This week, Heritage’s Jay Richards breaks down how transgender activists are trying to link gender to race and class. Read his most recent op-ed here.
Tim Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher and this is Heritage Explains. Here's a statement: I am a man. Not because that's how I identify, it's because that's what I am. Biology is biology, not bigotry. End of statement. Now maybe it's just senior millennial boomer vibes but I never thought a statement like that could be controversial. But as Bob Dylan said, "The times they are a changing." Here's now a classic reminder of this from Michael Strahan on Good Morning America.
Michael Strahan: Now to a GMA exclusive. Two transgender high school runners, well, they're kicking up dust in Connecticut taking the top spots at the state girls' championship, leaving parents wondering if they have an unfair advantage. Linsey Davis is here and you sat down with the track stars to talk all about this.
Linsey Davis: That's right, Michael. We're talking about a subject that's so sensitive that Andrea and Terry, who you're about to meet, felt when it was time to tell their parents that they're transgender, they each revealed it by text and now they have gone public with it. And they're facing opposition from people who say, "Even though you may feel like a girl, you need to compete against the boys."
Doescher: Come on. As potentially offensive to some as my statement about being a man is, I feel like the Good Morning America piece and all the ramifications presented are equally offensive to say a biological girl competing against a biological man. But this is where we are and that means that's where the battlefield is. The march toward a new normal is happening. But what if I told you this was a well coordinated plan by left wing groups to sell American voters on gender theory and provide Democrats with talking points to shore up their base, gain new allies and counter critics? Yep, it's as real as men being allowed to compete in women's sports. On this episode, my co-host Michelle Cordero sits down with Heritage Senior Research Fellow Jay Richards and discusses the left's attempt to reshape the debate through targeting youth, minority groups and working Americans. But are they buying it? What do conservatives need to do in response? We'll find out after this.
Michelle Cordero: Jay, thank you so much for joining us.
Jay Richards: Oh, it's great to be with you.
Cordero: So transgender activists recently released a new messaging report. What was it that was discovered about their plan based on that report?
Richards: Well, for those of us that follow the gender ideology debate, there wasn't a lot of surprise about this document. What's interesting is it was a messaging document that was originally private and then was leaked. And now the organizations involved have confessed that, yes, this is our plan. It was drafted, written, sort of commissioned by an operation called the Transgender Law Center and a couple of left wing communications firms. But here's the kind of take home is that they said what the left and the Democrats, especially the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, need to do is to frame the transgender issue in terms of race and class. In fact, they call this the Race Class Gender Narrative. So in other words, just as it's rhetorically useful to frame any particular issue in terms of the glory days of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Richards: So you want to frame the gender issue in those terms. So you want victims that are discriminated against, you want bad guys. And whenever people do that, their argument is that we tend to win. And I actually think that's right. If they can frame this issue as just another or yet another civil rights battle like we had in the 1960s and they can paint conservatives as the segregationists, then of course they're going to be putting themselves in a strong position. Rhetorically they of course have been doing that for a long time. If you read the reconciliation bill or you read the White House's national strategy on gender equality and equity, for instance, they're framing the topic in terms of the civil rights struggle. But just to have them say this explicitly in their messaging document I think is still illuminating.
Cordero: So is there any merit to what they're saying? Is there a connection between the issue of gender and race?
Richards: There really isn't. Of course if we were in a situation in which people that have gender dysphoria. So say a male that for some reason is uncomfortable with his sex body. If there was widespread discrimination against people that are struggling in this way, true discrimination that was debilitating, then they might have an argument to be made. If, for instance, that class of people were genuinely disadvantaged and marginalized. But anybody that's paying attention to the debate knows perfectly well that gender ideology entirely occupies all the commanding heights of culture. Whether you're in a corporate boardroom or you're at foundations or you're in the media, gender ideology is... It completely occupies all of the influential institutions of our culture. And so this idea that it's a sort of marginalized group like African Americans in the 1950s or 1960s, it just falls flat simply in terms of the actual facts on the ground.
Richards: But the other thing of course is that being black or being Hispanic or being white, those are innate characteristics that we have. Whereas what exactly it means to have a gender identity, that's highly controversial and contested. It's not in even clear. What exactly does it mean if you're a male that is determined biologically who has a female quote gender identity? It's not even exactly clear what that means. And so it looks to me very much like a particular ideology, we can call it gender ideology, is vying for control of our culture and it's vying for control of the very language that we use. This is difficult because it's out of keeping with basic biological reality. And so if the folks on the other side are going to succeed in this way, I think they realize we're going to have to frame this in terms that are generally appealing to the average American. And so they're going to frame it in terms of discrimination and appeal to help the underdog and things like that. But I do think that they've got a long road ahead of them.
Cordero: So I'm struggling to wrap my head around this a little bit. Because the issue of gender seems so far off for me when it comes to that. From race that is. So what would a comparison to discrimination of some sorts look like?
