Women and the Religious Right in the USA: Jayne Egerton

Artwork from Radical Notion

This article about women and the religious right in the USA first appeared in Issue 5 of The Radical Notion. It is shared here with permission.

 

Introduction

Recently, I received a florid press release which invited me to ‘Help stop Pelosi’s fast-tracked radical abortion bill!’ It came from the Family Policy Alliance (FPA).[1] The FPA email me regularly, as do the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), both leading US Christian-right organizations. I receive their missives for one simple reason: in 2019 I downloaded the Gender Resource Guide, a parental advice booklet opposing transgender activism in schools.[2] The Guide was published by Minnesota Family Council, a sister organization, and names a small list of supporters including the FPA, ADF, the Heritage Foundation (an influential right-wing think tank), and one radical feminist group—Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF). The inclusion of WoLF gives the Guide an appearance of being bipartisan, of representing a united concern about the teaching of gender identity in schools. I’ve received such press releases ever since the download, but never from WoLF, an indication of their junior role in this collaboration. Any feminist fortunate enough to be on this mailing list is exposed to a colourful range of ‘hot button’ Republican topics, presumably in the hope they will change their minds. Come to oppose puberty blockers for kids, stay for the repeal of Roe v. Wade!

Anti abortion image

When the Guide was published, 4thWaveNow (“a community of people who question the medicalization of gender-atypical youth”)[3] and their spokeswoman Brie Jontry refused to support it on the basis that it was antithetical to their principles—how could they support young lesbians if they were endorsing a guide produced by religious homophobes? Destroy Your Binder, whose Tumblr and Twitter address female gender dysphoria, also highlighted its dangers.[4] But such voices of opposition were relatively rare. By then, it was clear that some feminists accepted that it was profitable to ally with conservative Christians on a ‘single-issue’ basis. This continues to be the case.

In the UK, a small group of feminists have ongoing political connections with American women who are working with the religious right, and a larger group, whilst having no such links, either endorse this strategy or refuse to acknowledge it exists. If more women knew about the nature of the organizations which have drawn feminists into their orbit, I believe some of them might think again. I also hope that those who are critical but remain silent, for fear that transactivists will capitalize on these divisions, will realize that unity at all costs comes at a price. I don’t write this article on any other basis. I understand that we have all grown weary of a climate of ritualistic shaming in which wild, unevidenced claims are made about far-right money flowing into grassroots feminist groups. This has led to a tendency to turn a blind eye to political partnerships which are strategically disastrous and wrong in principle. Beth Graham’s whistleblowing blog post ‘Sheep in WoLF’s Clothing’ is a necessary introduction to ‘how we got here.’ It details the chronology of events which began with WoLF taking a £15,000 donation from the ADF and filing a joint Amicus Brief with the FPA.[5]

The Trump connection

Any analysis of these partnerships depends on understanding the central role the Christian right played in electing Donald Trump.

In August 2018, evangelical faith leaders gathered at a White House dinner. Trump addressed them, in a spirit of profound gratitude: “You are really special people. The support you’ve given me has been incredible. But I really don’t feel guilty because I have given you a lot back. Just about everything I promised.”[6] His audience laughed in a moment of delighted complicity. A crude-talking serial adulterer dogged by allegations of sexual assault became ‘their chosen one,’ the unlikely vehicle of their aspirations on earth.

One networking group in particular contributed to Trump’s victory. The Council for National Policy (CNP), founded in 1981 to capitalize on the election of Ronald Reagan, was originally a small group of ultra conservatives who knew that time was running out for them:

They represented an American past dominated by white Protestant male property owners. They dreamed of restoring a nineteenth-century patriarchy that limited the civil rights of women, minorities, immigrants, and workers, with no income tax to vex the rich or social safety net to aid the poor. Now they faced a future in which minorities, women, gays, and atheists were gaining in number, rights, and political influence. If the country abided by a clear-cut democratic process, these constituencies, leaning Democratic, would consolidate their power based on majority rule. So the CNP decided to change the rules.[7]

The CNP have spent the last 40 years building a radical right capable of taking political power, for good. Many are dominionists, united in the belief that conservative Christians should seize all political, secular, and cultural institutions, turning America into a theocratic state.[8]

The CNP backed Trump’s candidacy, awarding him funds, strategy, and ground troops, for the simple reason he would do their bidding. Once he was elected, this was their moment. They were rewarded with an Evangelical Advisory Board filled with their members and a decisive role in shaping the social policies of his administration, as well as in selecting federal judicial nominations, their most powerful route to the transformation of a nation in their image. From the moment of his election in 2016 Trump moved on their agenda with lightning speed. They even celebrated his first two weeks in office with a ‘scorecard’ in their monthly newsletter. There are now more than 220 judges nominated by Trump with lifetime seats on the federal bench, including three Supreme Court justices.

