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Children

Transgender pride flag

The GOP's latest culture war is focused squarely on the nation's transgender community, specifically transgender youth. It isn't a new war, simply a new front in an old war that can be traced back to the famed "bathroom bills" from some years ago that spread across dozens of states. Those bills were introduced in tandem with former President Donald Trump's targeted federal government-led attacks that included the overturning of anti-discrimination statutes protecting trans people and an outright transgender ban in the U.S. military.

Now, in the wake of Trump's humiliating electoral loss, Republicans have accelerated the state-level attacks to a breathtaking level. In just the first three months of 2021, GOP-led state legislatures introduced more bills aimed at transgender people, especially youth, than they did over the entire previous year. There are now more than 80 bills introduced this year alone that, according to Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, "are not addressing any real problem, and they're not being requested by constituents. Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organizations attempting to score political points by sowing fear and hate."

I recently spoke with Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the award-winning book Histories of the Transgender Child, in an interview, and she echoed this claim, saying, "A lot of authoritarian political movements are using trans people as their scapegoats." She called the latest wave of anti-trans legislation "an unprecedented assault in terms of just the magnitude of the bills and the severity of what they propose to do in terms of criminalizing basic access to health care and equal access to education."

She explained that "due to perhaps their general political incompetency, a lot of [Trump's attacks on transgender people] didn't really end up making it into practice." However, "on the state level, as is often the case, the GOP is much more successful at pursuing an anti-trans agenda than they ever are at the federal level." Gill-Peterson sees this as a culmination of efforts that can be traced back to North Carolina's 2016 passage of a bill banning transgender people from using facilities of the gender they identify with.

On April 5, North Carolina Republicans continued what they began five years ago, introducing a bill called the "Youth Health Protection Act," which blocks transgender minors from accessing the health care they need upon deciding to transition. Just as the GOP has often couched its attacks on communities under the guise of protecting them (think of anti-abortion legislation presented as "fetal personhood" bills), this bill, like several others in states like Arkansas, purports to protect trans youth.

Republicans also claim they want to protect "fair competition," in the words of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, by banning transgender kids from sports. Lee, along with the governors of Arkansas and Mississippi, signed bills into law this year banning trans youth from playing sports in school. These transphobic bills are based on a theory that transgender kids, especially girls, have an unfair biological advantage over non-transgender girls.

Just as the GOP's stated war on voter fraud is based on an imagined assault on the nation's democracy in order to disguise the real war on voting, the conservative party's stated reason for going after transgender children's access to health care or participation in sports is based on an imagined crisis. Gill-Peterson said, "most of these lawmakers will admit they've never heard of any issue with transgender participation in sports in their state, and they've never heard of any issue around trans health care in their state, and they don't actually know any trans children."

The GOP's war on voting offers another analogue. If the GOP really cared about democracy, they would make voting easier, not harder. Similarly, if the party were truly interested in the safety of girls, it would offer up bills that protect transgender girls in particular, who face very real dangers. Gill-Peterson said, "young trans girls and trans women are extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence because it's not taken seriously." Instead, the bills banning access to health care and sports only fuel greater violence against them. Every year, dozens of trans women are killed, and more transgender people were killed in the U.S. in the first seven months of 2020 than all of the previous year. It's no surprise that the spike in violence has coincided with legislative attempts to dehumanize the community.

Just as with anti-voter and anti-abortion bills, the GOP's tactic of pursuing transphobic legislation involves wasting legislative time and money by passing clearly unconstitutional bills that are invariably legally challenged, remain tied up in the courts for years, and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court. Last summer, justices ruled against an attempt to legalize workplace discrimination against transgender employees, and then in the winter, they left in place a public school's accommodation of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Whether the GOP wins or loses on this issue in the nation's highest court is almost beside the point because the party's goal is to distract its anxious base from the fact that their leaders do little to nothing about pervasive problems around inequality and depressed wages, a stagnant job market, and the ever-rising cost of living.

Moreover, the GOP's anti-trans bills fulfill part of a larger conservative agenda to create ever more exceptions to government-provided services such as health care and education, whittling away at the state's responsibility for resources to be available to all and rights to be respected universally. If hormone treatments, abortions, and medical treatments for immigrants are exceptions to government-provided health care; if public education is for everyone but transgender kids; then those services are weakened in service of libertarian fantasies of how society should function.

How to combat this brutality and inhumanity? Gill-Peterson pointed out, "the folks who are on the same side of this debate as the Republican legislators include a wide swath of extremist groups: white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-immigrant groups." To meet this threat will require an equally broad coalition of progressives to stand guard against attacks on transgender people.

