What is behind Republican attacks on transgender people?
Rep. Zoe Zephyr, Montana Democrat, has been banned for the House floor by Montana Republican lawmakers. Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP

Montana Republicans have blocked Democratic transgender lawmaker Zooey Zephyr from participating in a debate over proposed restrictions on transgender youth.

Zephyr, a first-term Democrat from Missoula and the first openly transgender woman elected to the Montana legislature, hasn’t been allowed to speak on the state house floor since last Tuesday, when she told Republican colleagues they would have “blood on their hands” if they banned gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.

On Monday, her supporters brought the House session to a halt, chanting, “Let her speak!” from the gallery before being escorted out. Seven were arrested for criminal trespass. Republican leaders describe the disruption as an “insurrection.”

Also this week, at least two Bud Light marketing executives have been put on leave after transgender influencer Dylan Mulvaney posted a video of herself on Instagram holding a custom Bud Light can with her face on it. The company had sent it to her to help celebrate a year since she began her transition and had sponsored Mulvaney’s Instagram post.

Her post prompted a Star Wars cantina — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Fox News hosts all calling for a boycott of Bud Light. Kid Rock posted a video of himself shooting 12-packs with a submachine gun, and others filmed themselves destroying and dumping out cans.

Anheuser-Busch facilities have received bomb threats.

Sales of Bud Light fell 17% in the week ended April 15 compared to the same week in 2022. Some bars are halting their sales.

It’s tempting to dismiss all this as just another outcropping of crazy right-wing bigotry.

And it’s tempting to be appalled at such blatant prejudice but believe there must be more important issues to worry about. According to the Pew Research Center, only 1.6 percent of U.S. adults are transgender or nonbinary (that is, their gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth).

Yet let me remind you: Bigotry against minority groups based on sexual orientation or gender identity, such as the trans community, is a way fascism takes root.

As the world tragically witnessed in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, the politics of sexual anxiety gains traction when traditional male gender roles of family provider and protector are hit by economic insecurity.

Fascist politics distorts and expands this male anxiety into fear that one’s family is under existential threat from LGBTQ+ people who reject the family’s traditional structure and traditions.

As philosopher Jason Stanley notes in his How Fascism Works (2018):

Men, already made anxious by a perceived loss of status resulting from increasing gender equality can easily be thrust into panic by demagoguery directed against sexual minorities…. The fascist leader is analogous to the patriarchal father, the “CEO” of the traditional family…. Attacking trans women, and representing the feared other as a threat to the manhood of the nation, are ways of placing the very idea of manhood at the center of political attention, gradually introducing fascist ideals of hierarchy and domination by physical power to the public sphere.

I don’t mean to suggest that the imbibers of Bud Light or the Republican lawmakers of Montana are necessarily fearful for their manhood. But they may lean more toward hierarchy and domination than the typical American (Montana Governor Greg Gianforte famously punched a reporter who asked him a question about a Republican health care bill).

Notably, Republican lawmakers now eagerly enacting restrictions on transgender youth across the nation have not moved to alleviate economic anxieties at the root of much of this. Why not? Because those anxieties fuel the anger that animates these politicians’ most ardent supporters. Scapegoating a minority group based on sexual orientation or gender identity gives these supporters even more fuel.

A similar blind anger found expression in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 — which was a genuine insurrection, unlike this week’s chants in Montana’s legislature. A similar anger propels Trumpism to this day.

If the rest of us want to stop America’s slouch toward fascism, we must do two things: First, speak out loudly and forcefully against sexual bigotry. Second, push lawmakers to restore some degree of economic security to the nation’s large and increasingly precarious working class

Reprinted with permission from robertreich@substack.com.


Robert Reich
Robert Reich

"I’ve spent much of the last half century pushing for positive social change — from the inside: as Secretary of Labor, representing the U.S. before the Supreme Court, advising presidents. And from the outside: author of eighteen books and co-creator of two documentaries, chair of Common Cause, co-founder of The American Prospect, the Economic Policy Institute, and Inequality Media, and teacher of several generations of students. Also a cartoonist, not an artist."