Whilst the CNP are highly secretive about their membership, there was a leak in 2014 of names of their members and officers.[9] A further leak in September 2020 revealed that CNP members included Trump’s former strategist and ex-Breitbart-editor, Steve Bannon, his advisor, Kellyanne Conway, and his education secretary Betsy DeVos. Other key names include Michael P. Farris, president and CEO of the ADF; Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council (FRC); Penny Nance, President of Concerned Women for America (CWA); and Jim DeMint, former president of the Heritage Foundation. The ADF, FRC, CWA and the HF are a constant in the history of the CNP and were at the heart of Trump’s administration, even to the extent of the HF dictating his appointments.[10]

What’s startling is that these are the very organizations—even, in the case of Perkins and Nance, the same individuals—with whom WoLF has partnered over the last few years. You will never see WoLF describing them as ‘Christian right,’ ‘religious right’ or ‘Christian nationalist.’ That’s because the preferred and more anodyne term is ‘conservative.’[11] This evasive term obscures the true nature of the American religious right and inclines us to associate these people with mainstream British Conservatives or ordinary churchgoers.

We peer across the Atlantic, and are persuaded, in some instances, that the radical feminists who are working with these organizations have no choice, given that they are frozen out by liberals and leftists. In addition, the argument goes, they are surely only mirroring the behaviour of the average elected US politician, reaching ‘across the aisle’ and making deals with those of the opposing party in order to achieve goals and pass laws. (This observation, in itself, is a little out of date given the obstructionism of current day Republicans.) But political horse-trading amongst members of Congress isn’t comparable to feminists fronting with the Christian-right think tanks and lobby groups which determine an increasingly extremist agenda for Republican politicians.

This Christian nationalist agenda can’t be separated from the post-war backlash against school desegregation and the civil rights movement: “it’s crucial to recognize how grievances driving the backlash were deeply rooted in the white supremacy many evangelicals and fundamentalists were taught to find in their Bibles. That in turn shaped their conception of America as a Christian nation—that is, a white Christian nation.”[12] Racism is at the heart of the movement, and the Trump administration effectively mainstreamed white supremacy.[13] It was white evangelicals who delivered the vote for Trump; he received 84% of their vote in 2020 compared to the 92% of African Americans who voted for Joe Biden, that figure boosted by the whopping 95% of Black women who voted Democrat.[14]

Religious-right strategy

So, why have the Christian right sought out this relationship with radical feminists?

As early as the mid-70s, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, advised the religious right to speak in secular terms in order to win new supporters with the ultimate aim of gaining political power: “The new political philosophy must be defined by us in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language … When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.”[15]

This is the longest of games. Consider the extent to which Weyrich’s strategic advice is echoed by Meg Kilgannon, a member of the Hands Across the Aisle Coalition (HATAC), a coalition between Christian-right women and radical feminists, which overlaps with WoLF in terms of its activism. In October 2017, she spoke at FRC’s Value Voters Summit, the annual gathering of the religious right. There, in a discussion about ‘Transgender ideology in public schools: Parents fight back,’ she said the following: “For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.”[16]

The Christian right sees opposition to ‘transgender ideology’ as a wedge issue that can be leveraged to weaken and undermine lesbian and gay rights. The FRC have spelled out the ways in which their opposition to the ‘transgender’ movement is inseparable from their hostility to gay people and to feminism in a 2015 report:

In recent decades, there has been an assault on the sexes. That is, there has been an attack on the previously undisputed reality that human beings are created either male or female … The first wave of this attack came from the modern feminist movement and the second from the homosexual movement. The third wave of this assault on the sexes has been an attack on a basic reality—that all people have a biological sex, identifiable at birth and immutable through life, which makes them either male or female. The third wave ideology is known as the ‘transgender’ movement.[17]

One of the FRC’s earlier pamphlets, ‘Homosexual activists work to normalize sex with boys,’ claimed that LGBT activists want to abolish age of consent laws and legalize paedophilia.[18] The FPA, along with Christian rights groups in general, supports conversion therapy for lesbians and gay men. In 2017 Paul Weber, CEO and President until 2020, wrote that “childhood sexual abuse is common for those who struggle with homosexual feelings, temptations, orientation and identity,” and “bans on therapy for minors are an attempt to force acceptance of homosexuality right into our own homes.”[19]

We may think we are engaged on a single-issue basis with these groups, especially when they appropriate secular, even feminist language, but we are also in their crosshairs. The fact that they’ve shifted their attention, for the moment, to transwomen should fool nobody. Gender identity is a wedge issue against the whole package of what is known, in terms of international law, as ‘SOGI’—sexual orientation and gender identity—and against everything represented by the left, including anti-racism and feminism.

It’s often stated that we can agree with the ADF et al. on one issue alone, namely biology. But right-wing Christians’ insistence on ‘biological reality’ is inextricably related to a hostility to ‘non-procreative,’ same sex marriages—that’s where it originates.[20] The religious right’s opposition to the trans rights project is rooted in a patriarchal analysis which naturalizes heterosexuality and female subordination and places all feminist, gay rights, and trans rights movements under the umbrella of ‘gender ideology.’ This bears no resemblance to our critique of transgender politics (which is why some of us refuse to use the term ‘gender ideology’). That is, the religious right’s emphasis on ‘sex’-based language in law and policy is inextricably linked to a project committed to the continued oppression of women, from the US to Hungary.[21]

Why care? We’re British!

Even amongst those British women who are critical of alliances between radical feminists and the Christian right, there’s a tendency to say that it’s not our circus, until we recall that it was made into our circus at the precise point that Julia Long, Venice Allan (We Need to Talk) and Posie Parker/Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull (Standing for Women) went to the US as part of a transatlantic week of political action, Women Stand Up!

