Struggle for trans rights and socialism go hand in hand

Protest against state ban on trans girls’ participation in school sports at the state capitol in Salt Lake City. Laws like Utah’s HB11 have been used as the starting point for broad attacks on trans people’s rights.

Based on remarks at the Socialist Unity Party national plenum on Aug. 13.

On Aug. 12, the state of Florida announced new guidelines to end all gender-affirming care for trans adults and children who receive Medicaid. This will result in the forcible detransition of thousands of the most vulnerable, especially Black, Brown and Indigenous people. It will result in more deaths among a community that suffers astronomical rates of suicide when denied gender-affirming care. 

It also means that private insurance companies are likely to begin denying gender-affirming care since the state rules give them a perfect excuse to do so. And that’s clearly what’s intended.

Gov. Rick DeSantis couldn’t get a trans ban through the state legislature, so this was enacted by the Department of Health through the recommendation of a hand-picked group of anti-trans doctors. This follows the example of Texas, where earlier this year Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton unilaterally enacted criminal investigations of parents, teachers and health care workers who support trans children on charges of “child abuse.” 

While there are ongoing legal cases in these and other states, the political coup d’etat by the U.S. Supreme Court in June makes clear that these kinds of abuses of power will ultimately be legally upheld, as will anti-trans legislation – unless the working class intervenes to turn the situation around.

The combined attacks at the state and national level have unleashed an unprecedented wave of trans panic across the U.S. this year. The most serious escalation came during Pride month, when there were daily attacks aimed at trans people and the LGBTQ2S community generally, some spontaneous but many organized by the fascist right, often with police support. 

Hundreds of incidents have been recorded in both so-called “blue” and “red” states, from coast to coast, north and south, but there has been almost no media coverage beyond the local level.

The demonization of trans people is merely the first wave of a fascist-inspired, ruling-class-supported campaign that will next target the broader queer community, women, and all workers and oppressed people. The ultra-right Supreme Court majority has already outlined its plans to eliminate constitutional protections for same-sex marriage, contraception, and protection from so-called “sodomy” laws that are still on the books in many states. 

Divide and rule from above

The speed with which the attack on trans people has escalated this year is truly frightening. From state bills in several Republican-ruled states, which often went down in defeat; to governor-imposed mandates; to fascist violence on the streets and in other public spaces; to the same anti-trans arguments and lies flooding the columns and airwaves of so-called liberal media outlets like the New York Times and megacorporations like Netflix and Starbucks; to the complete silence and inaction of the federal government – it’s clear a large and growing section of the ruling class has enthusiastically embraced this particular course of divide and rule.

Another front in this war is the monkeypox virus. The CDC, after completely abandoning public health for COVID-19, has falsely portrayed monkeypox as a sexually transmitted disease, centered among gay men and trans feminine people, couched in stigmatizing language, while severely limiting the availability of vaccines. Already there have been incidents of violence and threats tied to this, which are sure to grow if the virus spreads more widely.

To resist this onslaught from above, the unity of the women’s movement, the broad LGBTQ2S movement, and the trans community is of the utmost urgency. Why is it important for us as communists to be front and center in this struggle? Because a revolutionary, class and socialist understanding of these issues is needed to build and protect that unity.

A major effort is underway to divide the women’s movement, the broad queer movement, and socialists from trans people. Two forms this takes are TERFs (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and so-called “patriotic socialists” (patsocs).

TERFS claim trans women are “men” invading women’s spaces. Some even claim trans women are to blame for the loss of abortion rights for supposedly diluting the definition of “woman.” They claim trans men are vulnerable lesbians who have been tricked into transitioning. Their arguments are then taken up and given weight by the centrist and liberal media and right-wing politicians on behalf of the ruling class. 

“Patriotic socialists” claim that trans rights, queer rights and reproductive rights are a “distraction” from the class struggle. They said much the same two years ago about the Black Lives Matter movement. Their arguments can confuse young people who are interested in the class struggle but don’t yet have a Leninist understanding of special oppressions and the working class.

We have a special role to play in combating these reactionary forces that seek to divide and disarm the movement. We have not only the lessons taught by Lenin and Engels, but Dorothy Ballan and Bob McCubbin, and also Leslie Feinberg, who dispelled many of these anti-trans myths in the 1996 book “Transgender Warriors,” which was recently reissued for its 25th anniversary.

It is not just because some of our party members and many members of our working class are threatened, although that is certainly true. It is because the struggle against trans, queer and women’s oppression, like the struggle against national oppression, is central to the class struggle for socialism. Without upholding these struggles and incorporating them into everything we do, the communist movement will not be successful. 

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