Request for Comment: Defining Transphobic Hate Groups

by Mallory Moore

Sun Jan 30, 2022 · 1508 words · 8 min

Over the 15 months since we published our first piece here it has become apparent that one of the really significant challenges around communicating about threats to the Trans community is the huge degree of confusion in the press and the public conversation about the nature of the organisations campaigning to make trans life harder in the UK. Many of these organisations were formed directly for this purpose, and while they regularly present themselves as championing the interests of some other group, our research has shown that they characteristically have little interest in the human rights issues they claim to be about.1

There is and a clear pattern emerging2 and re-emerging3 of ties to Far Right spaces4 and disinformation driven outrage5 widely recognised for its ties to violent hate movements6, as well as a long running tendency to attack women's and gynae healthcare related organisations7. However, the UK Press continues to describe them as "Feminists" or "LGB campaign groups".

We have been documenting for well over a year the influence these groups have in terms of seeding conspiracy theories in the public narrative which end up reaching the political stage8,9.

It would be easy to interpret the growing claims that "you just call anything you disagree with transphobic" as a lack of interest by public bodies in addressing the reality that rising and widespread hostility to trans people does have plenty of evidence.10,11,12

However, we set up Trans Safety Network, because we are believers that the vast majority of people do not accept or support this sort of behaviour. Most people, fully informed, are not comfortable with hate movements, or organised harm targetting minority groups, whether they're trans or not. We believe that documenting the workings of hate groups and putting that information in the hands of those who need it in a simple and accessible way will help impede the activities of groups who (very clearly, our research shows) rely extensively on deliberate misinformation campaigns, obscuring their aims behind dubious human rights campaigns as fronts for targetting other minorities, and so on.

What seems to be the problem is that many members of the public, and many public bodies are not, at this point, able to consistently recognise these common forms of hate activity, and are highly prone to attempting to balance the voices of hate groups13 with the voices of those the groups are trying to attack. Hate groups take this opportunity gladly, and use it to spread further misinformation and muddy the waters. The lack of comprehension of organised anti-trans hostility, and the difficulty for those who are not deeply embedded in this issue, either suffering it directly or spending a great deal of work on researching it, is resulting in a growing toxicity in the public conversation.

We feel though that given enough attention, the evidence does very much show what hate groups targetting the trans community are up to, and that they do not deserve to be given the benefit of the doubt to abuse it again and again. We see that a great deal of the time, these groups rely on taking information out of its context and trusting that noone will read the original, and so on.

One solution to this is to try to reduce the difficulty to assessing the nature of a given group. What we lack at this point is an easy to read, repeatable framework for communicating evidence that organisations targetting the trans community hold a position that is beyond the pale of what any reasonable person would support. A recent example would be the BBC publishing (in the interests of "balance") a report written by a group that, in the report linked by the BBC itself, claims "All transsexuals rape women". One of the women interviewed for that BBC article shortly after said she if it was up to her she would "execute every last one of them", referring to trans women.

The gap between how sympathetically public bodies perceive anti-trans groups and what would be tolerated by the average person paying taxes and license fees to them is cast in an astonishingly stark light by the clear evidence of what's happening.

However, we have a plan to fix this. In order to solve this comprehension gap we are opening a public consultation to create a common definition of a hate group, and a tool for assessing and classifying the threat level indicated by a given hate group to the trans community.

You can find the issue tracker where we are hosting the conversation for this here.

The purpose of the definition is that we will have a clear evidence-based bar which we can use when we are talking about these groups. Consequently, when people are considering "does this claim that group X is a hate group hold up?", reference to this definition will help make evaluating the claim as simple as possible, based on the evidenceable behaviours and activities of the group, rather than subjective feelings about the views or psychology of the group's members.

The purpose of having a classification and evaluation tool, is that this will hopefully allow researchers (including ourselves at Trans Safety Network, but also others attempting to document anti-trans hostility) to assess anti-trans groups in a manner that facilitates comparative research, triage of the risks posed by particular groups and efforts to respond to them.

We have made this process of development open to the public in general because we understand the usefulness of such a tool goes far beyond our own potential interests in the topic, and we actively hope to be able to benefit from the insights of other researchers and community groups engaging with anti-trans hostility.

The first stage of this Request For Comment process is focused on setting acceptance criteria for the definition & tool. During this time (until February 28th, inclusive) we will be taking on board feedback about use cases people have for it so as to ensure we are able to maximise compatibility with wider community needs. After that we will release a candidate draft definition and classification schema for anti-trans organisations for further comment.

This definition and tool is planned to be released under the Creative Commons Zero license - in effect released into public domain as a public standard, and we will undertake ongoing maintenance after release so as to update it as necessary. Obviously as a small volunteer research group, we understand that the standard itself will only have as much credibility as is invested in it by the wider community. We have no power to assert or enforce any standard outputted from this process (nor any desire to) and hope instead that the usefulness of adopting and participating in such a joint public-interest project is self-evident.

At the end of the day, we need a clear way to communicate about hostility and then prove it to third parties in a way that is evidence-led - to create more light than heat in this area.