Posie Parker is the key figure here, though she does not define herself as a radical feminist or, indeed, any sort of feminist. She’s long been a controversial figure, but her effective and imaginative campaigning style has earned her many fans. I don’t intend to address the merits of any of the criticisms which have been levelled against her politics beyond pointing out the simple fact that she provides the most direct link between gender-critical feminism and the religious right, as the only British member of HATAC, a coalition between female Christian-right operatives and radical feminists,[22] and as special advisor to WoLF, a post she was awarded earlier this year.[23]

I suspect that many readers will recall the political rows and splits occasioned by the now-infamous Washington trip. WoLF state that between 26 January and 2 February 2019, they “collaborated with Posie Parker to organize Women Stand Up, a week of gender critical activism that included lobbying and spotlighting social media’s censorship of women.”[24] Members of HATAC also took part in the week’s actions.[25] Women Stand Up! involved pickets and discussions which were largely uncontroversial, with one striking exception: a panel at the Heritage Foundation.[26]

The British radical feminist Jean Hatchet pulled out of the US trip when she learnt about this panel.[27] After the publication of Jean’s blog, a couple of UK-based ReSisters groups, which had planned direct action, dropped out or changed their plans, as they wanted no association with the Heritage Foundation.

The panel discussion was advertised as part of Women Stand Up! on Posie Parker’s website. Entitled ‘The inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the left,’ it included WoLF member Julia Beck and board members Jennifer Chavez and Kara Dansky.[28]

Extensive links with the Christian right

At the time, many who defended this panel did so on the basis that it was a ‘one off’ brought on by exceptional circumstances, namely the failure of liberals and the left to allow any platform for the anguished testimony of a Democrat mother of a trans-identified child. (Her and other mothers’ words were read out by Jennifer Chavez.) But it wasn’t a one off; there had already been an earlier panel in February 2017 involving WoLF and HATAC, ‘Biology isn’t bigotry: Why sex matters in the age of gender identity.’[29]

In October 2019, WoLF and HATAC went on to take part in another event, co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation and FPA, a ‘Summit on protecting children from sexualization.’[30] This event also included representatives from other religious-right groups, namely the ADF and American College of Pediatricians (AcPeds—a group which arose as a protest against the American Academy of Pediatrics’ support for adoption by gay couples).

Over the past few years, WoLF has partnered extensively with CNP organizations. Here’s a less than exhaustive round-up:

  • In May 2019 Jennifer Chavez (WoLF board member) appeared with Tony Perkins (FRC) on Washington Watch to discuss how radical feminists and the FRC could work together to thwart the ‘dangers of the Equality Act.’[31]
  • In August 2019 Penny Nance (CWA) co-hosted a press conference with WoLF at an ADF-organized rally outside the Supreme Court. This rally was in support of a funeral home which had sacked a transgender employee.[32]
  • In December 2019 WoLF partnered with the FPA to oppose Drag Queen Story Time.[33]
  • In February 2021 there was a virtual rally against the Equality Act hosted by the FPA. This was attended by the Heritage Foundation, the FRC, CWA, March for Life, and the American Association of Pro-Life OB/GYNS. WoLF and Save Women’s Sports were the only non-religious-right participants.[34]

WoLF’s most consistent partner has been the ADF, a Christian-right legal powerhouse with over 3,300 allied attorneys which was founded in direct response to advances in gay rights.[35] In addition to taking a donation of £15,000 (as documented by Graham),[36] they have used ADF-affiliated lawyers and written Amicus Briefs in defence of ADF clients on several occasions. I don’t propose to analyse these cases. Suffice to say they’ve focused on a range of situations in which, it’s argued, gender identity is taking precedence over sex:

The legal blitz to a Christian America

There are now a record number of transgender-focused bills which are passing state legislatures; the majority of them model language provided by ADF and relate to sports and medicine. 2021 is also, not coincidentally, on track to be the most anti-abortion state legislative session in decades. This is part of Project Blitz, a legal offensive which involves a coalition of right-wing Christian nationalist groups designed to restore a ‘Christian America’ (that never was) by flooding state legislatures with Christianist, dominionist legislation.[42]

A sense of emergency, fostered by WoLF and their supporters, encourages feminists to lend support to Republican bills which claim to safeguard women and children. We are distressed to hear of gender-non-conforming girls embarking on irreversible medical treatments and young female athletes losing out on scholarships to university. Quite rightly, we don’t feel able to judge Selina Soule, Chelsea Mitchell, and Alanna Smith, young female athletes who gratefully accepted the mighty resources of the ADF in the absence of any offers of help from the trans-captured ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union).[43]

But a focus on their individual stories takes us away from the larger political question: the wisdom of feminists embarking on a political and legal strategy which indelibly links them to the priorities of an organization which seeks to roll back women’s rights and the civil rights of all LGB and GNC people, including those who identify as trans. How likely are women like the lesbian footballer Megan Rapinoe to re-consider their support for trans inclusivity, when the main organizations championing this cause also oppose equal pay for sportswomen?[44]

Given the profoundly partisan nature of contemporary American politics, what prospect is there of liberals or leftists looking favourably on legal cases brought by ADF lawyers who also try to use the 1st Amendment to enable religious-based discrimination against lesbians and gay men or women wanting access to contraception and abortion? The law is a blunt instrument, in any event, for addressing the deeply rooted, cultural shifts which have led to the ‘transing’ of children and moves towards the political erasure of sex.

