Astroturfing: “the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization… to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants. It is a practice intended to give the statements or organizations credibility by withholding information about the source’s financial connection.” (Wikipedia)
The astroturf nature of the trans trend is discussed in the 2018 article Inauthentic selves: the modern LGBTQ+ movement is run by philanthropic astroturf and based on junk science – a tremendously useful if rather freewheeling piece, written by “Sue Donym”. Transgender organisations in the USA, the author says, operate not as grassroots bodies but top-down, funded and guided by major corporations and billionaires, usually connected to Big Pharma. Gender ideology thereby exerts a massive influence on academia and the health system, and on social media, all based on phony science. The effect of all this is to reinforce sex stereotypes, commit growing numbers of children to drug dependency, physical mutilation and sterilization, and drain the life from gay and lesbian communities.
Inauthentic selves is over 23,000 words. The current article attempts to summarise some of its main points, finishing with a slightly different take on some issues.
Philanthropy and trans
“The primary funders of the transgender movement,” the author tells us, “are large philanthropic foundations.” Often such donors are not disclosed on tax returns or annual reports. Also “a lot of money comes through the Tides Foundation,” a conduit for big donors’ contributions which “effectively anonymizes those donations.” Nevertheless a picture emerges. “Almost every philanthropist I investigated,” the author says, “had financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry”.
One key player is the Arcus Foundation. Its founder and president is Jon Stryker, an “heir to Stryker Corp, the medical supplies company…. His fingerprints are all over organizations… which advocate for the same pro-trans policies in unison.” Another major force is The Open Society Foundations (OSF), “the largest philanthropic organization in the world. Chaired and funded by hedge fund maestro George Soros…. Open Society Foundations are supposedly decentralized and the boards running operations are autonomous. This ignores the fact that all activities carried out by the OSF are funded by one man.” The OSF is prominent, the author says, in pushing “for gender markers on legal documentation” and “self-identification laws”.
A third contributor is “Jennifer Pritzker, (formerly Col. James Pritzker),” a trans lesbian. “Heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, Pritzker funds both transgender and far-right causes through their Tawani Foundation” and also “donated hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, to the Republican Party and its candidates in 2016.” Pritzker gave millions in start-up funding “to the Gender And Sex Development Program, a transgender youth clinic in Chicago launched in 2013,” and also helps to fund the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), GLAAD, and “other large LGBTQI+ organizations.” (This reflects divisions within the Republican Party over transgender. One Reuters correspondent has described bathroom legislation as “a wedge issue for Republicans, pitting the party’s pro-business branch against social conservatives”.)
Another billionaire Republican donor that funds trans causes is Paul Singer, “notorious for buying up Argentine debt and taking the country to court for a debt judgment” who also unsurprisingly “opposes raising taxes on the 1%”. And yet another billionaire donor is Daniel Loeb who “runs one of the largest hedge funds on Wall Street: Elliot Management.”
The largesse from these sources funds astroturfing. Astroturfing sometimes involves “the use of Twitter bots… on internet comment sections,” as well as “paid commenters who repeat the same message ad nauseam… posting under hundreds of different identities”, whose work is gradually concealed as the messages are then picked up and promulgated by real ordinary people. Mainly, however, transgender astroturfing takes place “through grants to existing non-profit organizations, or through creating new ones that look grassroots” but which “strangle any form of actual grassroots organization with ease.”
Inauthentic selves spells out the links between these funders and organisations officially or effectively focused on transgender issues. It indicates that they are not grassroots bodies topped up with token grants by companies after good PR, but creatures of the corporate world. They include:
- Global Action For Trans Equality (GATE), funded by The Open Society Foundation and The Arcus Foundation.
- GLAAD, formerly the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation but which now “seems to have forgotten the ‘gay and lesbian’ part” and which “has been criticized for lacking members born and socialized as female.” Its funders “include the Tawani Foundation, Arcus, and a collection of Silicon Valley companies, such as Google, Salesforce, and Comcast.”
- The National LGBTQ Task Force, which has received donations in the hundreds of thousands from the Arcus Foundation, the Ford Foundation, major anonymous donors, the pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences and “a gaggle of banks, cable channels or providers as well as Hilton Hotels.”
- The National Center For Transgender Equality (NCTE), “started with the aid of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force” and which received millions in corporate contributions and grants
- the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) which again receives “generous support” from corporate partners; a major one, the author tells us, is “Pfizer, which makes the estrogen drug Premarin”.
Such astroturf organisations “often train their own organizers: one such example on the left is the Equality Federation, which trains center-left LGBTQI+ ‘thought leaders’. It features six figure donations from the Gill Foundation and the Tides Foundation, among others. It is a name plucked out of a very large hat — there are dozens of other ‘Institutes’ and ‘Fellowships’ that train professional activists in professional Kool-Aid drinking across the political spectrum.”