Richards: Well, this is what's so odd about it. And so here's the key distinction you got to get in your head even to understand what's being said. So we sort of understand the idea of ethnicity and race. Of course, we're really one human race but we have variations in terms of skin color and body type and things like that that we refer to as race or ethnicity. And we know that usually visually. We can sort of distinguish people in that way. Gender as gender ideology sees it though is an entirely subjective thing.
Richards: And so whatever your body is, whatever your chromosome are, whatever your cells are like, your gender identity is this subjective feeling that you have that's not actually available in any way to other people. And so if somebody says, "Well, I have a gender identity as a female," the only way you can know that is if they tell you that. And that's the difficulty. So that you'd be able to tell, okay, this person's clearly a male. He tells you, "I have a gender identity that's female." Basically what that means is that you have to be controlled in the way you speak and the language you use by this person's subjective report of their internal feelings. And that's what makes it completely different from ethnicity or class or something that's just manifest that you can observe, right? And so-
Cordero: How can you tell what a person's feeling so that you don't offend them?
Richards: That's right. And that's essentially what it is. And so what the debate is really about is whether somebody's sort of subjective or even their report of their subjective internal feelings should have essentially legislative control over how everyone else thinks and speaks. The words you use, the mental categories that you use to understand human beings. And that's what makes gender ideology so radical. There's never been a culture that did not recognize that there are men and that there are women. That we share a human nature but that we are a sexually biomorphic species with male and female. Gender ideology wants to overturn that. Either denying it all together or saying gender identity trumps biological sex. So whatever biological sex is, it doesn't have priority. This idea of our subjective gender, that's going to trump those things. And then we have to basically reorder our laws, reorder the way we speak, reorder our language accordingly.
Cordero: So do you think this will work? Do you think that minorities or working class Americans will identify with these gender issues and that conservatives should be worried?
Richards: I don't think so. I think honestly this is an opportunity for conservatives if we understand it as such. I think that there's a lot of worry certainly by conservative politicians that, "Oh boy, how's this going to go? And almost any way I talk about these gender issues, I'm going to look like a mean person." I think folks have get over that. What we're talking about here is a radical revolution in human relations. And if you're worried about seeming mean, well, look, if the debate is whether males should be able to use the girls' bathrooms in a high school, okay, well, who are the victims there? Well, it's certainly the girls whose privacy is being violated are some of the victims.
Richards: And so the reality is, unlike some other cultural issues like the marriage debate in which it's a little bit more abstract to say who the victims are for same sex marriage. There are real victims. In this case the victims are quite obvious and they're piling up as a result of gender ideology. Whether it's girls who suddenly find males in their locker room or it's girl swimmers or female swimmers who are having to compete against male swimmers, it's clear who the victims are. And so I don't think rhetorically that the sexual left really has an advantage. And, in fact, I think this is an advantage for conservatives if they're willing to talk about it.
Richards: The other thing is that of course this Race Class Gender Narrative, it implies that ethnic minorities and working class people are going to resonate with these gender arguments and I think that's very much open to dispute. In fact, I think we don't know but I suspect if we were to poll Hispanic Americans and African Americans, we were to poll working class Americans, I really doubt that most of them are on board for males competing against females in sports or schools privately, socially transitioning children against their parents' wishes. I just suspect that that is very much a minority opinion.
Richards: And so this is sort of, I think, the achilles heel of this race Class Gender Narrative strategy is that the very people that you'd be wanting to target with that strategy, namely ethnic minorities and working class Americans, are very unlikely to sign onto it. And I think that's the opportunity for conservative politicians is to figure out how to talk to those Americans and to make clear what's actually happening in gender ideology. And that it's not simply about treating people with dignity which is of course something we all agree on.
Cordero: Well, you almost just answered my last question there. And that was what can conservatives do to fight on these issues?
Richards: We have to learn how to talk about gender ideology. And the first order of business is to talk about it at all. At the moment there's some politicians, people like Ron DeSantis who is sort of ahead of the game on a lot of these things, are willing to talk about this issue with respect to high school and college sports. That seems to be the thing that conservative politicians are willing to talk about. But of course in some ways sports, although that's an injustice and it's unfair, is not nearly as radical as say surgery. Gender reassignment surgery as it's called. Or giving young teenagers puberty blockers and then giving them cross-sex hormones that can have life affecting permanent effects on them, sterilize teenagers. Which that's a life long decision that's being made maybe when you're 14 or 15.
Richards: We have to learn how to talk about those things. That's difficult and it's visceral. But I honestly think, look, we're on the right side on this. And I think we also our position resonates with the common sense of the vast majority of Americans. But if the sexual left are the only ones talking about this and we're afraid to do it then they're likely to win by default. Whereas if we learn how to talk about it and we appeal to people's common sense, I think we can win the argument.
Cordero: That's good stuff. Thank you so much, Jay. And we hope you'll come back on again soon.
Richards: Great to be with you.
Doescher: Great job, Michelle. This is such important context to such a tricky subject matter. We've gone ahead and linked to Jay's piece in the show notes. So if you want more, you know where to find it. Also, don't forget to hit that like button or leave us a comment or share Heritage Explains with your friends and family. We'll catch you next time.
Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Popp.