4thWaveNow have argued that anti-gay politicians aren’t going to be the ones to change hearts and minds around paediatric transition and have consistently opposed legislation that would criminalize doctors offering transition services, not least because these people are following their own medical organizations’ flawed guidelines. Some detransitioned women have also strenuously argued against working with the ADF: “The ADF and their ilk use hatred and fear of women, gays and lesbians, and trans people to fund and fuel their aspirations towards dominance. When right-wing Christians move in to use detransitioned people as a tool to further their agenda, we must resist and name the harm being done to us—and to others in our name.”[45]

We also need to understand, whether we like it or not, that the Christian right’s opposition to trans ‘health care’ for minors is inextricably bound up with their opposition to young people’s, particularly girls’, reproductive rights.[46] There is no equivalent to Gillick competence in the US. Thirty-eight states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion.[47]

WoLF’s ‘one note’ activism leads them to oppose the Equality Act, which, if passed, would expand on the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in all areas of life, including employment, housing, and public services. At present, a patchwork of state anti-discrimination laws leaves many people at risk. Whilst acknowledging that the Act would benefit gay people, WoLF nonetheless asked their American supporters to write to their representatives in the House and ask them to “vote NO” on the Equality Act.[48] The Coalition for the Feminist Amendments to the Equality Act, on the other hand, offered an alternative strategy, one which recognized the necessity of expanded civil rights for both gay and trans-identified people whilst protecting the interests of women as a sex class.[49]

Women’s Human Rights Campaign

It isn’t only WoLF who are engaged in these partnerships. WHRC USA is also implicated. Their website state their aims: “The Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights was created by the founders of WHRC to lobby nations to maintain language protecting women and girls on the basis of sex rather than “gender” or “gender identity.”’[50] Although the only named authors of the Declaration are three British radical feminists, it has signatures from a variety of countries, and the WHRC campaign, whilst driven from the US and UK, has chapters around the world and hosts international webinars.

Until recently, WHRC appeared to be an autonomous feminist organization with no links to the same organizations as WoLF. Key WHRC activists, including Sheila Jeffreys, defended working with the right on a ‘strategic’ basis, but there was no reason to think WHRC were engaged in such relationships themselves.[51] In July, however, Katherine M. Acosta wrote a piece for WHRC USA’s website which disabused me of this illusion:

Already connected with a network of groups working to protect women’s sex-based rights, through her prior work with Hands Across the Aisle, [Kara] Dansky represented WHRC USA “in a national coalition to protect women’s sports, loosely referred to as the Title IX coalition.” The group included Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF), Save Women’s Sports, and “a handful of conservative organizations with whom we disagree on many topics.”[52]

We aren’t told which ‘conservative’ organizations, but can reasonably assume they are ones within the CNP stable, as with WoLF.

There are considerable overlaps between WoLF and WHRC, in terms of UK- and US-based activists who play the leading roles across both groups. This offers some explanation as to why they’ve ended up embracing the same strategy. Kara Dansky, former WoLF Board Chair and attorney, is now the Chair of WHRC’s Committee on Law and Legislation. WoLF and WHRC cooperate in a variety of ways: going back to its origins, WHRC was launched in New York in March 2019 at an event hosted by WoLF.[53]

I offer no criticism of the women who have added their names as signatories to the Declaration or who enjoy or contribute to WHRC webinars. I don’t want to make ‘guilt by association’ claims in the absence of concrete information that local chapters are either working with the far and religious right or support such political relationships in principle. Radical and left-wing feminists are looking for international allies in the fight against the political erasure of sex in often challenging circumstances. It’s WHRC US and UK who are implicated in this worrying direction of travel and it’s they who need to spell out precisely who they are working with, so that women can make an informed choice as to whether to support them or not.

Political consequences

British feminists are, by definition, at a distance from the political alignments of feminists in the US. But we can and do make choices which lend credibility to the Christian right.

We saw, quite starkly, the impact of a myopic focus on transgender politics at the time of the last US election, with high profile gender-critical ‘names’ endorsing Trump, as highlighted by Julie Bindel.[54] Posie Parker argued, “On the issues I care about, I would say that Trump is my man.”[55] In addition, she asserted that Biden would “put an end to all women’s rights,” a claim which provoked fierce arguments on social media.[56]

It’s easy to assume that an ‘anti-trans’ vote by disenchanted, former Democrat-voting women could scarcely have swung the election either way, but US elections are determined by a handful of states thanks to the vagaries of the Electoral College and closely drawn voting districts. Lending credibility to the current GOP platform was a high-risk strategy.