Some of what do they do
The NCTE’s National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS) “is forming the basis of transgender policy around the world.” It has been cited as authoritative by “the Human Rights Campaign, the Transgender Law Center, the National LGBTQ Task Force, a litany of other lobby groups and the Democratic Party.” Yet its sample “was built on self-selection…. the survey could have been taken over and over again by the same person…. It was also meant to provide US-based statistics, but had no restrictions on of which country the survey could be taken from… Supposedly NCTE cleaned the dataset, but I am not sure how you can clean a survey with such flaws.”
Another body, Freedom For All Americans “donated hundreds of thousands of dollars towards the bathroom fight in Anchorage [Alaska]… one of the catch-cries of the trans movement is that they are the most ignored and the most marginalized group in America,” yet they were “capable of outspending the Christian Right on an 8–1 basis” in that campaign. Freedom For All Americans is “run by Masen Davis, who used to be the Executive Director for the Transgender Law Center (an organization that is also funded by large philanthropic groups and corporates.)” It “lists some of its most prominent donors as Paul Singer, Tim Gill and Daniel Loeb,” mentioned above.
Funding dedicated to trans causes dwarfs that dedicated to LGB causes, and general LGBT funding goes mainly to trans issues.
The National Centre for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) was “one of the biggest receivers of philanthropic funding in 2016.” It “scarcely mentions lesbians on its home page… but has three different sections for transgender legal cases”. It did however focus on lesbians when it organized a boycott of the Michigan Womyn’s Festival, intended for people with female anatomy (although not excluding transwomen). “After criticism from a range of lesbian sources, it backed down. But Michfest bowed to the pressure, and unable to continue, now no longer exists.”
Meanwhile The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has been renamed the National LGBTQ Task Force, “criticized for ignoring lesbian issues by lesbian commentators, including conferences with only few or no lesbian events — like the NCLR.” The schedule of the Task Force’s 2018 Creating Change conference offered “a total of four events for lesbian women… but twenty on the topic of ‘sexual freedom’” and “nine sessions for ‘Transgender Justice’ alone”.
The NCTE’s co-founder, transwoman Mara Keisling, led “a coalition of ‘400 LGBT rights organizations’, called ‘United ENDA’, which prominent transgender activist Dana Beyer, interviewed in the Washington Blade, credited with making sure ‘there have been with few exceptions […] no instances of any gay activism or legislation that did not include trans people.’”
Naturalising sex stereotypes
The author cites a definition of gender offered on the website of the trans-focused Human Rights Campaign: “Gender refers to the traditional or stereotypical roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society consider appropriate for men and women.” But as the author observes, gender ideology “presents gender stereotypes and gender as an innate thing”, corrected where necessary by medicalization or simply legal sex change. “If stereotypes are what the transgender movement is about, this is only going to harm women and gay and lesbian and bisexual people… who have the most to lose by gender stereotypes being encoded in the law.”
The impact on the health industry: pushing dangerous drugs
This ideology has implications for children. Sue Donym discusses three doctors – Diane Ehrensaft, Stephen Rosenthal, and Johanna Olson – who “have all had a financial relationship with AbbVie, maker of Androgel and Lupron, amongst other hormone replacement therapies and GnRH agonists. All three have gone on to promote the off-label use of AbbVie products to treat transgenderism.”
The author quotes this passage from Ehrensaft’s paper Gender nonconforming youth: current perspectives: “When it comes to knowing a child’s gender, it is not for us to tell, but for the children to say. In contrast to the watchful waiting model, once information is gathered to assess a child’s gender status, action is taken to allow that child to exercise that gender.” This is despite Ehrensaft’s admission that “at this point in history a child who begins puberty blockers at Tanner Stage 2 [ie the first stage of actual puberty, FL] and proceeds directly to cross-sex hormones will be rendered infertile”. The author also quotes from an interview with Psychology Art in which “Ehrensaft advocates taking away children if the parents believe in the concept of biological sex”.
Stephen Rosenthal has stated, in an Endocrine Today interview, that hormone-affecting GNRH agents “have been used for many years and have been found to be very effective and specific for blocking puberty in a completely reversible manner.” Sue Donym responds: “This is contradicted by the fact that GnRH agents are currently the subject of multiple investigations for causing irreversible bone health problems, something Rosenthal does not acknowledge in this interview, but does in his research.”
