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 alleged member of a Nazi-collaborating political order in Hungary who served as an advisor to former President Donald Trump, kicked off proceedings Friday morning from the main stage inside the Gaylord Convention Center. Democrats, he warned the crowd, are “mutilating boys and girls” and “sacrificing them on the altar of their transgender insanity.”
A short time later, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) — a featured speaker at a white supremacist conference last year, where her fellow speakers praised Adolf Hitler and cheered on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — took to the stage to make a big announcement.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 3, 2023.
“So last Congress, I did something radical and extreme because remember Marjorie Taylor Greene, ‘she’s so extreme,’” she joked. “I introduced a bill called the Protect Children’s Innocence Act. And let me tell you my great news this morning, ladies and gentlemen: It couldn’t pass last Congress because Nancy Pelosi was the speaker of the House. She doesn’t believe in gender at all, but we have a new speaker in our Republican majority… and I’m going to be re-introducing my bill… that will make it a felony to perform anything to do with gender!”
The crowd roared. Greene’s cruel piece of legislation — based on a multitude of lies — would prohibit transgender Americans under 18 years old from receiving crucial health services that have long been endorsed by the American Medical Association, 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 essentially 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.
Michael Knowles tells CPAC that "there can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. ... Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely." https://t.co/57hJF4frgqpic.twitter.com/szvnC1qWrP
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) March 4, 2023
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.”
Donald Ruthing, 74, attends the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland on March 3, 2023.
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.”