At this stage, ignorance of or willingness to overlook the dangerous views of theocratic fascists leads to an ongoing situation where the gender-critical and radical feminist ecosphere is, at times, populated with anti-trans articles from Republican and religious-right sources including the Federalist, the Daily Caller and LifeSiteNews. It’s argued that we can engage in selective reading without it corrupting our overall politics. I would be more reassured, on that score, if right-wing tropes weren’t now so noticeable in gender-critical discussions on social media. You have been luckier than me if you’ve failed to see any of the following: the downplaying of the far-right element of global anti-lockdown protests; false claims about BLM and Antifa being responsible for as much, or more, political violence as the white supremacist right; claims that sex education in schools is routinely promoting the sexualization of children; the slamming of ‘critical race theory’ as a scourge in American schools; the suggestion that Drag Queen Story time constitutes child ‘grooming’ and that the ultimate aim of the LGBT movement is the normalization of paedophilia. It’s not that there is no legitimate social critique to be made on any of these issues, but feeding false and exaggerated right-wing narratives is not a contribution to such a critique.

There has also been a significant and troubling slippage towards the kind of moralistic, puritan language that religious homophobes use to describe ‘sexual deviants’ and ‘perverts,’ which a minority of radical feminists, including in the UK, are adopting in relation to transwomen, who are exclusively characterized as being abusive, fetishistic autogynephiles.

While women and girls are certainly at risk from male sexual violence and harassment in public spaces, as feminists have always known, the vast majority of child sexual abuse is carried out within the family by males we know and within religious and educational settings, which have enjoyed considerable protection from scrutiny. It is important to be alive to the fact that the religious right is ideologically committed to preventing scrutiny of sexual abuse within the family and deflecting all attention onto minority groups, rather than addressing the wide-scale abuse of women and children they have always sanctioned. It worries me that the ascent of ‘one note’ GC feminism has coincided with a greatly narrowed focus on stranger danger. We know the history of PIE and NAMBLA. It is true that gender-self-ID policies and laws are susceptible to being abused by predatory males seeking readier access to women and children. But our capacity to identify and credibly resist this phenomenon is weakened when we start echoing moralistic-sounding religious-right talking points from people who consider that gay men and transwomen are likelier to be abusers of children than ‘family men.’

Sounding the alarm

It’s too easy to turn away from the US political situation on the basis that the religious right has no power in the UK. This is to ignore the fact the ADF International has an office in London and is very active in ‘religious freedom’ cases and anti-abortion campaigning over here.[57] It’s also to ignore the voices of radical, socialist feminists in the States who are angered by British feminists bolstering ruthless anti-feminists, whether wittingly or not. If we look at the far and religious right in an international context, rather than simply from the British vantage point, these connections matter: “28 US Christian right organizations have spent at least $280 million around the world since 2007. More of this money was spent in Europe than in any other region ($90 million).”[58]

How did we reach a point where radical feminists are working with people whose anti-women agenda has been so clear in the last four years, if not for their entire political history? Trump’s record on women’s rights speaks for itself.[59] We have seen that the Christian right’s opposition to civil rights for trans-identified people is inseparable from their hostility to equal rights for lesbians and gay men. We have seen this in relation to their attacks on lesbian and gay parenting.[60] We have seen it in their support for anti-gay discrimination in employment.[61] And we have also seen it in warning shots across the bow in relation to marriage equality.[62]

Whilst claiming to be friends to women on the basis of fighting for our ‘sex-based rights,’ the ADF are crafting and promoting the most draconian abortion laws: Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a pending US Supreme Court case, deals with the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law that banned abortion operations after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. It’s the first abortion case to be argued before the courts with all three of Trump’s conservative appointees and could overturn the precedent set by Roe v. Wade. A conservative majority was secured by the newest justice to join the bench, Amy Coney Barrett, who has documented ties to the ADF.[63]

On 1 September 2021, the Texas Heartbeat Act went into effect. A study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found this law would prohibit 80% of abortions in Texas and would disproportionately affect black women, lower-income women, and women who live far away from facilities that provide abortion care.[64] On 30 August 2021, WoLF posted positively about an ADF case which would allow doctors to refuse to offer gender transition procedures on religious grounds.[65] A few days later, WoLF posted a joint statement with WHRC US which opposed the Texas law. This political cognitive dissonance is baffling. The same ADF lawyers who are drafting anti-abortion bills are also responsible for bills which would prohibit doctors from offering transition-related services. Is it really possible to agree with them about ‘one’ issue without lending credibility to their larger politics and strengthening their overall hand?

I sympathize with women whose disappointment with the left makes them wary of criticizing American women who’ve made choices in circumstances which seem worse than our own. But a blinkered focus on the shortcomings of the left leads us to ignore the infinitely more dangerous politics of the US right.

It’s become impossible to criticize this dangerous rightward drift without being accused of trashing other women’s activism. Why can’t we let a thousand gender-critical flowers bloom? The problem here is that alliances with the Christian right are being continually used as a stick to beat all gender-critical feminists with, including women who’ve taken a consistent and principled stand against them. The mud has been raked very successfully. A radical feminist critique of the political erasure of sex has been linked, perhaps terminally in the US context, with religious homophobes and racists.

And what of the pragmatic argument? Have there been any demonstrable benefits from these acts of political compromise? Have the joint rallies, press conferences, shared platforms, appearances on Tucker Carlson’s show, and co-signed legal briefs achieved anything for women and girls? I’ll wait …

A partnership between hugely powerful Christian-right organizations and a feminist minnow inevitably swallows up the weaker party. WoLF and WHRC USA are reinforcing the advocacy of right-wing fundamentalists who are well able to advance their interests without the help of feminists. The only reason the latter engage in these relationships is to give their anti-LGBT advocacy a bipartisan gloss—one which they lacked during the fight against equal marriage—and to throw fuel onto existing divisions amongst feminists, liberals, and the left. They must be laughing as they watch us engulfed in the flames.

