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Josh Hawley’s viral transphobic comments, briefly explained

Hawley invoked transphobia during an abortion rights hearing in an apparent attempt to rile up the GOP base.

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A Senate hearing on the future of abortion rights took place. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) made headlines on Tuesday for becoming the most recent Republican legislator to incite the party’s base by using anti-trans rhetoric while avoiding dealing with the fallout from nationwide abortion restrictions.

Khiara Bridges, a law professor at UC Berkeley, was one of the witnesses that Hawley questioned over why she kept referring to as “those with a capability for pregnancy” while outlining who would be impacted by abortion bans and restrictions. Hawley questioned if that would be women.

Bridges clarified that she was using this phrase to include all people that these laws will effect. According to Bridges, “many cis women have the capacity for pregnancy, but many cis women do not have the capacity for pregnancy.” The same goes for non-binary people and trans guys, who are both capable of getting pregnant.

Hawley retorted, “So this isn’t really a women’s rights problem, it’s a — “

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“We can acknowledge the effects on women while simultaneously acknowledging the effects on other groups. Those things are not incompatible, according to Bridges. Hawley continued by inquiring as to what she perceived the “heart of this right” to be. At that point, Bridges pointed out that his comments were limited in terms of who the discussion of abortion rights should be focused on.

Bridges stated, “I want to realize that your method of questioning is transphobic, and it exposes trans people to violence,” and then he cited statistics showing how frequently trans individuals try suicide. Hawley questioned whether his comments would incite violence, which prompted Bridges to point out that he was negating the existence of trans people.

Bridges asked, “Do you think that guys can get pregnant?”

Hawley responded, “No, I don’t think males can get pregnant.

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Bridges remarked, “So you’re denying that trans people even exist.”

And that results in violence?” asked Hawley.

Bridges’ worries are in line with the rise in physical violence that has accompanied MPs’ political attacks on trans people, including denials of their existence and the use of legislation to restrict their freedom of movement, access to activities, and access to health care. An increase in legislation that targets trans persons has reportedly been accompanied by a spike in anti-trans violence, according to a 2021 Time report. According to a UCLA study from 2021, trans persons—particularly Black and Brown trans people—were much more likely than cis people to become victims of violent crime.

The entire conversation can be seen here.

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Bridges to Hawley: I want to acknowledge the transphobia in your line of inquiry.

twitter.com/rCeVaB3XJY Acyn (@Acyn), July 12, 2022

Republicans are once again using transphobia in their discussion of issues on which they have taken a position that is not representative of the position of most Americans, as evidenced by Hawley’s questions, which neglected to acknowledge the extent to which the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe has an impact on the lives of many people. Most Americans support abortion rights, as several polls have revealed, but Hawley was able to avoid addressing this reality by focusing on the terminology and instead on a subject that has been successful in energizing the Republican base.

This past spring, during the nomination process for Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who the majority of Americans thought would be a fine fit for the Court, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) employed a similar strategy. Blackburn questioned Jackson to clarify what a “woman” was following other dishonest assaults that brought up concerns related to the culture war.

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It’s a deliberate move on their part to direct their ire towards inclusive language. By leaving out affected people, it enables Republicans to mislead and downplay the effects of policies like abortion restrictions. Engaging in transphobia also appeals to some Republicans in the base. Additionally, it diverts attention away from the actual point, which in Hawley’s case is that he and his party seek to restrict access to abortion services despite this being a widely held belief.

“Transphobia is not an ideology — it is a sound-bite wedge issue being used by opportunistic politicians, fear-mongering to their right-wing base,” wrote Julie Allen, a fellow of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative, for WBUR.

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