London Pride, like Pride celebrations all over the world, is supposed to be about the LGBTQ community coming together to celebrate the ability to be themselves and to openly proclaim who they love. But this weekend the message ended up hijacked by a small group of self-proclaimed lesbian “feminists” who jumped out in front of the parade displaying anti-transgender banners and posters and handing out fliers with transphobic propaganda.
They were booed by the crowd. But because they were in front of the official start of the parade, police did nothing and the group was allowed to walk the entire route. Afterward, London Pride condemned them and their message, saying: “The protest group showed a level of bigotry, ignorance and hate that is unacceptable. We reject what this group stands for. They do not share our values, which are about inclusion and respect and support for the most marginalised parts of our community.”
The people responsible come from a movement whose members sometimes call themselves gender critical feminists, or radical feminists. Most people know them as trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or TERFs, a name they originally created for themselves but now reject.
The problem with having the word “feminist” in any of these descriptors is that these individuals and groups are not feminist by any normal definition. Even if you leave aside their positions on transgender people and look at their positions on women’s issues in general, they are extremely retrograde. And while TERFs might have started out as a tiny group of fading second-wave feminists who never quite got over the fact that women can be both heterosexual and feminist, the movement is now essentially a bought-and-paid-for tool of ultra-conservative religious groups in the U.S. opposed to everything that feminism normally stands for.
TERF thought leaders who are widely accepted as representatives of their movement have taken horrifying positions on issues such as rape and bodily autonomy. Germaine Greer, author of The Female Eunuch, was recently brought on a much-publicized panel debate on TV in the U.K. as an opponent of transgender rights. She has also made chilling statements about rape.
Greer has said that rape isn’t that bad, describing it as “something that leaves no sign, no injury, nothing.” In the same interview, she said the penalty for rape should be reduced to “200 hours of community service.” Greer pooh-poohed the Me Too movement, saying, “If you spread your legs because he said ‘Be nice to me and I’ll give you a job in a movie,’ then I’m afraid that’s tantamount to consent, and it’s too late now to start whingeing about that.”
Similarly, Venice Allan, aka @DrRadFem on Twitter, has railed against abortion and birth control being available to women, proclaiming, “Ah… a man arrives to tell us that the only decent feminism we should campaign about is to make careless sex easier for him.” Allan was previously part of the Labour Party’s Women’s Network. After confronting a trans woman at an event by the organization, she was unrepentant for her actions, and subsequently posted anti-transgender memes. As a result, her membership in the Labour Party was suspended.
This sentiment that birth control is just a way of enabling consequence-free sex echoes the position of U.S. conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who popularized the term “feminazi” to describe feminists. In 2012 Limbaugh infamously took the position that women who use birth control are “sluts.”
If it seems like these individuals are drawing from the right-wing playbook and its messaging, it is because they are. There is in fact a very good reason why the anti-transgender messaging in the pamphlets being handed out by the protesters at London Pride was virtually indistinguishable from the anti-transgender messaging in right-wing publications like The Federalist.
There is a deliberate strategy to co-opt or displace mainstream feminists in order to divide, conquer and destroy the LGBTQ community. Meg Kilgannon described it at the Family Research Council’s Values Voters summit in 2017:
For all of its recent success, the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.
Her solution: Wrap transphobic rhetoric in the language of secular feminism, claiming that gender identity is a concept offensive to women.
This isn’t an idle threat. There is ample evidence that it is being put into action. The Heritage Foundation hosted a panel last year consisting of a mix of “old-school” TERFs and new, religiously motivated ones (such as Kaley Triller Haver) who downplayed the role of religion in their hostility toward trans people.