There was never a more accurate warning than this from Redress Alert: “This is no equal coalition between individual women from different walks of life. This is a power move by the religious right, co-opting the only visible feminist resistance in order to entirely neutralise any chance of its message gaining traction or appearing reasonable.”[66]

This article would not have been possible without the support, wisdom, and sisterhood of my American friends.

Jayne Egerton has been a socialist feminist since the early 80s. She is a radio producer for the BBC.

References

[1] Autumn Leva and others, ‘Stop the triple threat in Congress!’ Family Policy Alliance, 2021, www.familypolicyalliance.com/issues/tag/nancy-pelosi .

[2] Minnesota Family Council, ‘Understanding the Transgender Issue,’ 2019, www.genderresourceguide.com.

[3] ‘Home,’ 4thWaveNow, www.4thwavenow.com.

[4] Destroy Your Binder (@destroyyrbinder), Twitter, 22 April 2020, www.twitter.com/destroyyrbinder/status/1252772930804686855.

[5] genderwipesthefingerprints, ‘Sheep in WoLF’s clothing: Women’s Liberation Front and its Christian theocrat funders,’ Gender Is Poison blog, 30 April 2017, www.genderispoison.wordpress.com/2017/04/30/sheep-in-wolfs-clothing-womens-liberation-front-wolf-and-its-christian-theocrat-funders.

[6] Dave Boyer, ‘Donald Trump tells Evangelical leaders he’s delivering on promises,’ Washington Times, 27 August 2018,

www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/aug/27/donald-trump-tells-evangelical-leaders-hes-deliver.

[7] Anne Nelson, Shadow Network: Media, Money and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right (New York: Bloomsbury, 2019).

[8] James Aho, ‘Christian Dominionism and Violence,’ Oxford Research Encyclopedias, doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.732.

[9] Heidi Beirich and Mark Potok, ‘The Council for National Policy: Behind the curtain,’ 17 May 2016, Southern Poverty Law Center, www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/05/17/council-national-policy-behind-curtain.

[10] Jonathan Mahler, ‘How one conservative think tank is stocking Trump’s government,’ 20 June 2018, New York Times Magazine, www.nytimes.com/2018/06/20/magazine/trump-government-heritage-foundation-think-tank.html.

[11] WoLF, ‘FAQ: Why does WoLF work with conservatives?’ Women’s Liberation Front, 2 December 2020, www.womensliberationfront.org/news/faq-wolf-work-with-conservatives. This piece has now been removed from WoLF’s website.

[12] Sarah Posner, quoted in Rob Boston, ‘White Christian nationalists: Who are they? What do they want? Why should you care?’ Church & State Magazine, April 2021, www.au.org/church-state/april-2021-church-state-magazine/cover-story/white-christian-nationalists-who-are-they.

[13] Simon Clark, ‘How white supremacy returned to mainstream politics,’ Center for American Progress, 1 July 2020, www.americanprogress.org/issues/security/reports/2020/07/01/482414/white-supremacy-returned-mainstream-politics.

[14] Ruth Igielnik, Scott Keeter, and Hannah Hartig, ‘Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory,’ Pew Research Center, 30 June 2021, www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/06/30/behind-bidens-2020-victory/#voting-patterns-in-the-2020-election.

[15] Randall Balmer, ‘The real origins of the religious right,’ Politico, 27 May 2014, www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/05/religious-right-real-origins-107133.

[16] Peter Montgomery, ‘Values Voter Summit panelist: “Divide & conquer” to defeat “totalitarian” trans inclusion policies,’ Ring Wing Watch, 19 October 2017, www.rightwingwatch.org/post/values-voter-summit-panelist-divide-conquer-to-defeat-totalitarian-trans-inclusion-policies.

[17] O’Leary and Sprigg, ‘Understanding and Responding to the Transgender Movement,’ Family Research Council: Issue Analysis, 2015, https://downloads.frc.org/EF/EF15F45.pdf  .

[18] Timothy J. Dailey, ‘Homosexuality and Child Sexual Abuse,’ Family Research Council via The Lantern Project, www.lanternproject.org.uk/library/general/articles-and-information-about-sexual-abuse-and-its-impact/homosexuality-and-child-sexual-abuse.

[19] Miranda Blue, ‘Focus on The Family political arm seeks money to fight “ex-gay” therapy bans,’ Right Wing Watch, 9 August 2017, www.rightwingwatch.org/post/focus-on-the-family-political-arm-seeks-money-to-fight-ex-gay-therapy-bans.

[20] Will Jones, ‘Transgenderism’s denial of biology started with same-sex marriage,’ Christian Today, 29 December 2019, www.christiantoday.com/article/transgenderisms-denial-of-biology-started-with-same-sex-marriage/133902.htm.

[21] Jayne Egerton, ‘There’s more than one way to “erase” women: Women’s rights under attack in Victor Orban’s Hungary,’ Woman’s Place UK, 18 June 2020, www.womansplaceuk.org/2020/06/18/womens-rights-under-attack-hungary.

