An LGBT rights bill needs to die — to help women.
That was the message Republicans brought to a rowdy congressional hearing on Tuesday, when conservative lawmakers and think tanks denounced the nondiscrimination bill with increasingly uniform charges of sexism.
The bill’s protections for transgender people, they contend, advance a “radical gender ideology” that will erase and victimize women.
“Women, lesbians, and families become the collateral damage of identity politics,” said Republican Doug Collins of Georgia, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Collins argued the Democrat-sponsored bill “codifies stereotypes and sexism,” and, “If the Democrats are determined to move this legislation forward anyway, we must recognize that it prioritizes the rights of biological men over the rights of biological women.”
The bill, the Equality Act or HR 5, would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — the landmark law banning discrimination based on race, sex, and other characteristics — to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
But because it bans discrimination based on a person’s gender identity, Collins and other Republicans contended Tuesday it creates an arbitrary distinction that lets men pretend to be women, blurring the line between sexes, and defines gender by mannerisms and attire. Or, as Collins put it, the bill “nullifies women and girls as coherent categories worthy of civil rights protection.”
The Christian right has criticized transgender rights for years, and falsely claimed nondiscrimination laws let male predators prowl women’s bathrooms, but the Equality Act hearing on Tuesday and its accompanying chorus on Conservative Twitter revealed an emerging discipline in their counter-messaging.
The attack repurposes feminist themes from the left and LGBT communities — which have long fought rigid sex stereotypes and gender norms — in an attempt to reclaim the mantle of civil rights.
The criticism also inverts the bill’s most basic frame: Rather than transgender people being the victims of discrimination (transgender people suffer indisputably high rates of bias, which is why the bill exists), transgender people are portrayed as an all-male brigade that subjugates others.
The Heritage Foundation — whose analysts have had the Trump administration’s ear on anti-transgender health and military policies — chirped that the bill would “erase women.”
Meanwhile, the Alliance Defending Freedom — a Christian group behind lawsuits to allow firing of transgender workers — also flipped the script, saying the Equality Act “victimizes women and empowers the government to coerce uniformity.”
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California got on the bandwagon as well, adopting the sort of language we’ve come to expect on the left.
“Gender-based stereotypes about how men and women should speak or act or dress or appear should not be the basis for interactions as a society,” he said, adding those traits “should not be an object of notice by their government.”
Though the Equality Act was first introduced during a Republican-controlled Congress in 2015, it died. With Democrats holding the gavel in the House, they’ve seized the opportunity — even if the bill is a dead man walking in the Senate.
“I believe we have a majority in the House of Representatives ready to pass it,” Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said Tuesday, adding, “this committee is ready to bring it to the floor.”
Conservatives have formed an unlikely alliance in recent years with anti-transgender feminist activists who are generally on the political left setting aside some of their political differences for the shared goal of blocking transgender protections.
Julia Beck, a former cochair of the Baltimore LGBTQ Commission, testified Tuesday to affirm the Republican committee members.
“We’ve given a lot of testimony to show how this would affect women negatively,” she said.
The Equality Act, though, would also carve out new protections for all women. The Civil Rights Act never included protections against sex discrimination in places of public accommodation, like hotels and restaurants. The new bill would add sex — in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity — to the groups of protected classes in public.