GOP expands war on LGBTQ people

Michael Knowles speaks at CPAC on Saturday, March 4. (Screenshot via Twitter / Right Wing Watch)

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) made news March 4 when Daily Wire host Michael Knowles called for the “eradication of transgenderism.”

In his speech, Knowles asserted, “For the good of society … transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.”

It wasn’t the first time Knowles had made such a statement. As PGN reported last week, Knowles had made the same demand on his February 27 podcast.

Knowles said several times during that broadcast that “You have to ban transgenderism entirely. You can’t just ban it for the kids. It’s got to be entirely.”

The CPAC statement — normalized on the right — stunned mainstream reporters, who made Knowles’s declaration a headline, calling it genocidal. John Knefel of Media Matters called Knowles’s comment “Eliminationist, genocidal rhetoric.” 

HuffPost senior reporter Christopher Mathias called it an “a straight-up eliminationist anti-trans tirade.” Adam Vary, Senior Entertainment Writer at Variety wrote, “Pay attention. This is genocidal. That is not hyperbole or alarmist; this rhetoric is calling for the eradication of a group of people for who they are.”

Geoff Wetrosky, National Campaign Director at HRC asserted that the anti-trans statements by Knowles and other CPAC speakers were an attempt to reel in the GOP’s more extremist base.

Wetrosky said, “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.” 

Wetrosky added that the language of CPAC remains dangerous. He said, “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.”

Knowles was outraged at the response from mainstream media and demanded retractions from a range of publications reporting his  comments, including The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone and Huffington Post. None were forthcoming. 

Knowles asserted, “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, “Nobody is calling to exterminate anybody, because the other problem with that statement is that transgender people is not a real ontological category — it’s not a legitimate category of being,” 

Knowles continued, “There are people who think that they are the wrong sex, but they are mistaken. They’re laboring under a delusion. And so we need to correct that delusion.”

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t attend CPAC, which had a diminished turnout this year due to sexual assault accusations levied against the conference chair and former Trump administration advisor Matt Schlapp. A male GOP campaign operative accused Schlapp of making unwanted sexual advances that involved forcible touching during the closing days of Georgia’s Senate runoff election.

In documents filed in a Virginia court as part of a sexual battery lawsuit against Schlapp, the unnamed accuser alleges that Schlapp “placed his hand” on the accuser’s leg and “began aggressively fondling [his] genital area in a sustained fashion” as he was being driven to a hotel after visiting a Georgia bar. 

Yet several announced and potential 2024 GOP candidates did attend CPAC, notably twice-impeached former president Donald Trump, who is currently under a series of criminal and civil investigations, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced her candidacy last month, and former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is expected to announce his candidacy. Former Vice President Mike Pence, also  expected to run, was not in attendance. 

DeSantis, who is considered the main contender against Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination, is also a leading voice in what the media has termed “the culture wars” and what DeSantis and others on the right have called “anti-wokeism.” 

DeSantis gave his own speech over the CPAC weekend in Florida and declared, referencing his previous attacks on gay and trans people as well as his restrictions on abortion and voting rights, that “We have an opportunity to tackle more issues in a short period of time than even we were able to do in any of our four years so far. You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

On March 7, DeSantis addressed the Florida legislature. With a Republican supermajority, that body is expected to easily pass a series of DeSantis’s latest anti-LGBTQ bills. These new bills are more expansive of restrictions on LGBTQ people, particularly students and youth. 

A bill has been filed to end university diversity programs and courses, and lawmakers are preparing bills to prevent state pension investments that are “woke.” Legislators are also considering laws governing gender-affirming care for minors.

DeSantis called for banning preferred pronouns at schools. He will expand book-banning by mandating that K-12 libraries immediately remove and review books that are flagged as “inappropriate” by anyone. DeSantis’s higher education bill would ban gender studies majors and minors and prohibit public colleges and universities from spending money on activities that “espouse diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Florida’s Republican legislators have already restricted how race and gender are taught in schools and colleges. Now those laws will be expanded. And as the nation has witnessed, DeSantis and Florida are the “thought leaders” in the anti-LGBTQ crusade. As DeSantis said in his speech on Tuesday, he wants Florida students to get “a good education, not an indoctrination.”

DeSantis’s new legislation expands the “Don’t Say Gay” law’s ability of anti-LGBTQ parents and political extremists to sue any school district to enforce a complete ban on classroom instruction regarding “sexual orientation or gender identity” from pre-kindergarten through eighth grades.  

LGBTQ advocacy groups as well as mental health experts have argued that banning schools from discussing or even acknowledging that LGBTQ people exist can be damaging and detrimental to LGBTQ students and/or students with LGBTQ parents. 

The Florida law would also outlaw use of pronouns that align with a students’ gender identity throughout the entirety of their K-12 schooling. This, advocates say, would mean even parents would not have the right to control how their children are referred to in school. This could lead to more detrimental and confusing experiences for trans and nonbinary students who would be disallowed from using pronouns that reflect their gender identity.   

In a discursive report on DeSantis’s focus on education and changing rules for K-12 and colleges, the New York Times noted why DeSantis’s moves remained popular with the majority of Floridians who re-elected him in a landslide in November. “DeSantis’s attack on diversity, equity and inclusion programs coincides with the recent criticisms of such programs by conservative organizations and think tanks.” 

The Times quoted DeSantis making a flippant parallel: “The core curriculum must be grounded in actual history, the actual philosophy that has shaped Western civilization. We don’t want students to go through, at taxpayer expense, and graduate with a degree in Zombie studies.”

No such degree exists.

State Senator Shevrin D. Jones, a Miami Democrat who is the first openly gay man to serve in the chamber and its first Black LGBTQ member told the NYT, exuding frustration, “It’s all electoral politics, and it’s all about the Republicans leading the state and who they are and who they have become.” 

LGBTQ rights groups have voiced opposition to DeSantis’s latest foray into educational censorship.

Equality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer said in a statement, “Governor DeSantis and the lawmakers following him are hellbent on policing language, curriculum, and culture. Free states don’t ban books or people.”

Maurer said, “Don’t Say LGBTQ policies have already resulted in sweeping censorship, book banning, rainbow Safe Space stickers being peeled from classroom windows, districts refusing to recognize LGBTQ History Month, and LGBTQ families preparing to leave the state altogether. This legislation is about a fake moral panic, cooked up by Governor DeSantis to demonize LGBTQ people for his own political career.”

DeSantis is expected to announce his presidential run in May, at the end of the Florida legislative session.

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