[22] ‘Mother interrogated by the police for gender-critical tweets,’ Hands Across the Aisle, 14 March 2018, www.handsacrosstheaislewomen.com/2018/03/14/mother-interrogated-by-the-police-for-gender-critical-tweets.

[23] WoLF, ‘Staff and board,’ Women’s Liberation Front, www.womensliberationfront.org/staff-and-board.

[24] WoLF, ‘Women Stand Up panel talk with WoLF (January 2019),’ YouTube, 28 March 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUeE85Bk2t0. For a round-up of that week, see WoLF, ‘WoLF’s week of action in DC: Link roundup,’ Women’s Liberation Front, 11 March 2019, www.womensliberationfront.org/news/wolfs-week-of-action-in-dc-link-roundup.

[25] ‘Who we are,’ Hands Across the Aisle, www.handsacrosstheaislewomen.com/home.

[26] Julia Taliesin, ‘Profile on the right: The Heritage Foundation,’ Political Research Associates, 22 June 2018, www.politicalresearch.org/2018/06/22/profile-right-heritage-foundation.

[27] Jean Hatchet, ‘Why I won’t be “standing for women,”’ Jean Hatchet blog, 25 January 2019, www.jeanhatchet.blogspot.com/2019/01/why-i-wont-be-standing-for-women.html.

[28] The Heritage Foundation, ‘The inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns from the left,’ YouTube, 29 January 2019, www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMj9MOuRswc.

[29] The Heritage Foundation, ‘Biology isn’t bigotry: Why sex matters in the age of gender identity,’ 16 February 2017, www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family/event/biology-isnt-bigotry-why-sex-matters-the-age-gender-identity.

[30] The Heritage Foundation, ‘Summit on protecting children from sexualization,’ 9 October 2019, www.heritage.org/marriage-and-family/event/summit-protecting-children-sexualization.

[31] Tony Perkins, Washington Watch With Tony Perkins, 13 May 2019, www.tonyperkins.com/get.cfm?i=LR19E09.

[32] Toni DeLancey, ‘Concerned Women for America partners with Women’s Liberation Front to stand up for women and girls,’ Concerned Women for America, 8 October 2019, www.concernedwomen.org/concerned-women-for-america-partners-with-womens-liberation-front-to-stand-up-for-women-and-girls .

[33] Family Policy Alliance, ‘Feminist leader partners with us to oppose “Drag Queen Story Hour,”’ 12 December 2019, www.familypolicyalliance.com/issues/2019/12/12/feminist-leader-partners-with-us-to-oppose-drag-queen-story-hour.

[34] Family Policy Alliance, ‘Equality Act exposed: Virtual rally,’ www.familypolicyalliance.com/equality-act-exposed/.

[35] Pro-Lies, ‘Alliance Defending Freedom,’ www.pro-lies.org/alliance-defending-freedom.

[36] ‘Sheep in WoLF’s Clothing.’

[37] Alliance Defending Freedom, ‘US Supreme Court won’t weigh in on whether schools can allow violation of students’ bodily privacy,’ 28 May 2019, www.adfmedia.org/case/doe-v-boyertown-area-school-district.

[38] Equality Case Files, 11th Cir. No. 18-13592 Docket, ‘Adams v. School Board of St. Johns Co.’ updated 15 October 2021, https://files.eqcf.org/cases/11th-cir-18-13592-docket; Alliance Defending Freedom, ‘Adams v. School Board of St. Johns County,’ updated 2 June 2020, https://adflegal.org/case/adams-v-school-board-st-johns-county; WoLF, ‘WoLF files Amicus Brief in Florida school case,’ Women’s Liberation Front, 27 December 2018, www.womensliberationfront.org/news/wolf-files-amicus-brief-in-florida-school-case.

[39] Sarah Kramer, ‘5 things you should know about the Harris Funeral Homes Supreme Court case,’ Alliance Defending Freedom, 16 August 2019, www.adflegal.org/blog/5-things-you-should-know-about-harris-funeral-homes-supreme-court-case.

[40] WoLF, ‘WoLF submits Amicus Brief in Idaho fairness in women’s sports case,’ Women’s Liberation Front, 20 November 2020, www.womensliberationfront.org/news/hecox-little-amicus-brief-filed.

[41] Jennifer C. Chavez, ‘Brief of Amicus Curiae Women’s Liberation Front in Support of Plaintiff-Appellant,’ re: 6th Cir. No. 20-3289, 3 June 2020, www.adflegal.org/sites/default/files/2020-06/Meriwether%20v.%20The%20Trustees%20of%20Shawnee%20State%20University%20-%20Amicus%20briefs%20filed%20with%206th%20Circuit%20-%20Women%27s%20Liberation%20Front.pdf.

[42] Frederick Clarkson, ‘Blitzing to Dominion,’ Political Research Associates, 11 April 2019, www.politicalresearch.org/2019/04/11/blitzing-to-dominion.

[43] Alliance Defending Freedom, ‘Track athletes taking a stand to defend women’s sports,’ www.adflegal.org/selina-soule-track-athlete-story .

[44] Rachel Greszler, ‘Why the pay gap between women’s and men’s soccer?’ The Heritage Foundation, 15 July 2019, www.heritage.org/jobs-and-labor/commentary/why-the-pay-gap-between-womens-and-mens-soccer.

