Anti-trans activists known as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, spent 2019 complaining that media have “censored” and “silenced” them, but in reality, they were granted a large platform dozens of times throughout the year in right-wing media.
TERFs have historically opposed trans-inclusive measures and refused to accept the identities of trans folks. They identify as liberal or feminist, sometimes referring to themselves as “gender-critical” or “radical feminists,” and generally do not associate themselves with the term TERFs.
TERFs cry media censorship
TERFs have asserted that media outlets refuse to feature them and and their transphobia. For example, on Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight, Kara Dansky complained that they are “generally subjected to a media blackout” and that “many of us cannot get a voice on this issue in most media.” Dansky is a board member of the TERF organization Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF).
WoLF member Julia Beck had previously mirrored this sentiment on the same program, saying, “Women have been speaking out about this for decades, but we have been effectively silenced. Many women, like myself, have been pushed out of spaces that we built, spaces that are intended to include us, simply because we acknowledge biological reality.” Beck was removed from Baltimore’s LGBTQ Commission in 2018 after other members became aware of her anti-trans positions.
TERFs have similarly claimed to be unfairly silenced and banned from social media platforms for their anti-trans rhetoric, and right-wing media often propagate these narratives. For example, Meghan Murphy, who founded the TERF blog Feminist Current, is suing Twitter after she was banned from the platform for intentionally misgendering trans people. Deadnaming is the act of calling a transgender person by the name given to them at birth which they no longer use or identify with, and it is a violation of Twitter’s hateful conduct policy.
Right-wing media widely covered Murphy’s lawsuit after she posted a YouTube video about the ban, with pieces in Quillette, The Federalist, National Review, The Daily Wire, Townhall, Spectator, LifeSiteNews, the Washington Examiner, and The Daily Caller.
Fox News gives TERFs a large cable platform to espouse anti-trans rhetoric
Fox News is a safe space for TERFs and elevates their anti-trans rhetoric to a large audience. In 2019, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson hosted TERFs at least four times to discuss trans people. He even offered Dansky an open invitation to his program, saying, “Boy, you’re always welcome on this show.”
Some notable appearances by TERFs on Carlson’s program in 2019 include the following:
Beck appeared on February 12 and pushed the thoroughly debunked myth that trans-inclusive policies will allow “predatory men … to gain access to women's single-sex spaces” and threaten the safety of women.
On May 17, Carlson hosted WoLF board member Natasha Chart and Penny Dance of Concerned Women for America. During the segment, Chart said, “The sky is blue. Human beings can't change sex. Having the law demand a belief in something that’s not true creates a lot of problems, too many to list, really.” Both guests railed against the Equality Act, which their organizations have worked together to oppose. The measure would add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of characteristics protected by existing federal nondiscrimination rules.
On December 4, Carlson hosted Murphy, who said, “Nobody in the general population, you know, globally thinks that it's possible to change sex.”
In 2019, Fox News also hosted Meg Kilgannon of Hands Across the Aisle Coalition, which is a self-described coalition of “radical feminists, lesbians, Christians and conservatives that are tabling our ideological differences to stand in solidarity against gender identity legislation.”
Right-wing digital media also feature TERFs when covering trans issues
In addition to being featured on Fox News, TERFs are often published by and featured in right-wing outlets, which misleadingly characterize them as “concerned women” or “concerned feminists” in order to push a false narrative that there is a major divide among progressives over trans rights.
Here are several headlines from right-wing websites highlighting TERF viewpoints or written by TERFs:
TERFs are aligned with influential and extreme anti-LGBTQ groups
Anti-LGBTQ groups have also boosted TERFs as they teamed up to oppose trans rights across several areas, including in the courts, on policy, and on public opinion.
WoLF, for example, has forged relationships with extreme anti-LGBTQ groups Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and the Family Policy Alliance (FPA). WoLF published an anti-trans resource guide alongside FPA and filed a brief in support of ADF’s ongoing Supreme Court case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which an employer fired a trans woman after she came out.
Additionally, the Heritage Foundation has given TERFs -- such as Beck, Chart, Dansky, and WoLF board member Jennifer Chavez -- significant platforms at several anti-trans events in 2019, in which they have promoted conversion therapy for trans youth and echoed language calling trans kids “mentally ill.” Heritage is a well-funded and extremely influential conservative organization that has made a significant impact on Trump-Pence administration policy, in part because its former staff have gained influential positions there.
TERFs’ work with influential anti-LGBTQ groups and media is evidence of their increased visibility and reach. Fueled by a shared penchant for dehumanizing trans folks and baselessly claiming censorship, the partnership between right-wing media and TERFs elevates anti-trans rhetoric to an even larger national audience and sets a tone for coverage of issues relating to the trans community due to a general dearth of such coverage in credible outlets.