On MSNBC, Imara Jones outlines the Christian nationalist playbook behind anti-trans legislation

Jones: “It is much more than just talking points. It is a vast network of resources, people, and expertise, to make it look local when it is actually a national funded campaign by millionaires”

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Citation From the May 14, 2023, edition of MSNBC's Velshi

ALI VELSHI (HOST) All right, to discuss the conservative campaign against transgender rights, I am joined by Imara Jones, the founder of Translash Media, the Chair of the Transgender Law Center. She's won five Emmy awards, a Peabody award, yesterday she won a GLAAD award for her podcast, Translash, because Imara knows a lot about this, so thank you for being with us my friend. You have been writing about this for years, and I think I want to understand this and frame this a little differently. This is the flavor du jour of right-wingers in this country who need something to cause people to feel morally panicked about, to get to the polls, to activate, to go vote about. When you go out there and you see the school board meetings and these city council meetings where parents out there complaining about trans kids, this is not something not naturally occurring. Most of these parents did not have any encounters with trans kids, don't have any clue as to what is going on here. These are talking points provided by right wing organizations. 

IMARA JONES (FOUNDER & CEO, TRANSLASH MEDIA): Well, I wish it was just talking points. I think we have to understand that there is actually a vast network of people who are deputized by these national organizations, and sent money, expertise, resources, as well as talking points. So, if it were just them sort of faxing talking points to willing bigots, then that would be one thing. But I think we have to understand that, for example, the Alliance Defending Freedom has something called an ambassadors program where they are essentially looking for individual representatives in school districts across the country to start trouble around trans issues and then sending them the resources to be able to take those to scale. And that’s one of the ways in which Payton O'Connor, who is among, if not the first, trans person on a school board in this country in Asheville, North Carolina, was run off the school board through one of these programs. And others, like the Family Research Council, which has nearly 40 individual state policy councils across the country that are also behind this push. So it is much more than just talking points. It is a vast network of resources, people, and expertise, to make it look local when it is actually a national funded campaign by millionaires. 

VELSHI: Why? Because, tell me how this compares to making abortion into a central animating factor, when it wasn't. In The Early 70s, abortion was not a central matter to either churches or conservatives, but it was turned into one. It became a rallying point. Anti-gay legislation was also not central to people's lives, getting care that much about it. Then it became central to conservative talking points. Why has this happened now? Is this because it is the next available thing to get people worked up about? 

JONES: I think they believe that it works. I think that if you look at it from Christian Nationalist perspective, and that’s what we have to believe and understand, they are not putting hundreds of millions of dollars behind this effort because it is not working or they don't believe that there is a benefit to it. They understand two things: one, that as abortion wanes is an issue, it is really apt — I'm not surprised that you would be apt to start there — because as abortion wanes as an issue, they understand that they have to give that entire abortion network something to do. And since it is something, it's a network that is already concerned about gender, and gender identity, and gender roles, transitioning — ironically — into trans issues is an easy way for them to do that. So it keeps that machine, and that political energy for a large group of people. The other thing that it does is that they understand that there is a lot of soft transphobia in this country. 


JONES: And that there are a lot of people who are supposedly progressive or liberal, who generally say that they are supportive, but when it comes to kids are squishy. 


JONES: And they understand that. And so they believe that those two things together will help them eke out really close elections, and they look at the election of Ron DeSantis and Abbott in Texas and say, you know what, if we center this issue, we can win big. 

VELSHI: You were commenting the other day on the implementation of a transgender bill of rights at the federal level. Would that make a big difference? 

JONES: I think so, because here is the thing. We will always be in debate about the mechanics of rights in America, because that’s the way that it was set up, sadly. But I think one of the things that is in question right now is the essential human rights and dignity of trans people. And I think the most important thing about the Trans Bill of Rights, about an Equality Act, is that it would affirm trans people as human beings and worthy of human dignity in the United States. And right now, that is in no way affirmed anywhere, and it is one of the vulnerabilities that we have, that people are exploiting, to try to win political office and implement this Christian Nationalist fascism. 

VELSHI: Imara, thanks as always, for your great analysis. Imara Jones is the founder and CEO of Translash Media, Translash Podcast, and the Chair of the Transgender Law Center.