[45] Detransitioned Women Resist the ADF, ‘Statement against the ADF,’ www.detransitionedwomenresistadf.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR3aOaqUHb4EuhJugs78ZEWcBHVwE6MG8EwPi3xyTGtwhw-GV5mVxLPEWRU.

[46] Center for Reproductive Rights, ‘Parental consent and notice for contraceptives threatens teen health and constitutional rights,’ 1 November 2006, www.reproductiverights.org/parental-consent-and-notice-for-contraceptives-threatens-teen-health-and-constitutional-rights.

[47] Guttmacher Institute, ‘Parental involvement in minors’ abortions,’ updated 1 October 2021, www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/parental-involvement-minors-abortions.

[48] WoLF, ‘House to vote on the Equality Act: Take action now!’ Women’s Liberation Front, 17 February 2021, www.womensliberationfront.org/news/housetovoteonequalityact.

[49] Feminists in Struggle (FIST), ‘Open letter from Feminists in Struggle to the Interim Steering Committee of the Women’s Human Rights Campaign USA: A call for unity among radical feminists in the fight to amend the Equality Act,’ 25 November 2020, www.feministstruggle.org/tag/cofa.

[50] Women’s Human Rights Campaign, ‘About us’ and ‘Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights: Full text,’ WHRC, http://www.womensdeclaration.com/en/about .

[51] WoLF, ‘Sheila Jeffreys, May 2 WHRC,’ Facebook post, 19 May 2020, www.fb.watch/8xsZhpD9Tc.

[52] Katherine M. Acosta, ‘Testify! WHRC USA women take it to the States,’ WHRC, 31 July 2021, www.womensdeclarationusa.com/testify-whrc-usa-sex-based-rights/.

[53] Women’s Liberation Radio News, ‘Launch of the Declaration on Women’s Sex Based Rights March 15, 2019 in NYC,’ YouTube, 5 June 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tBfT_b_bpI.

[54] Julie Bindel, ‘Feminism’s dangerous new allies,’ UnHerd, 12 October 2020, www.unherd.com/2020/10/feminisms-dangerous-new-allies .

[55] Kellie-Jay Keen, ‘Trump, Biden or avoid?’ YouTube, 30 September 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gg-lvEdgjC4 .

[56] Open Your Eyes (@LeftwingGc), Twitter, 6 October 2020, archived at www.twtext.com/article/1313258116088242178 .

[57] Sian Norris, ‘Anti-abortion protestors return to UK streets for Lent,’ Byline Times, 19 February 2021, www.bylinetimes.com/2021/02/19/anti-abortion-protestors-return-to-uk-streets-for-lent.

[58] Claire Provost, Lou Ferreira, and Claudia Torrisi, ‘Trump’s top lawyer in “crusade” against women’s and LGBT rights across Europe,’ OpenDemocracy, 27 October 2020, www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/trump-sekulow-war-womens-lgbt-rights-europe.

[59] Osub Ahmed, Shilpa Phadke, and Diana Boesch, ‘Women have paid the price for Trump’s regulatory agenda,’ Center for American Progress, 10 September 2020, www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/09/10/490241/women-paid-price-trumps-regulatory-agenda; International Women’s Health Coalition, ‘Trumping women’s rights: IWHC tracks he Trump administration’s attacks on sexual and reproductive rights worldwide,’ iwhc.org/trumping-womens-rights.

[60] Adam Liptak, ‘Supreme Court backs Catholic agency in case on gay rights and foster care,’ New York Times, 17 June 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/06/17/us/supreme-court-gay-rights-foster-care.html; Stefanie Wacker, ‘I’m adopting my own two children as I’m scared Trump could tear same-sex families apart,’ Independent, 2 November 2020, www.independent.co.uk/us/voices/donald-trump-adoption-same-sex-couples-lgbtqa-supreme-court-b1532745.html.

[61] Alejandro de la Garza, ‘Trump administration asks Supreme Court to legalize workplace discrimination against gay employees,’ TIME, 25 August 2019, www.time.com/5660956/trump-administration-anti-gay-brief-title-vii.

[62] Gino Spocchia, ‘Supreme court launches attack on gay marriage ahead of Amy Coney Barrett nomination,’ Independent, 6 October 2020, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-election/supreme-court-trump-gay-marriage-obergefell-b832053.html.

[63] Michelle Mark, ‘Amy Coney Barrett took speaking fees from a group that pushed Mississippi’s abortion ban. A constitutional law expert says that won’t stop her ruling on the case,’ Insider, 19 May 2021, www.insider.com/amy-coney-barrett-speaking-fees-group-behind-mississippi-abortion-ban-2021-5.

[64] Kari White and others, ‘TxPEP—Texas Senate Bill 8: Medical and Legal Implications,’ University of Texas at Austin, July 2021, https://sites.utexas.edu/txpep/files/2021/07/TxPEP-research-brief-senate-bill-8.pdf .

[65] Women’s Liberation Front (@womensliberationfront), Facebook post, 30 August 2021, www.facebook.com/womensliberationfront/posts/4309066202521205 .

[66] Redress Alert, ‘Time to unite and fight the right, not collude and be co-opted,’ Tumblr post, 13 March 2017, https://redressalert.tumblr.com/post/158356795130/time-to-unite-and-fight-the-right-not-collude-and

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