This year will go down in history for the number of anti-trans bills introduced into state legislatures and the successful passage of many of those bills. Over 300 banning books, medical treatment, even access to the bathroom were introduced this year. As this is happening, the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, allowing states to ban abortion, which many are rushing to do. And as extremists crank up the volume on hate, trans people, especially trans women of color are facing an onslaught of violence. What connects all of this? Imara Jones, the creator of TransLash Media, a cross-platform, personal journalism and narrative project, is tracing the dark money and right-wing figures behind what she calls “the anti-trans hate machine.”

—Laura Flanders

Laura Flanders: You talk about the anti-trans hate machine being a plot against equality. Can you lay that out for us? And can you name some names? Who is really responsible?

Imara Jones: For a long time, people on the right have understood that control over bodies is central to their ability to implement the country that they want us all to live in. And therefore, the people that exercise body autonomy are central to their plans. The organizations that are driving this anti-trans hate machine are very familiar names: Organizations like the Heritage Foundation, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Focus on the Family, and the Family Research Council. They all came together to start a new anti-trans initiative called Promise to America’s Children. And all of this is being funded by a network of billionaires, whose names include Betsy DeVos and her family, the DeVos/Prince clan. They include other families like, the Wilkes of California, lots of billionaire families that people may not have heard about. And one of the largest foundations in the country, which is the National Christian Foundation, which gives out a billion and a half dollars nearly each year to causes, making them the single largest funder of anti-LGBTQ hate in the country. And all of their views and what they’re doing have been poll-tested and focus-grouped. And so this is the result of a lot of effort, and there’s an entire part of the Heritage Foundation called the DeVos Center, named after Betsy DeVos’s father-in-law, who was a font and has been a font of anti-trans legislation. And the people who ran that were moved into the Trump administration, which was really the beginning of institutionalizing and then thinking about how to turn the government against trans people. So we have money, we have nonprofit organizations, we have government and institutional capture, we have focus groups and the ability to be able to think about messaging, and all of those things have been brought together to bring us to this moment. It’s a very intricate, well-thought-out, overlapping enterprise.

LF: Do you see links to the insurrection of January 6th?

IJ: One of the fastest growing areas of hate that people are not focused on but which is of ever-growing concern is white nationalist groups’ growing obsession with gender and gender identity. They see it as central to the white nationalist enterprise—again, rooted in body autonomy. And there are already some intersections between the Proud Boys, for example, and those who are focused on trans people and gender identity, and even more links as you delve deeper into the dark corners of the Internet. This is a growing problem, and I have an unfortunate feeling in my gut that we will, at some point, see this turn violent. We know, for example, in the most recent shooting in Texas, that within hours of the shooter being identified, their photograph was doctored to make them appear as if they were a person who was trans—therefore linking to the obsession on the right with trans people somehow being involved in harming children. And that lie was repeated the next day after that shooting by a GOP congressman. And those photographs first appeared on 4Chan, which we know was instrumental to the Buffalo shooter’s radicalization and the plans that they executed. There are clearly darker clouds on the horizon with these links between people who are obsessed with the violent overthrow of our government to implement white nationalist ideology and their focus on trans people and trans communities.

LF: I hate to do it so bluntly, but what grade would you give our movement resistance so far? And I don’t just mean the LGBTQ+ movement, but all those who claim to be defenders of democracy and supporters of rights in this country.

IJ: An F. It’s not even a question. The failure to grasp these links, the failure to understand the components of what is happening on the right, the failure to understand the energy, the focus, the money, the coordination, the drive. And as I tell people all the time, if you’re just now beginning to focus on the intersection of trans people and growing far-right ideology and its impact on the rest of us, then you are already 10 years and hundreds of millions of dollars behind the right. So it’s an F.

LF: You were an economist originally by training. You worked as an economist in the Clinton White House. What’s the connection?

IJ: What we have to understand about the anti-trans movement is that it is funded by billionaires. It is funded by people who have more money than you could spend in thousands of years at a normal rate. If a collection of them are coming together to fund this, then it makes sense that we’ve gone from, for example, basically a half dozen anti-trans bills in 2019 to 300 this year. That’s how you get that type of increase—because of the impact of money in organization. And trans organizations across the board are vastly underfunded. And more to the point, other places that are a part of supposedly progressive networks and communities are also vastly outgunned and not focused on trans issues. A lot of places, for example, don’t have trans people on staff, so can’t even make basic decisions. So I think that there are some fundamental weaknesses in the infrastructure, money being a key one that is driving kind of this moment. And until the structural things get fixed and addressed, then the momentum is going to be with the right.

LF: What can you tell us about trans resistance at this point?

IJ: I think that that goes to the heart of what the hope here is. Part of what we can do is to find the local people that are fighting this. So for example, TENT in Texas is a very small group. I think there are four full-time people for a trans organization that’s helping to stem the tide statewide that needs help and that’s replicated across the board. So there are trans organizations fighting back. There are mutual aid societies that are figuring out ways to get medication and support for trans people who need gender-affirming care and, in places where that’s becoming harder, helping those people travel to places where they can get that care. There is a growing understanding of trans legal organizations to begin to lean more into this battle. I also want to say that a part of the hope are trans youth. Sometimes the only thing that’s standing between our community and total disaster are trans youth and their families who decide that they’re going to speak up and speak out. And I’m talking about people who are as young as 12, 13, 14, 17, who get together with their families and go to hearings and decide that they’re going to speak out, or they decide to organize rallies. And it’s their voices that in some cases have been able to halt this legislation. The seeds of hope are there. They need to be watered, and they need to be helped.

LF: How do you advise people that feel exasperated, frustrated, or just plain old depressed in this moment?

IJ: We live in a consumer transactional culture where if things don’t happen immediately or in a short period of time, it’s somehow seen as a failure or we get frustrated or we get distracted. The right understands that these fights are long, that there are going to be some victories and losses, but the most important thing is to keep going and to learn from their mistakes. And so I think that there has to be an attitude adjustment in part amongst people who are concerned about social justice, about how to approach these and how long it’s going to take and to think about sustainability.

LF: I want to encourage everyone to check out TransLash. There’s more on that media platform than we’ve even been able to touch on here, but I urge you to check it all out. And Imara, I’m just going to end by asking you, what do you think will be the story the future tells of this moment?

IJ: First off, this is the moment that people begin to understand that if they want a society in which everyone can thrive, including trans people, that there has to be a growing engagement and focus on trans rights. Secondly, I hope that all of the ideation that trans people are now focused on in terms of thinking about our futures and thinking about a world that works for everyone, that all of that energy, envisioning, and work comes into full realization. If those two things are able to be fully realized, then it’s going to be a bright future for everyone.