On January 31, 2023, candidate and former President Donald Trump released a chilling video on the far-right video sharing platform Rumble, detailing what he called his plan to stop the “chemical, physical, and emotional mutilation of our youth.” Trump’s anti-trans screed came just days after a meeting with the creators of the online hate account Libs of TikTok, echoing their bigoted rhetoric, and could mark the start of a race to the bottom for the 2024 Republican primary. This raises the stakes for responsible media coverage of attacks on a vulnerable community throughout the next Presidential campaign.
Trump’s speech contained a number of policy proposals that would guarantee that trans minors have little recourse available for gender dysphoria, and appears aimed at creating a chilling effect where hospitals providing gender affirming care or teachers supporting struggling trans students might fear an investigation from a Trump Department of Justice — or the loss of federal funding.
The former president proposed a potentially significant expansion of federal control of teachers in the form of a “new credentialing body” which “will promote positive education about the nuclear family” and “the roles of mothers and fathers.” He also promised an end to Biden administration policies, and the policies of several states, that allow people to select an “X” gender marker on identification documents, saying that he would “ask Congress to pass a bill establishing that the only genders recognized by the United States government are male and female, and they are assigned at birth,” an unprecedented step in rejecting the existence of trans people that historian Jules Gil-Peterson refers to as the state “trying to become cisgender.”
Trump’s series of proposals came just days after a meeting with Chaya Raichik and Seth Dillon, the far-right figures behind the Libs of TikTok cyberbullying account, which focused heavily on attacking teachers and children’s hospitals throughout 2022. Raichik, who appears to have close ties with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another potential 2024 candidate, has been on a recent tour of fringe media, including an appearance with Slightly Offensive host Elijah Schaffer where she said that she hoped to win “transphobe of the year” in 2023. Although anti-trans panic largely failed to resonate with voters in the 2022 midterms, Trump’s comments suggest that it will nonetheless play a key role in the 2024 Republican primary.
Anti-trans policies are not new for Trump, whose first administration threatened to “[define] transgender out of existence” by using Title IX to define sex as binary, fixed at birth, and defined by genitals. In just the first six months of his term, his administration rescinded Obama-era guidance to protect trans students from discrimination in schools, banned trans people from the military, and advanced an interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would allow people to be fired for being gay. During his 2016 campaign, mainstream journalists were quick to brand Trump as pro-LGBTQ, as outlined by former Media Matters editor Parker Molloy. The New York Times called him “more accepting.” NBC News correspondent Hallie Jackson said he was “one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican presidents. A Meet the Press chyron called him “more accepting on ‘bathroom laws’.”
Former President George W. Bush said it best: “fool me once — shame on, shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”