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Mike Pence Is Covertly Weaponizing Language Against LGBTQ People

Mike Pence Is Covertly Weaponizing Language Against LGBTQ People

These attacks are part of a coordinated approach by the administration to strip LGBTQ people and women of their rights, writes Tarah Demant of Amnesty International.

The Trump administration's animosity toward LGBTI people at home and abroad and toward women at home can be easy to shrug off as the "new normal" in the haze of crisis fatigue, but it would be a mistake to miss how dogged or how interrelated these attacks are. This administration is trying to create a world in which trans people don't exist, women don't have control over their bodies, and religious beliefs can overrule basic human rights.

These attacks are frequent and appalling, like when the president repeatedly tried to institute a trans military ban or when the administration callously rolled back protections for trans students. Less obvious but just as critical have been the attacks on LGBTI people as the administration tries to change definitions of "gender" in U.S. policy and practice, including the attempt by Health and Human Services to erase gender and define sex as immutable and set at birth, intentionally erasing transgender, intersex, and nonbinary people out of existence -- and thus as not entitled to basic rights and protections.

Many of these attacks have been cloaked under the guise of championing women's rights. Make no mistake: this administration is no friend of women or girls. And yet it has repeatedly tried to use the language of women's rights as a Trojan horse for blatantly transphobic, anti-women, anti-rights policies -- like when the U.S. Agency for International Development sought to use a routine congressional notification to change "gender equality" to "women's equality." Or when the U.S. delegation to the United Nations attempted to strip gender from U.N. policy statements, particularly regarding "gender-based violence." A spokeswoman specifically defended this as part of "the administration's efforts to empower women and girls."

These attacks go beyond mere words: reframing gender-based violence, which includes LGBTI people, to "violence against women and girls" erases gay or bi men, transgender and intersex people. It also ignores the more systemic realities of gender power imbalance that must be addressed for all people to live free from violence.

These attempts to erase trans people and redefine gender are deeply related to the administration's attacks on sexual and reproductive rights, moves that have disproportionate impact on women and LGBTI people. Take, for example, the stripping of reproductive rights from the Human Rights Report -- a reversal of U.S. practice and a move that flatly denies sexual and reproductive rights as human rights and woefully misunderstands their centrality to LGBTI people and women, who need comprehensive services that include reproductive care as well as basic health care. Or the administration's moves to ban diplomats from using well-defined terms like "sexual and reproductive health" and "comprehensive sexuality education" -- replacing it instead with "reproduction and the related health services." Additionally, internal leaked memos have suggested changing sexual and reproductive health language to "women's health care." These words matter, and the Trump administration knows it.

These attacks are part of a coordinated approach by the administration to strip LGBTI people and women of their rights. They are increasingly done under cloak of night through bureaucratic measures, only coming to light if leaked. They are rooted in anti-feminist, anti-human rights ideology, and they are being coordinated by a handful of people specifically placed by the Trump administration, under the leadership of the vice president's office. These are people who have opaque if even existent accountability within the bureaus they work in, seemingly working under the directive of the office of the vice president instead. They're people like Mari Stull, now at the State Department, currently under investigation for anti-LGBTI slurs and reprisals -- and people like anti-trans, anti-reproductive rights activist Bethany Kozma, now at USAID.

This administration is enacting changes in which the government dictates what sex is, who it is for and who gets to have it. They are seeking to build a country and a world in which women and men are defined in opposition to each other and serve very distinct roles; where women don't have control over their bodies; and where trans, genderqueer, intersex, and gender-nonconforming people simply don't exist. We must see these attacks for what they are: the hellbent stripping away of people's rights through whatever means possible at the expense of global health and all our human rights.

TARAH DEMANT is director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA.

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