How current anti-trans legislation and rhetoric align with the stages of genocide

The capital building coated in trans flag colors.

Aubrey Cruson

The Capital Building coated in trans flag colors.

As of 2023, a record breaking number of anti-transgender bills have been introduced in the U.S. in just four months. A total of 492 bills were suggested in this small span of time, and 32 were passed (Trans Legislation Tracker). These bills, as well as transgender deaths and specific hate rhetoric being spread across the nation, can be tied to several of the ten stages of genocide. 

The ten stages of genocide (as classified by Genocide Watch) are as follows…

  1. Classification 
  2. Symbolization
  3. Discrimination
  4. Dehumanization
  5. Organization 
  6. Polarization
  7. Preparation
  8. Persecution
  9. Extermination
  10. Denial 

Genocide is an incredibly controversial topic and is often debated about depending on which the context it is being discussed in. As of the last few years, more anti-trans legislation has been introduced than ever before in U.S. history (Washington Post) and there have been multiple transgender deaths since 2023 began (HRC). When comparing the 10 stages of genocide and trans issues in the nation certain parallels can be seen.  

As of the last few years,
more anti-trans legislation
has been introduced
than ever before
in U.S. history…

(Washington Post)

The first stage, classification, is defined by distinguishing people through categories like race, religion, or ethnicity, some well known examples being Jewish vs German or Hutu vs Tutsi (Genocide Watch). This version of comparison is meant to create an “us vs them” belief (Genocide watch). Similarly, there is a disconnect between transgender and cisgender people.  

Stage two: symbolization, is explained as using names or symbols to categorize people, they can be labeled by a physical attribute, how they dress, or a forced symbol such as the yellow star patch for Jewish people in the Holocaust (Genocide Watch). Besides intentionally harmful language such as slurs there is not necessarily one specific sign that represents all transgender people in America. However, naming and distinguishing groups of people is inherently already a part of human nature, and these things truly only lead to genocide when dehumanization comes into play (Genocide Watch). All that said, the discrimination stage is where one can really begin to see a connection.

In discrimination,  “A dominant group uses law, custom, and political power to deny the rights of other groups…The dominant group is driven by an exclusionary ideology that would deprive less powerful groups of their rights.” (Genocide Watch). 

As of right now there are 47 states with proposed anti-trans bills still active, 417 out of 492 are still being debated (Trans Legislation Tracker). Some of these bills propose movements to ban trans children from participating in sporting events meant for the opposite sex, creating an 18 and up age limit on gender affirming health care, and making it illegal to use a public restroom that does not align with one’s sex (The Washington Post). These bills attempt to deny constitutional rights for trans people and revoke their civil liberties (NPR). 

Dehumanization comes next; in this step the majority group is taught to believe the target group is dangerous, like an animal or disease, and that the majority is “better off without them” (Genocide Watch). Recent events transpiring in Nashville, Tennessee, where a school shooter was later discovered to be transgender, have created a space for increased hate rhetoric accusing the trans community of violence. 

The hashtag #TransTerrorism was trending on twitter soon after the incident, and well known members of the Republican party were recorded saying various remarks about the situation (NPR). For example, Matt Walsh noted on his podcast “The Matt Walsh Show” that “The gender ideology movement is, once again, the most hateful and violent movement in America, and it’s not even close” (NPR). Creating a climate of fear surrounding transgender people is one way the “dominant group” or those opposed to trans rights employ the dehumanization stage. 

Adding on to the image of transgender shooters, many also paint transgender people as pedophiles or looking to expose minors to sexual content. Several bans against drag have been proposed and/or passed in the U.S. as of recent and these bills poorly clarify distinctions between drag queens and trans people (Reuters). The drag ban passed in Tennessee was created with the intent of keeping minors from public displays of sexuality and “adult cabaret” under which “male or female impersonators” fall (Reuters). Transgender people living in Tennessee, or those who visit, no longer feel safe in the state as they fear being arrested under the guise of a drag queen (Reuters). 

The following stage is organization. Here, groups are formed to specifically combat the minority group like terrorist groups or army units (Genocide Watch). The path trans rights are on in the U.S. does not seem to align entirely with this step but it does with the next, polarization. 

In Polarization the dominant group passes laws that allow them to have total control over the target group, these laws often violate personal freedoms (Genocide watch). There are even more bills currently up for debate that intend to deny civil rights for transgender people. As of January, ACLU reported 19 bills limiting freedom of speech by banning drag or books that contain LGBTQ themes. There are also bills in place to allow for workplace or hospital discrimination based on someone’s gender identity, where clients may be turned away if they are found to be trans (ACLU). The sudden incline of these anti-trans bills allows for sudden dominance over transgender people and their civil rights, just as polarization describes. 

The next four stages of genocide are where things escalate and an abundance of death becomes apparent. The current anti-trans movement in the U.S. has yet to reach that point seeing as there is no clear threat of planned mass murder. 

What is currently transpiring with transgender people in the U.S. is comparable to the Holocaust or any true genocide that has taken place. The senseless murder of many innocent people is not the same as a theory. That said, it is interesting to see the way anti-trans legislature can be aligned with the stages of genocide, and which way things might be taking a turn in the U.S.