John Oliver: “Some on the Right Have Really Lost Their Minds About Transgender Rights”

yohn Oliver looked at the extraordinary legal attack on transgender rights in the United States last Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, in particular the deliberate misinformation about gender assertion sponsorship. Since Oliver first covered the topic of trans rights seven years ago, “more people seem to feel comfortable coming across as trans and non-gender compatible, which is great,” he said. “But as you’ve no doubt noted, in the past few years, some right-wingers have really lost their minds about transgender rights.”

There are bad “jokes” — like conservatives claiming their pronouns are “patriotic” or “askicker” — and, most disturbingly, more than 100 anti-transgender bills rolled out in state homes this year. “It’s frustrating that there are so many leftists who seem reluctant at best to get involved in this issue,” Oliver said. “And at worst, completely hostile to it, either complaining about the conscience of the police or saying that this issue will cost the Democrats’ election.”

Oliver referred to former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who said in a recent talk that focusing on transgender rights is not a “winning formula” in the election.

Oliver responded, “Put the notion that it is worth sacrificing protection for a weak person to chase a ‘winning formula’.” Republicans are the ones who see an advantage in the demagoguery of this issue. And ignoring them to do so can have a real and disastrous impact on people’s lives.

Oliver promised to take the arguments behind anti-trans bills seriously, but not sincerely, “because they often appear to be based on more political calculations than they actually do.”

To note: 18 states have passed laws that “protect youth sports,” as in South Dakota, where Governor Kristi Noem has made an anti-trans law the centerpiece of an advertising campaign promoting “protection” of girls’ sports. In fact, only one young athlete participated in South Dakota, and she graduated several years earlier.

“It’s remarkable that a mobile athlete could theoretically compete in the Olympics but not in South Dakota under-12 football, a sport that really only exists to erase parents’ weekends,” Oliver said sarcastically.

In other words, the conversations about anti-transgender laws include “extremely frenetic rhetoric that doesn’t match the reality of children’s actual situations,” Oliver said.

He pointed to Christopher Ruffo, a right-wing scholar who helped poison critical race theory from an academic concept into a lucrative culture war issue for Republicans, and who has since turned to targeting transgender people and specifically how transgender people are discussed in schools. “Say what you want about Chris Ruffo – for example, he’s a scary troll that looks like what would happen if someone made a recipe for Ryan Gosling but forgot to add cuteness – he’s very deliberate in the way he tries,” Oliver said.

Ruffo suggested describing discussion of transgender issues as a “radical gender theory”, and tweeted that drag queens should be referred to as “transgender strippers” because they are more “dirty” and have “sexual connotations” – part of the conservative strategy of linking transgender issues to sexual predation or social infection.

Oliver got into Ruffo’s fear-mongering about minors’ exploration of their sexual identity. “To the extent that only some young people explore their sexual identity, how bad is that exactly?” He is angry. “Who the hell are they?

He continued, “Watching the talk about this, it’s hard not to feel, that there is no social contagion here, that among the adults who have whipped themselves into such a frenzy, they can find themselves repeating some sheer nonsense.”

Conservative misinformation about gender confirmation care — such as that children can request surgery on demand, or call for permanent changes without counseling — has a devastating effect on young people looking to access critical health care. “Basically, no kid casually falls into the operating room because they just decided to have their uterus removed with the impulsive recklessness usually associated with getting bangs,” Oliver said.

“The benefits of providing care are enormous and the risks of withholding it are huge,” he added, citing a 2019 study of 28,000 transgender people by the University of California, which found that those who wanted hormone therapy but did not receive it, 58% reported suicidal thoughts in a given year.

The consequences of refusing care have forced some transgender children to become activists, like 11-year-old Kay Chapley, who testified before the Texas legislature and has since fled the state.

“If a child has to become an activist, we have already failed in that child,” Oliver said, because children like Chapley “have to be children and enjoy her life.”

“All the kids we saw tonight shouldn’t be active,” he added. “They should get dressed, go to the bathroom that’s right for them, and do the sports they want to do.”

Oliver concluded with a quote from trans actress Michaela J. Rodriguez, who called for joy when faced with hate: “We have to live our lives and show people how happy we are.”

“Hope and joy are crucial here,” Oliver said. They are the fuel that fuels the ongoing struggle for equality. And while there is a lot of fear and uncertainty right now, it is worth remembering that progress, while not always linear, is always possible. Because we work toward the goal of every mutant child knowing they’re loved, appreciated and indispensable,” to quote the many kids featured in the clip, “Dolly Loving People, Owning Weird Pets, Cranky Dope People.”

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