NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Thousands of conservatives, including prominent Republican lawmakers and presidential hopefuls, flocked to a suburban Washington, D.C., convention center this week to discuss children’s genitals.
They were there for the 2023 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the preeminent annual gathering of America’s conservative movement, where speaker after speaker held forth on the urgent need for the Republican Party — an institution ostensibly dedicated to limited government — to criminalize the act of doctors and parents providing minors with gender-affirming care.
Sebastian Gorka, an , the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the Endocrine Society, the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association.
Such endorsements were of little concern at CPAC, where politicians and right-wing influencers fine-tuned the anti-trans messaging that will likely be a staple of next year’s presidential campaign news cycle — the Republican Party clearly having decided that trans kids are worthy enough of a wedge issue to win back the White House.
But it also became clear at CPAC that the Republican campaign against trans kids isn’t just a mere ploy to energize its base — it could also be the beginning of an insurgent fascist campaign to erase trans people from public life altogether.
Michael Knowles, the host of ”The Michael Knowles Show” on The Daily Wire, gave a speech at CPAC that, at moments, sounded genocidal. “The problem with transgenderism is not that it’s inappropriate for children under the age of 9,” he said. “The problem with transgenderism is that it isn’t true.”
There are an estimated 1.6 million trans people in the United States. Knowles told the CPAC crowd that these people should not have a right to exist.
“If [transgenderism] is false, then for the good of society… transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely,” he said.
Eradicated. The crowd roared again.
Another speaker, Tom Fitton, president of the right-wing website Judicial Watch, called gender-affirming care for minors “a demonic assault on the innocence of our children.”
And there was also a panel on the main stage called “A Time for Courage” featuring panelists Riley Gaines, a former collegiate athlete who made a name for herself complaining about competing against a transgender swimmer, and Chloe Cole, a woman who identified as a transgender male as a minor but later “detransitioned.”
Cole’s story has featured prominently in right-wing media to demonstrate the apparent dangers of allowing children to receive gender-affirming care. But stories like hers are very rare. Only about 1 to 3% of people who start a gender transition later express regret for doing so and then “backtrack or travel elsewhere across the landscape of gender identity,” as Slate once explained.
But for CPAC attendees, stories like Cole’s prove that gender-affirming care for minors is always evil.
Donald Ruthig, a 73-year-old retiree from Onancock, Virginia, told HuffPost he recently left the Episcopal Church over its decision to support transgender youth. He drove three hours to CPAC to “meet people that think the way I think” who are “dedicated to restoring the Judeo-Christian morality that we’re losing.”
Part of this restoration, he explained, is to “stop torturing our children with gender transitions, to stop this whole LBGTQ alphabet nonsense, and start treating people like God’s people created in God’s image. We are all alike. We don’t need to partition everybody by their little fetishes.”
Tim Roberts, 57, traveled to CPAC from East Lansing, Michigan, with his two daughters, who he recently removed from public school “because of all the woke stuff that’s going on in there.”
He echoed a sentiment expressed a lot at CPAC — that the mere acknowledgment of transgender people in the classroom is tantamount to indoctrination.
“I graduated [high school] in 1985, and it just wasn’t a thing, and now [my daughters] said a better part of their classes have a lot of trans kids or kids that think they’re trans,” he said. “Like the first thing [school administrators] do when they come to school is say, ‘Hey, write down your pronouns, and that’s what we will go by.’ They’re encouraging this.”
James Clark, 37, a political public relations consultant from Kansas City, Missouri, expressed enthusiastic support for Greene’s bill. Gender-affirming care for minors, he said, was “child abuse.”
“It also leads into the human trafficking, sex trafficking, pedophilia, and different things like that,” he started before HuffPost asked him what gender-affirming care had to do with pedophilia.
“It has a lot to do with it,” he replied. “If you have an adult grooming a child to become trans…” HuffPost interjected again, asking what evidence is there that they’re being groomed.
“Well, you know, I’m just speculating,” Clark conceded before insisting that there is probably a lot of science that can “back up” the conservative argument against providing transgender youth with gender-affirming care — he just didn’t know it offhand.
He simply added, “I’m not a psychologist.”