With the end of the battle for marriage equality, the right wing has shifted targets to the transgender community. We saw it coming, and it's as ugly as you would imagine. Leaders in law enforcement, government, and the conservative movement are all threatening to personally assault or kill any transgender person they see in a bathroom. Right-wing figures in the media like Curt Schilling are posting ugly memes about transgender people. Republican candidate for President Ted Cruz even went so far as to say transgender people shouldn't be allowed to use any public bathroom.
The attacks, lies, and hyperbole aren't likely to end any time soon. The people responsible for House Bill 2 in North Carolina have vowed not to repeal it, and sent the bill to do so to a committee that never meets. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other politicians have vowed to run retailer Target out of the state, and Republican leaders there have indicated a desire to pass statewide anti-transgender laws. Oxford, Ala., already passed a citywide version, and Rockwall, Texas, is considering one.
The only way these sorts of laws are going away quickly is through lawsuits. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit just ruled in favor of access to appropriate accommodations for transgender students. The American Civil Liberties Union and Equality North Carolina are challenging HB 2 in court on similar grounds. These anti-transgender laws are going to have to be rooted out with legal flamethrowers, one by one. It will be long. It will be bloody.
Counterintuitively, it's also proof that we're winning.
Most signs point to a slowly growing cultural acceptance of transgender people. The best quantitative measure of this is the Human Rights Campaign Corporate Equality Index's measurement of companies offering trans-inclusive benefits, since this represents businesses putting (a little) money where their mouth is. In 2002 zero Fortune 500 companies offered transgender inclusive health benefits. Today, 40 percent do, and it is rising quickly. Despite the right-wing freak-out over Target allowing transgender people to use restrooms consistent with their gender identity, 75 percent of all Fortune 500 companies have similar nondiscrimination policies.
While corporations are increasingly recognizing transgender concerns, the overall cultural landscape is moving more slowly. Visibility in and of itself isn't sufficient, given how high-profile transgender issues already are and how many anti-trans laws are being passed. Having friends and family who are LGBT is closely correlated with acceptance, but only 16 percent of Americans personally know someone who is transgender. The good news is that this is up from just 8 percent in 2008.
Still, winning hearts and minds will have to take a backseat to legal efforts to thwart the right-wing Christian plan to morally legislate transgender people out of existence for now. Five years ago, transgender issues were barely on their radar. That all changed after the marriage equality decision. In 2010 the goal was to do our best to prepare the battle space by quietly building favorable cultural conditions for the time when the right wing came for transgender people. For the most part, that opportunity was lost because most LGBT organizations were still of a mind-set of "We'll deal with that later."
It's too late for that now. You can't conduct Military Information Support Operations in the middle of a desperate, last-stand firefight where the enemy is already well inside your perimeter. Which is exactly what the transgender community, and the LGBT movement is in right now.
The fact that we're relying on legal challenges to turn back laws designed to drive transgender people out of entire states is indicative of the failure to win in the cultural arena before the situation became this dire. As a result of this failure to adequately prepare, the movement is functioning mostly in a reactionary, crisis mode.
However, all of this has happened before, and is happening again. This leads to the conclusion that we're winning, even if it's ugly as hell.
In the 1970s Anita Bryant led the charge to repeal ordinances protecting lesbians and gays as part of the "Save Our Children" campaign, using the exact same tactics being used against transgender people today. The consequences of "Save Our Children" were eerily similar to the hyperbolic threats of violence seen against transgender people today.
Fifteen years after Anita's heyday, the opposition to allowing lesbians and gays to serve in the military was primarily about bathrooms and showers. The panicked predictions of the U.S. military disintegrating under a wave of homosexual rape in bathrooms and showers proved to be every bit as dumb (and improbable) as it sounds.
In the end, keeping people permanently in a state of fear over something irrational and baseless is impossible. In the long run, the fact that experts on sexual assault, law enforcement, and respected media outlets all conclude that the anti-transgender arguments are baseless hysteria will seep through. The fear of transgender people, or people pretending to be transgender, will ebb away. This will accelerate as more Americans have a friend or family member who is transgender, and accepting millennials and Gen Z come to dominate the cultural landscape.
It may take years, but eventually the religious zealots won't be able to fear-monger over transgender people anymore, and will have to find someone else to demonize, just as they did with lesbians and gays. Who will it be? Muslims? Immigrants? Left-handed dentists?
Fear and hatred never needed a rational basis.
BRYNN TANNEHILL graduated from the Naval Academy in 1997 before serving as a campaign analyst while deployed overseas. She later worked as a senior defense research scientist in private industry; she left the drilling reserves and began transitioning in 2010. Since then, she has written for OutServe, The New Civil Rights Movement, Salon, Everyday Feminism, The Good Men Project, Bilerico, and The Huffington Post.