The work of such doctors dovetails, of course, with the purposes of the drug companies. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) “began its life being marketed as a cure-all, for the ills of menopause to the fountain of youth… Its most common use over the 20th century was to treat menopause.” In 2002 it was discovered that “HRT in women led to raised rates of strokes and breast cancer among other deleterious side effects. Lawsuits, particularly against the pharmaceutical company Wyeth (purchased by Pfizer in 2009), quickly followed, and the number of prescriptions of one of Wyeth’s most profitable medications dropped 66%… It later emerged that Wyeth and other drug companies marketing HRT had known about the risks but had deliberately concealed them to continue selling profitable drugs.” But now, of course, gender ideology has come to Big Pharma’s rescue.
The impact on academia: medical ghostwriting
All this is promoted through medical ghostwriting, which is, essentially, “a pharmaceutical company producing a peer-reviewed article promoting use of a drug it makes, often for off-label uses.” This is done “by hiring a commercial medical writing company to produce papers that can then be published in academic journals. An academic is attributed authorship, even though they have not written the paper. The paper contains conclusions that support the pharmaceutical company’s marketing desires for a particular drug.” (Sue Donym cites the case of the drug Prempro and the Wyeth corporation. See also article in Plos Medicine and news item in Nature.) “While medical ghostwriting is clearly unethical, it’s not illegal. Because academic publications aren’t considered promotional, it does not fall afoul of off-label marketing laws…. The New York Times estimated in 2009 that 5–11% of medical articles are ghostwritten, though this ultimately depends on the drug. With one drug (sertraline), between 18% and 44% of articles on the subject were funded and ghostwritten by Pfizer.”
Sue Donym has done us an immense service through this research. And it certainly aligns with many of the themes of Freer Lives, particularly in terms of the top down nature of the trans trend. I do however have three differences – perhaps just matters of emphasis – with the author.
Firstly, it’s important to see that gender ideology (my term, not one she uses) is not being pushed just by Big Pharma, but by the capitalist class as a whole, not for short term profits but to help it address a particular challenge posed by changing economic and social conditions. Women’s mass participation in the workforce has increasingly led them to see through old tropes that men are superior and very different to them. But the capitalist class needs women to keep seeing themselves as inferior and as natural nurturers so that they are willing to keep bearing the huge burden of unpaid work in the home, raising and maintaining today’s tomorrow’s and yesterday’s wage slaves free of charge for the bosses – a crucial underpinning to modern capitalism. Gender ideology answers this need: it is a cool updated sexism that bolsters tame liberal feminism and despicably affirms the naturalness of women’s submissive femininity.
This why we can see a trend toward simple, drug-free self-identification of adult trans people: this simple self-ID may not suit profit-greedy Big Pharma but works just as well as drug-dependency for the ruling class overall, because it sends out exactly the same sexist message about females’ natural femininity. It’s true that the power of Big Pharma, and a self-interested medical lobby, may partly explain why drugs are still pushed on children and teens, but even here it may not be the only factor at work. I suspect that the push for drug dependency is also driven by an awareness that kids, being truly “fluid”, might otherwise abandon trans identities before very long.
This leads to my second concern. The author heavily stresses the fact that kids who rebel against stereotypes would often grow up to be lesbians and gay men if not tracked into trans identities. But other rebels, as I think she would agree, are simply tomboy girls and “girlish” boys who go on to become heterosexual. And tomboys are the tip of the iceberg since all girls must to some extent resist confinement to femininity. This matters, because is vital to oppose the notion that resistance to sex stereotypes is a minority concern. That is one of the main police-work messages of gender ideology, which acts to prevent generalization of resistance to the female population at large. Girls are not only being taught that their femininity is natural, but also that rebellion against stereotypes means taking a drastic leap, joining the small minority of those other people over there – cool perhaps but very different – at a time when most kids are desperate to fit in.
The bosses’ use of gender ideology to attack working women as a whole is the ultimate driver of individual childhood transitioning, a sine qua non and essential backdrop. Lesbophobia and homophobia may drive transitioning at the family level, for people who have moved on from traditional biology-is-destiny prejudices yet remain anti-gay, but these people are working within a context they didn’t create.
Thirdly, left and liberal support for gender ideology, while disastrously wrong, is more than Kool Aid-drinking. These people are not passive dupes. They see that trans people get ostracized and sometimes attacked by bigots for adopting the cultural conventions of the opposite sex. They see that the gay-hating anti-abortion right also hates trans people, and that many right wing commentators attack some of the demands of the trans lobby. The social conservatives are not entirely a spent force, as we currently see in the US Supreme Court; true, the capitalist class has largely abandoned them, but under crisis conditions the bosses could swing back to them as part of an all-out assault on workers, women, LGB and ethnic minority scapegoats.
The very valuable material in Sue Donym’s piece should be used to aid our main task: winning the left and workers’ movement away from gender ideology.
(See also the article’s comments section.)