubling down, continuing the dramatic descent of a party struggling for definition. Adrift from their traditional foundations — open markets, limited spending, small government — they have found a powerful new organizing principle: victimhood.
They routinely warp the power dynamics of some of society’s most crushing injustices, attempting to convince voters that victims of discrimination, oppression and hate are in fact perpetrators of some larger wrong against everyone else.
Inverting the victim is an anti-civil rights tactic as old as the day is long. Our hearts should go not to the family denied service at the lunch counter but the restaurant forced to serve them. Not to the Black children that bravely marched into desegregated schools with rocks thrown at their backs but to the White children who had to receive them. Not to the LGBT couple denied a wedding cake or the female employee denied birth control but to the institutions asked to provide them.
After many years of working on transgender rights in Congress, it is the stories of trans kids and their families that I carry closest to this day.
The transgender daughter of a member of our military denied basic medical treatment while her family was stationed on a base overseas. The young trans college student who used to go without drinking or eating before driving home on school breaks so they wouldn’t have to stop and use a restroom along the way. The mother of a trans child who had to keep a file of affidavits at the ready to respond to inevitable claims that she was “abusing” her child by letting him be his authentic self.
I think of them when I hear media and pundits call this latest effort the GOP’s new “culture war.” They should stop using that phrase, which works to silo and diminish the severity of what is happening. Equal justice and human rights are not a matter of culture but of law. This is a civil rights war. And America has lost a lot of those, spending generations repairing what we broke. Let’s not make that mistake again.