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CPAC 2023 Was a Hatefest Against Transgender People

CPAC 2023 Was a Hatefest Against Transgender People

From left: Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump, and Michael Knowles

A selection of the worst from the event, which included talk of "transgender insanity" and "eradication" of what speakers called "transgenderism."


The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is always a hatefest, but this year it was particularly so, and the hate was directed mostly at transgender people.

At this past weekend’s event, right-wing commentator Michael Knowles of the Daily Wire said that “transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely” and that it would be “for the good of society.” The reliably outrageous Marjorie Taylor Greene falsely claimed that puberty blockers cause permanent damage and promised to once again introduce legislation to criminalize the provision of gender-affirming care to minors. And none other than Donald Trump boasted of banning “transgender insanity” from the U.S. military.

“It is a sign of their disconnection from reality that these extremist politicians and activists spent their weekend at CPAC spreading hateful and discriminatory transphobic rhetoric rather than tackling any real issues facing our country,” Geoff Wetrosky, national campaign director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release. “Their vile, anti-trans rhetoric does not resonate with the majority of Americans who are interested in solutions, not slander. But that doesn’t mean their transphobic hate and propaganda won’t cause harm. Their words rile up far-right extremists resulting in more stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ people. The rights and very existence of trans people are not up for debate. We will keep fighting back until we are all treated equally, with dignity and respect.”

HRC has assembled a list of anti-trans comments from CPAC, culled from media coverage of the event. Here’s a selection of them, supplemented by The Advocate’s research.

Knowles wasn’t the only one to lambaste “transgenderism,” which many trans people consider an offensive term, as it is used to “reduce their humanity to a ‘condition,’” as the LGBTQ+ Twitter account Queer Insider explained. Right-wing activist Candace Owens used the term as well, saying, “There is no middle ground on transgenderism” and that “if you don’t have the courage to say what needs to be said, we truly don’t need you,” as reported by The Independent.

Knowles objected to coverage of his talk and claimed eliminating “transgenderism” doesn’t mean eliminating trans people — he simply denies they exist. “Saturday does not mark the first time Knowles has used this anti-transgender rhetoric,” The Daily Beast noted. “Just last week, Knowles responded to backlash he faced for a similar transphobic comment calling for a ban on ‘transgenderism.’ ‘I don’t know how you could have a genocide of transgender people because genocide refers to genes, it refers to genetics, it refers to biology,’ Knowles said on The Michael Knowles Show. ‘And the whole point of transgenderism is that it has nothing to do with biology.’ ‘Nobody’s calling to exterminate anybody because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category,’ he added. ‘It’s not a legitimate category of being.’”

He groused on Twitter about a Rolling Stone headline that read, “CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgender People to Be ‘Eradicated,’” so the publication changed it to “CPAC Speaker Calls for Transgenderism to Be ‘Eradicated.’” Rolling Stone drew some criticism, then changed the head again, to “CPAC Speaker Calls for Eradication of ‘Transgenderism’ — and Somehow Claims He’s Not Calling for Elimination of Transgender People.”

There was lots more hateful rhetoric being tossed around. Former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka used the same terminology as his old boss in discussing trans people. He “ranted about ‘mutilating boys and girls’ and ‘sacrificing them on the altar of their transgender insanity,’” according to The Independent.

Anti-trans forces often call gender-affirming care “mutilation.” Greene, a Republican member of the U.S. House, invoked this in claiming that social media influences young people to be transgender. “These are kids who are confused about who they are and they are confused about who they are because of what they are seeing on the internet, what they see on social media, and they are also confused, many of them, because these victims of this billion-dollar industry that mutilates the genitals of children, many of these victims have diagnoses of autism, mental illness, they have depression, anxiety, psychosis,” she said in a speech broadcast on C-SPAN. In truth, genital surgery is not recommended for minors, and when adults have it, they see it as a life-enhancing improvement, not mutilation.

She also said, “These boys think they can become girls and the girls think they can become boys, but what’s happening to them is they are given puberty blockers that actually chemically castrates them, makes them sterile.” But scientists that that’s not so. “Puberty blockers are falsely claimed to cause infertility and to be irreversible, despite no substantiated evidence,” The Lancet, a well-regarded medical journal, noted in 2021.

Greene further vowed to introduce “a bill called the Protect Children’s Innocence Act that would criminalise doing ‘anything to do with gender-affirming care’ for minors,” according to The Independent. She introduced a bill with the same title last year, and it went nowhere before the congressional session ended. The House had a Democratic majority then; it now has a Republican majority, but the Senate is still in Democratic hands, so the bill has little chance of going to President Joe Biden, who would undoubtedly veto it anyway.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who’s challenging Trump for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination — Trump remained the favorite of CPAC attendees in the conference’s straw poll — claimed awareness of trans identity is undermining the military. “We need our military to be stronger than ever,” she said in a talk carried on C-SPAN. “But what does Joe Biden have our troops doing? Taking gender pronoun classes. I am the wife of a combat veteran and that disgusts me. Our troops already know the difference between men and women. They also know that we need a different commander in chief. It’s not just our military. On Biden and Harris’s watch, this woke self-loathing has swept our country. It’s in the classroom, the boardroom, and the bathrooms of government.”

Other speakers pushed the narrative that support for trans people is bad for women, and they took time to denounce trans women athletes. “There's this systemic eradication of women that is being attempted by the left, and it’s more than sports,” Riley Gaines, who tied trans woman Lia Thomas in the NCAA swimming championships last year, told the Washington Examiner during an interview at CPAC. Gaines, who now works for the Independent Women’s Forum, also said, “These large organizations and large companies, these woke companies, continually make the claims that men make the best women.”

In addition to doing the interview, she spoke on a CPAC panel, where she said, “Man and woman is the sheer essence of humanity, and these people are trying to blur that line. I don’t know if I was just naive before or if this is something that has just been totally sprung on us, but it’s an attack on women.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, a former college football coach, got in digs at trans athletes and education about race and gender. “All this woke, transgender athletes, CRT, 1619, they don’t teach reading, writing, or arithmetic,” he said on a panel called “Sacking the Woke Playbook,” as reported by The Independent, referring to critical race theory and The 1619 Project. He called trans girls “biological boys” and said they shouldn’t be permitted in school sports. “Sports have built this country,” he said.

“The senator also falsely claimed,” The Independent noted, “that ‘half the kids when they graduate they can’t read their diploma’ as he condemned ‘the progressives, the crazies’ who are ‘trying to change family, change things that are our moral values.’”

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.
Trudy Ring, The Advocate's copy chief, has spent much of her journalistic career covering the LGBT movement. When she's not fielding questions about grammar, spelling, and LGBT history, she's sharing movie trivia or classic rock lyrics.