Political Notebook: SF GOP event to 'detangle' trans youth issues

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 3, 2023
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SF Republican Party Chairman John Dennis. Photo: Courtesy campaign site
SF Republican Party Chairman John Dennis. Photo: Courtesy campaign site

With transgender issues a flashpoint in the country's political discourse, as statehouses rollback rights for trans people, especially youth, and courts take up myriad trans-focused lawsuits, the San Francisco Republican Party is taking a more active role in the debate. It is particularly focused on matters relating to transgender youth.

In March, the local party urged its members to call into a legislative hearing in Sacramento to oppose Assembly Bill 957, dubbed the TGI (Transgender, Gender-Diverse, and Intersex) Youth Empowerment Act. Authored by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson (D-Suisun City), who has an adult trans son, the legislation would allow courts to consider a parent's affirmation of their child's gender identity when making decisions about visitation and custody.

Co-authored by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill also would require courts to strongly consider that affirming a child's gender identity is in the best interest of the child when one parent does not consent to a minor's legal name change to conform with the minor's gender identity. It passed out of the Assembly and is now before the Senate.

"This bill gives preference in custody battles to the parent who is willing to TRANSITION the child. Another horrible bill by Scott Weiner," the local party had declared in its email, misspelling the legislator's last name.

Now San Francisco Republicans are hosting an event next week promoted as a "Parental Rights Night" aimed at "detangling the transgender narrative surrounding our children."

"We feel like there is something happening now that has increased the number of trans kids, especially in the teenage years, and needs to be addressed. It feels to many there is an ideology associated with it and that's what we are exploring," John Dennis, chairman of the local party, told the Bay Area Reporter.

An emailed invite for the dinner event, the exact North Beach location of which is only being disclosed to ticket buyers, said attendees will hear from "a detransitioner" but does not identify the individual by name. Dennis said both are being withheld due to safety concerns.

Also scheduled to speak is Brie Hanni, the San Mateo County chair for the group Moms for Liberty and Moms for America. The first group's chapters have been challenging the inclusion of LGBTQ book titles in library collections across the country, and its leaders bristle at being accused of banning books.

Among the latter group's core tenets, per its website, is honoring parental rights, which it defines as "the right and responsibility of parents to rear and cultivate their children educationally, socially, vocationally and in all matters of faith."

Another speaker expected at the event is Pamela Garfield-Jaeger, a social worker who appeared in the 2022 film "Dysconnected: The Real Story Behind the Transgender Explosion" billed as helping to "make sense of" and "provide a way out" of what it terms "the transgender phenomenon." Garfield-Jaeger also sits on the advisory board of the group MOM Army, which asks parents if they are fed up with "the over-sexualization, grooming, and indoctrination is poisoning their young minds and robbing them of their innocence."

The main speaker for the event is Erin Friday, a member of the group Our Duty, which describes her on its website as a San Francisco attorney and mother of a formerly trans-identified child. While the group says it takes no issue with a child who is gender non-conforming, it does have problems when "such a child starts believing that they are not of their sex."

The local party claims the event is the "first of its kind" it has hosted. In addition to highlighting various bills passed or under consideration by state lawmakers, the event is geared toward helping parents "advocate for your child," per the emailed invite.

"The evenings' program will address gender instruction in the classroom and the transgender agenda in our culture. We hope to spread awareness of this vital issue affecting children and young adults in San Francisco, around the state and across the country," states the email.

San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Honey Mahogany, who is transgender and nonbinary, told the B.A.R. she isn't surprised to see the local Republican Party focus on culture war issues. It is emulating what the national party has been doing, said Mahogany, in trying to turn people's focus away from how to solve important issues impacting youth like gun violence, school hunger, access to broadband internet, clean drinking water, homelessness, and mental health.

"This doesn't come as any surprise to me. I understand that not all Republicans are alike, but unfortunately it does seem like the Republican Party has chosen instead of finding solutions to many of our nation's problems. ... San Francisco Republicans are turning to instigating culture wars as a way of distracting attention away from the important work that needs to be done," said Mahogany.

Jason Clark, a gay man who is president of the San Francisco chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, an affinity group for LGBTQ members of the party and their allies, told the B.A.R. he wasn't sure if he would attend the local party's event. He did speak with the organizers, who had reached out to him regarding it and the program.

"Parental choice is important," argued Clark, whose mother is a schoolteacher. "In general, we believe parents have a right to know about what is going on in their kids' lives and at their schools."

B.A.R. Transmissions columnist Gwen Smith questioned how the event would help parents advocate for their child.

