People For the American Way

“Trumptastrophe”: The Relentless Attacks on the Transgender Community by MAGA Republicans

News and Analysis

Welcome to our weekly “Trumptastrophe” series that serves to remind us of the destructive policies, decisions, and actions we encountered during the Trump presidency and the threats that he and others in the MAGA movement still pose – and to keep those moments clear in our memory as we fight to defeat Republican extremists during the upcoming elections.

This week’s Trumptastrophe brings into focus the ongoing attacks on the transgender community by MAGA Republicans and highlights how they plan to exploit those attacks in order to mobilize Republican voters this November:

On March 23, 2018, the Trump administration filed a memo declaring that transgender people “are disqualified from military service except under certain circumstances.” After months of legal challenges, the policy was formally implemented in April 2019; it was reversed by President Joe Biden in his first few days in office.

Trump had campaigned as a rare Republican supporter of LGBTQ equality, but it turned out to be, like so much else about Trump, “a giant con.” Trump wasted no time putting religious-right activists in influential administration positions, which they used to turn their political agenda into official policy. In Trump’s first month as president, the administration withdrew Obama administration guidelines protecting transgender students in public schools. Later that year, the Justice Department rescinded an Obama administration memo that interpreted the civil rights act’s prohibition on sex discrimination to include discrimination based on gender identity.

Trump’s ban on trans people serving in the military had been unfolding since the previous summer when Trump surprised Pentagon military leaders by tweeting that the U.S. government would not allow transgender people “to serve in any capacity in the U.S. military.” Two weeks before Trump’s tweet, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins used a day-long White House “listening session” for evangelical leaders to argue for banning transgender people from the military.

Right Wing Watch has called 2017, the first year of Trump’s presidency, “the year the religious right moved into the White House.” As religious-right leaders relished the unprecedented power they enjoyed under Trump, they expanded their anti-transgender rhetoric and legislative agendas. Right Wing Watch reported that a speaker at the Family Research Council’s 2017 Values Voter Summit urged religious-right activists to “focus on gender identity to divide and conquer” the LGBTQ equality movement. She also urged activists to run for school boards and encourage others to do the same.

During the Trump administration and the years since, the overlapping Christian nationalist and MAGA movements have made attacks on transgender youth and adults an anchor of their culture war political strategies which have also included laws restricting schools from teaching about race and sexuality, and efforts to disrupt businesses and private companies from pursuing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives designed to ensure greater access to opportunities for people who have long been denied them. Anti-trans rhetoric has been particularly harsh and dishonest, and used to mobilize support for maliciously cruel laws denying access to health care.

In 2021, Scientific American published a commentary noting that some states were “going to war against young transgender people.” The article made the case that “gender-affirming health care should be a right, not a crime.” As Vice noted last year, “Hundreds of thousands of trans kids in the U.S. are currently receiving safe and critical gender-affirming care, which has been endorsed by major medical governing bodies, including the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In contrast, the Family Research Council made its cruel and cynical strategy explicit in 2022, identifying legislative attacks on access to health care for transgender youth as a way to turn out right-wing voters and securing electoral victories in that year’s midterms.

Conservative white evangelicals have turned out for Trump in massive numbers, putting him over the top in 2016 and nearly doing the same in 2020. Right-wing activists are counting on—and investing millions in—efforts to turn out those pro-Trump evangelicals in even great numbers in 2024. And they’re using anti-trans rhetoric to do it. “Transgender-related issues have become perhaps the biggest rallying call to Christian conservatives, more than abortion rights or same-sex marriage,” reported AP in February.

Trump is all in. “It’s amazing how strongly people feel about that,” he said at a rally, saying that when he mentions transgender issues, “everyone goes crazy.”

Indeed, as the 2024 election campaign has heated up, Trump and his allies have amped up their anti-trans and anti-equality rhetoric. Trump has denounced trans people as “sick” and “deranged.” He refers to trans health care as “mutilation.” He has vowed to “defeat the cult of transgender ideology.” He promotes a 10-point “Plan to Protect Children From Left-Wing Gender Insanity.”

The Trump team’s anti-trans agenda points to the larger threat of a new Trump presidency. In the January/February 2024 issue of The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber wrote that the Trump campaign is “promising a more repressive and dangerous America.”

As he ramps up his 2024 run, Trump appears to be pursuing a similar strategy, repeating harmful misinformation and straight-up lying about the history and science of gender identity.

“We will promote positive education about the nuclear family,” Trump said in the nearly four-minute video. “The roles of mothers and fathers and celebrating rather than erasing the things that make men and women different and unique.”

Trump said he will also ask Congress to pass a bill that establishes “male” and “female” as the only genders recognized by the U.S. government, and they’ll be assigned at birth, he said.

Citing passage of legislation targeting trans youth and adults, Kornhaber observed, “Donald Trump is promising to nationalize such efforts. He doesn’t just want to surveil, miseducate, and repress children who are exploring their emerging identities. He wants to interfere in the private lives of millions of adults, revoking freedoms that any pluralistic society should protect.”

These are just some of the reasons we need YOU in this fight. So, find your favorite way to unwind after reading through this week’s recap, and then make a plan for how you will fight back this week, this month, this election cycle.


Donald Trump, transgender, Trumptastrophe