The state of South Dakota has been a testing ground for state-level legislation aimed at trans rights. Bill after bill has failed in that state, thanks largely to a coalition that has stood firm at every turn to protest them. Alongside transgender activists are parents, teachers, and doctors as well as national organizations like the ACLU and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Having a president like Joe Biden who has reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of transgender people, rather than targeting them for violence as Trump did, is also a huge help. "We need to see trans rights as integral to a broader agenda for democracy, justice, and public good in this country," said Gill-Peterson.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host, and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Sen. Mitt Romney

Screenshot from Sen. Romney's Twitter (@SenatorRomney)

It may be coincidence that the best policy idea to come out of the 117th Congress was offered by the one guy who has demonstrated the integrity to brave harassment and death threats to do what's right vis a vis former President Donald Trump. Mitt Romney has an excellent plan to reduce child poverty.

This country has a serious child problem. Our birth rates are low and heading lower, which endangers the prospects for Social Security and Medicare for our large elderly population. Also, old countries tend to lack dynamism, which has always been an American specialty. Some couples are happy with their small family sizes, but most Americans want more children (2.7) than they are likely to have (1.8).

About 20% of American kids live in poverty compared with 13% among all OECD countries. Part of the reason our kids are struggling is due to changes in family structure. Though the marriage norm has declined nearly everywhere, the U.S. holds the dubious distinction of leading the developed world in unstable adult relationships. Child Trends reports that the 2017 poverty rate for children in married couple families was 8.4%. For kids in single mother homes, the poverty rate was 40.7%.

Clearly, a return to the two-parent norm (updated to include same-sex marriages) would be ideal. But that is a complicated cultural matter that governments have limited capacity to affect — except, as the Romney Family Plan envisions, we can at least stop doing the things that penalize marriage. Our system of getting aid to children is convoluted. Because we Americans love to disguise spending as "tax policy," we offer a "child care tax credit" along with a child allowance included in the Earned Income Tax Credit. The poorest families receive TANF. The way the EITC is structured, an analysis for the Niskanen Center demonstrates, can cost couples between 15% and 25% of income if they marry. Also, the child care tax credit, which the Biden administration's proposal would expand, serves as a pass-through to increase prices for providers without helping the average family choose the kind of relative-provided or local child care arrangements that most families prefer. It also preferences paid day care over parental care.

The Romney proposal would sweep away TANF, the tax credits and the rest in favor of a simplified and more generous child allowance of $4,200 per year for children up to age 6, and $3,000 per year for children ages 6-17.

Conservatives worry about the disincentive to work inherent in traditional welfare programs, which reasonable. But part of the old "poverty trap" was not the child allowance per se but the implicit high marginal tax on earnings as parents reentered the workforce. Niskanen points to Canada's experience with a direct child allowance, finding that labor force participation actually increased after their child allowance was increased in 2016.

Another benefit of Romney's approach is that it respects the wishes of parents. There's a weakness on the left for the idea of clean, bright day care centers staffed by Ph.D.s. But a quick glance at the local public school should be enough to raise doubts about the supply of "high quality" care. In fact, most day care arrangements are far from ideal. Here again, Canada's recent experience is instructive. Quebec instituted a $5 per day universal day care in 1997. The number of families placing preschoolers in care jumped by 33%. But a study published in 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research found some disturbing results. Compared with kids from other provinces, Quebec's kids were less healthy and less satisfied with life. Most strikingly, Quebec experienced a spike in crime among the teenagers who had been in day care as children.

The direct child allowance gives parents the flexibility to make decisions about care. Some will use professional daycare centers, others will opt for help from relatives and friends, and still others will use the extra income to permit one parent to stay at home while the kids are little.

Romney's proposal is also pro-life. Family incomes tend to decline in the second half of pregnancy, so Romney's child allowance would begin four months before a child's birth. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, some 28% of abortion patients cite financial worries as one of the reasons for terminating a pregnancy.

Poverty isn't good for anyone, but arguably child poverty is more damaging to society than any other kind. An Institute for Social and Economic research paper found that for every 1% increase in unemployment during the Great Recession, there was a 25% increase in child neglect. This effect was muted in states with more generous safety nets. Niskanen estimates that Romney's proposal would reduce child poverty by one-third and cut deep poverty in half. It would accomplish this without adding to the deficit since the proposal contains offsets (specifically, eliminating the state and local tax exemption that mostly benefits wealthy individuals in high tax states).

This is what policymaking is supposed to look like. With any luck, Romney's proposal will at least spark debate on a critical challenge for our country. A few years ago, that would have been normal. In 2021, it would be nirvana.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the "Beg to Differ" podcast. Her most recent book is "Sex Matters: How Modern Feminism Lost Touch with Science, Love, and Common Sense." To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.