"It fascinates me that the debate over parental rights is never about the parents of transgender youth, and is never about their needs to assist a trans child. For those who seek to help us, the assumption is criminal. I fail to see this group assisting with actual parental freedom, but only regurgitated anti-trans, anti LGBTQ, right-wing talking points," said Smith, a trans woman who has long been an LGBTQ advocate.

Dennis said he couldn't recall the last time the local GOP had hosted an event focused squarely on an LGBTQ topic. With several members of the committee that oversees the San Francisco Republican Party parents of high school students, there was a consensus for addressing what is "obviously a sensitive topic," explained Dennis.

"Sometimes you have a feeling among a lot of people on the committee and outside the committee that transgenderism is becoming something of a mania in high school age kids. It is a concern, it is a fear," said Dennis. "Maybe it is unfounded, but we felt we should have a discussion about this and about some of the experiences some of the parents have had."

Asked about using a term now seen as being derogatory toward trans people, Dennis replied, "We are just trying to get through life here" and noted that the "cultural lexicon changes every day."

As for the lack of any trans speakers at the event, Dennis told the B.A.R. that the viewpoints and positions of trans advocates are frequently heard and easy to find in San Francisco. But the voices of those on the other side of the discussion are "rarely heard," he said, which is why the local committee decided to invite them to speak.

"We want to have a reasonable conversation for parents who have concerns," said Dennis.

Locally, the Republican Party has supported transgender adults who choose to transition, noted Clark. Four years ago GOP voters in the city elected Erin Smith, a transgender woman, to serve on the local oversight committee for the party, which had endorsed her candidacy in the primary that March for Wiener's Senate seat.

But, when it comes to trans youth transitioning, Clark argued there are legitimate concerns about children doing so before turning 18.

"The question about children transitioning is still scientifically and medically under examination. There are also concerns about some of what is going on at schools," said Clark. "As someone who is gay, I am concerned some kids who might identify as gay are being pushed to identify as transgender instead. For kids who may have body or gender dysphoria issues, they are being pushed to be trans instead of being pushed to have mental health services or mental therapy help first."

Mahogany refuted such assertions, adding that the recent push by Republican lawmakers to deny gender-affirming health care to trans youth will have dire consequences for children already disproportionally at risk for being ostracized by their parents, ending up homeless, and attempting or dying by suicide.

"At the end of the day every single reputable medical association and the medical establishment — every single one of them — understands that access to gender-affirming care leads to better outcomes for the vast majority of transgender people and the vast majority of trans children," said Mahogany, a former social worker who is now the district director for Assemblymember Matt Haney (D-San Francisco).

As studies by the Family Acceptance Project based at SF State have showed, noted Mahogany, LGBTQ children supported by their families have better health outcomes and are less likely to attempt suicide.

"So what Republicans are doing rolling back these laws and spewing harmful and really hateful rhetoric around what it means to be trans is going to lead to children killing themselves," said Mahogany, adding that trans Montana legislator Zooey Zephyr was correct in saying her colleagues who voted to ban gender-affirming care for youth would have "blood" on their hands. "We have to be very clear about that. They are killing trans children, queer children through their efforts."

As for why the San Francisco Republican Party has been getting more involved in LGBTQ legislative matters, Dennis explained it derives from growing concerns about bills focused on youth issues that get passed with little scrutiny.

"We noticed Scott Wiener has put through a number of bills that have passed with little or no pushback around sensitive areas that involved minors. That is a new thing," said Dennis. "We want to make sure we have a conversation about this and are doing it in the right way and that the Republican voice is a part of the conversation."

Expanding Log Cabin chapter

It comes as Clark, who returned to San Francisco in July 2021 after working for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office during the Trump administration, attempts to increase membership in the local Log Cabin chapter, which has roughly 50 active members. He took over as its president last year and was reelected to another term in January.

He wants the local chapter to get more involved in the community, similar to its LGBTQ Democratic counterparts. Clark has also been inviting newsmakers to be guest speakers to the chapter's meetings as draws for more people to attend, with freshman Congressmember Kevin Kiley (D-Rocklin) scheduled to address it May 24 and retired California Supreme Court chief justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye set to speak on July 26.

Asked how having national GOP leaders lead an assault on LGBTQ rights impacts his community outreach plans, particularly at upcoming Pride events, Clark didn't see it as being a hindrance.

"All politics is local but national politics also figures into it. Sometimes it works in our favor; sometimes it works against. I don't think it is necessarily an anchor," said Clark, who now works for a local law firm. "A lot of people don't like what is going on in the schools right now. I think it might benefit local Republican candidates."

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on Vallejo leaders' latest move to regulate tobacco sales in their city.

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Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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