The old adage “history repeats itself” all too often seems true. A case in point—in Berlin during the early part of the 20th century there was a vibrant explosion of progressive gay and trans visibility and art movements galore. This beautiful flowering of expression and identity was brutally repressed in 1933 with the rise of the Nazi Party.
Their first salvo after Adolph Hitler’s election as chancellor of Germany was to attack and burn down the Institute of Sexology. Lucy Diavolo wrote in Teen Vogue that it was “one of the first medical facilities in the world that could provide gender affirmation surgeries for trans people who wanted them” and was the world’s foremost research space for studies of human sexuality. Over 20,000 books were burned and subsequently, countless LGBTQ+ people were sent to their deaths in concentration camps alongside Jewish people, disabled people and many others.
This excerpt from Clayton J. Whisnant’s Queer Identities and Politics in Germany: A History, 1880-1945 explains the vitriol: “Berlin’s gay scene was attracting such notoriety that it frequently was mentioned in tourist literature, lifting up the city’s gay scene as proof of the evils of urban life and the dangers of modernity; in them, Berlin became the country’s Sodom and Gomorrah put together, a sure sign of the land’s degeneracy.”
Perhaps this sounds familiar?
This past March, the Florida Legislature and Republican Governor Ron DeSantis passed the now famous Florida Parental Rights in Education Act—also known as “Don’t Say Gay”—which prohibits school teachers from discussing gender identity or sexual orientation with students from kindergarten through third grade. Its supporters defend it by positing that talking about sexual orientation should be up to parents, not school teachers.
David Klepper of Associated Press wrote in August that “references to pedophiles and ‘grooming’ rose by more than 400 percent in the month after Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ measure was approved.”
The law unquestionably promotes a hateful message toward LGBTQ+ people. This idea of LGBTQ+ people being “groomers” is a repackaging of the same Nazi ideology that fueled those attacks in the 1930s–40s.
Perhaps you’ve heard this trope: there is a secret cabal that rules the world. They kidnap children to slaughter and eat. They gain power from their blood which they use to control positions of power within government, the banking industry, international finance, the news media and even churches. They are the ones who have promoted defunding and abolishing the police. They promote homosexuality and pedophilia and they seek to destroy the white race.
This is the platform that animates the cult Q Anon, and as I wrote a while ago in a piece about the rise of antisemitism in the United States, this is a rebranding of that same old fabricated document, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. It purports to be the meeting minutes of a Jewish cabal attempting to seize control of the entire world. From this sprang accusations of blood libel—that Jews sacrificed Christian children. It was foundational to the lies that Hitler spread to commit the horrific Shoah—what we call the Holocaust—the genocidal slaughter of over six million Jewish people along with countless LGBTQ+ people, Romani and disabled people, among others who were deemed “inferior.”
Sadly, antisemitism has only increased in severity and visibility since I wrote that article. Part and parcel of that has been the linking of LGBTQ+ identities—and particularly trans people—to the degradation and woes of our current society.
Reactionary hate-fueled politics are all that the Republican Party seems to have left to animate their base after the failure of their midterm “red wave.” Nikki Ramirez of Rolling Stone reports that “multiple bills have been submitted to the Texas state Senate that would make providing or consenting to gender-affirming care for a minor a form of child abuse under Texas’s Family Code.”
Right-wing pundits are claiming that the transgender community are predators intent on sexualizing, corrupting and harming children to increase their numbers and control. Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan campaign to secure full nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people nationwide, tracked more than 155 anti-LGBTQ+ bills submitted in 2022 and over 30 states that have submitted legislation that restricts the rights and medical freedoms of transgender individuals.
This has had fatal consequences. The Human Rights Campaign reports that “2022 has already seen at least 32 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say ‘at least’ because too often these stories go unreported—or misreported. In previous years, the majority of these people were Black and Latinx transgender women.”
According to the Trevor Project in their 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health, “1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide and LGBTQ youth of color reported higher rates than their white peers” and “LGBTQ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not.”
There is literal blood on the hands of bigots like Greg Abbot, Ron DeSantis and their supporters. We are living in a climate of violence and hostility towards transgender people and their supporters that has been engineered by these politicians and their backers.
We have the data on our side. Countless studies show that gender-affirming care significantly improves outcomes and the quality of life for transgender youth. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a non-profit physician and academic-led organization devoted to transgender health, “hold that supportive care with work alongside a mental health professional is recommended for young children exploring their gender identity.”
The reactionary playbook has not even changed, it’s just hatred with a rebrand. They fear the decline of their stranglehold upon society. White supremacy is being challenged and their reaction is to attack “wokeness” and brand an accurate recounting of our colonizer history as Critical Race Theory. The old tropes about pedophilic blood libel have been reanimated and deployed against the same targets as before—Jewish people, LGBTQ+ communities, progressives, socialists, etc.
We are fighting the same battles over 100 years later. Pointing this out is not enough. It is absolutely crucial that all of us—regardless of our own personal sexual and gender identities—stand up as accomplices and allies in these culture wars. Transgender and nonbinary people remind us of the limitlessness of expression and the beautiful possibilities that await us in expanding our consciousness. We stand at the liminal precipice of a world that is nurturing and accepting of all people. We must not allow the reactionary transgressions of fearful bigots to drag us back into the horrific atrocities of our past. This history must not repeat and we must be the ones to break the cycle.
Illustration by Kelsey Zuberbuehler