Selective outrage on transgender ban reveals liberal hypocrisy

Xinyu Li/Senior Staff

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President Trump’s transgender ban, reinstating a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military, is another example of Trump’s headline-grabbing self-absorption, demonstrating how electing a capricious demagogue with a base rife with transphobia can cause trans service members around the globe to suffer.

Though disappointing, this directive is hardly surprising Donald Trump’s ideological deference to his rabid base of “America is for white cis males” meme enthusiasts and hatemongers knows no lower bound.

A little more disappointing perhaps are the calculated moves by white liberalism that seem inauthentic. Nonprofits, advocacy groups and liberals continue to ring hollow when it comes to their support for trans-inclusion within liberal spaces; a flashback to the vapid vagina obsession of the Women’s March only reaffirms such duplicitous self promotion.

What have these groups done to seek justice for the growing list of transwomen of color murdered in 2017? Where is the fundraising and legal fighting? Where is the liberal indignation for these individuals?

The proclamations of victory, of justice, equity and human rights for trans women of color are either absent, unimportant, or mere signifiers of liberal allyship and are glamorized to sell white and rainbow-washed narratives about LGBTQ+ civil rights.

Giant, well-established nonprofits, with revenue streams that match those of corporations, utilize selective liberal indignation over the military transgender ban to fan the flames of social media outrage that only bolster the nonprofit industrial complex.

Splattered across the Human Rights Campaign’s home page are victorious proclamations of legal maneuvering, of tireless vigilance against hate from the White House. As the social media savvy nonprofits tweet out their progress against the ban, the calls for outrage and condemnation are channeled into a frenzy of acquisition: of social and political capital, of organizing networks, of online and news attention, and of fundraising.

The established linkages between the state and governments, the vast network of well connected nonprofits and advocacy groups, wealthy and powerful donors and social justice organizations all comprise the nonprofit industrial complex, with its influence permeating throughout liberal spaces, particularly deeply ingrained within Berkeley and the university.

For activists, allies and advocates who cast themselves as progressive and left-wing, their mindlessly reactionary outrage satiates a marketable and trendy social obligation, narrow in its scope, and stifles the momentum of their activism.

That’s not to say that anger and outrage are inappropriate responses to the transgender ban or to say that allyship in the face of clear attacks on the transgender community is not welcome. However, passive participation is not merely devoid of engagement, it’s uniquely unproductive.

Reinforcement of the nonprofit industrial complex shields and incorporates neoliberalism and capitalism, forcing subversive challenges to capitalism underground. It allows monitoring and control of social justice movements, and diverts community and public funding into private channels. It allows corporations to hide behind their rainbow themed products and trendy viral marketing campaigns while failing to provide adequate LGBTQIA+ healthcare for their employees.

Finally, it allows and celebrates the reinforcement of American militarism, a mandatory deference to a geo-political machine of neo-colonialism and violence. On suits filed by various LGBTQ+ nonprofits such as the American Civil Liberties Union, OutServe and Lambda Legal, attorneys questioned the validity of arguments that transgender service members disrupt military readiness, inexplicably tying questions of human rights, justice and ultimately trans liberation to how effectively trans individuals can help the United States achieve its international policy initiatives and its goal of global hegemony.

Rather than donating to the already full coffers of the ACLU or HRC, neither of which have stellar track records of transgender advocacy, UC Berkeley students, allies and queer folks alike, should center the lived experiences of transgender individuals, particularly transwomen of color first and foremost.

To ignore these lived experiences and instead to look at the monolithic expanse of liberal nonprofits for avenues of progress, movement building and organizing is to merely reinforce, not resist, the same power structures that allow for the normalization of Donald Trump and queerphobia.

Jae Jung is a queer student at UC Berkeley and a former columnist for the Daily Cal.

A previous version of this op-ed incorrectly stated the author is a staff member of The Daily Californian. In fact, the piece was special to the Daily Cal.