The Alliance Defending Freedom is leading the charge to get the federal government to erase transgender people. Its latest scheme to accomplish this involves picking on 5-year-olds -- claiming that transgender children are dangerous. Sounds absurd, except Donald Trump’s administration is preparing to hand the ADF a victory that may impact transgender people across the country.
On August 17, 2017, ADF threatened legal action against the school district of Grass Lake, Mich. ADF claimed that if a transgender fourth-grader was treated like any other little boy, this would “jeopardize” the other students. A month after ADF threatened legal action, the mother of that transgender student told the Grass Lake school committee, “My son now says he wants to kill himself again,” because he thought “everybody hates him.” Her son was telling her this before he was even 10 years old.
ADF has gone after transgender children repeatedly over the years. Before ADF bullied a fourth-grader and his family in Michigan, it demonized a transgender high school student in Minnesota because she acted like any other teenage girl. The group has also used similar tactics, unsuccessfully, in attempts to deny transgender high school students the use of school facilities in Pennsylvania and Illinois.
But ADF has reached a new low. Since May, ADF has hyped a dubious claims that a transgender elementary school student assaulted another child in a school restroom in Decatur, Ga. ADF has pushed this claim despite a review by school officials and social service agencies that concluded the allegation was unfounded. ADF hyped this even though the person that made this allegation was a parent publicly opposed to trans-inclusive school policies. This person had even stated so at a local school board meeting just a month before they made the accusation.
ADF’s case was so flimsy that a local news outlet, Decaturish.com, had refused to publish it. To top it all off, ADF’s alleged assailant doesn’t even identify as transgender but as a cisgender boy.
Lack of evidence didn’t stop ADF, it still got the Department of Education to open an investigation into the incident and to consider whether policies that treat transgender students with respect threaten the safety of others. At the same time, the DOE has refused to look into complaints from transgender students of harassment.
On October 21, just weeks after the department announced its investigation in Decatur, The New York Times reported on a leaked memo on how the Department of Health and Human Services planned to define sex and gender for purposes of enforcing Title IX, the federal law that bans discrimination based on gender in schools. According to the Times, HHS plans to define sex as “a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth.” The Times reported that HHS’s proposed definition would essentially erase transgender people and, under Title IX, it would affect local schools that receive federal money from the Education Department as well.
After all this, The Advocate reported last week that the Department of Justice issued a legal brief saying that workplace discrimination based on gender identity is perfectly fine. The employer is represented by ADF, which has asked the Supreme Court to hear the case.
The actions of the Justice and Education Departments, and the HHS language reported by the Times shouldn’t be a surprise: Matthew Bowman, former legal counsel at ADF, is HHS’s deputy general counsel. Thomas Stack, former director of litigation projects at ADF, now serves as a senior attorney for the Department of Education. ADF’s former legal counsel and communications director, Kerri Kupec, now serves as at deputy director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Department of Justice.
How the federal government defines gender will have consequences for transgender people and all LGBTQ people. But the campaign to define trans people out of existence for ADF won’t stop at the federal level. ADF is working on anti-trans bills in statehouses across the United States.
ADF and its allies think baseless claims against schoolchildren will be their silver bullet against LGBTQ civil rights. On October 9, ADF lawyer Christiana Holcomb proclaimed to The Washington Post that the case in Georgia was proof “these transgender restroom policies are not working.” On October 16, at a debate about a Massachusetts ballot initiative to uphold transgender rights, Andrew Beckwith, head of the Massachusetts Family Institute and an ADF lawyer, highlighted the story as an example that laws protecting transgender people endanger everyone else.
On October 22, the National LGBTQ Task Force hit Trump and reminded the country hate’s too late; no one is going back in the closet. In response, Tony Perkins, head of another anti-LGBTQ hate group, the Family Research Council, echoed ADF’s talking points on Fox News. Perkins claimed that allowing transgender elementary school students to be themselves was “lawlessness.”
Claiming transgender people are the problem ignores the reality of restroom harassment. While the transgender bathroom predator myth has been repeatedly discredited, 70 percent of transgender people reported being harassed in the restroom. Worse still, ADF has chosen to use this myth to target young children.
ADF’s attempt to falsely portray transgender students as deviants eerily parallels the myth that gay men are pedophiles. And yes, ADF has made that claim too. When Alan Sears was president of ADF he published a book in which he claimed homosexuality was “intrinsically linked” to pedophilia.
ADF’s agenda to target young children is monstrous and cannot be allowed to stand. The more this group is exposed for what it is, the harder it will be for ADF to accomplish its goal to roll back the rights of LGBTQ people.
ADF was designated an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for falsehoods it’s pushed and its attempts to criminalize the LGBTQ community. ADF’s latest actions are a reminder that the label is well deserved.