Attitudes to gender in red and blue states now form a major policy battleground
Gender identity ideology has had a profound impact on British politics, but it is tearing the United States apart. The rhetoric from red states and blue states could hardly be more polarised.
In the red corner, Ron DeSantis has been noticeably outspoken. On so-called ‘gender affirming care’ for children, he called for doctors to “be sued”, pointing out that “they don’t tell you what that is […] They are actually giving very young girls double mastectomies; they want to castrate these young boys.”
Those views did not seem to turn off his electorate. While the red wave failed to flood the rest of the country, DeSantis was re-elected governor of Florida with a thumping majority — the largest margin of any Florida governor in 40 years. What used to be thought of as a swing state is now solidly Republican.
In California, the line taken is strikingly different. The blue state has even passed a bill offering legal refuge to transgender youths, presumably fleeing the likes of DeSantis and his policies. Democratic state governor Gavin Newsom said, “We believe that no one should be prosecuted or persecuted for getting the care they need — including gender-affirming care.” Newsom was also re-elected in the recent midterms, in his case with the biggest California majority for 50 years.
The madness does not stop there. The city of San Francisco now offers a Guaranteed Income for Trans People (or GIFT) which will provide 55 eligible residents with $1,200 per month for up to 18 months to “help address financial insecurity”.
DeSantis’s views have become notorious to Democrats across the country. The New York State Democratic Party painted him as a bogeyman, accusing him of bragging about “passing transphobic laws in Florida”. Their evidence? They attached a clip of him defending the integrity of women’s sports.
The problem with the transgender debate is one of reaching compromise. The arguments are binary – “transwomen are women”, or we are not women. Identity is affirmed or it is challenged. There is no middle ground. In Britain, differing positions are taken within each of the major political parties. Even the SNP faced a rebellion over the first reading of the bill to reform the GRA in Scotland. But in the U.S. it has become partisan. The Republicans challenge what the Democrats affirm.
This is real politics affecting real people’s lives. Following Newsom’s offer of refuge, Florida’s medical boards approved a rule that would prohibit doctors from prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to children. They have also put a stop to sex reassignment surgeries and other surgical procedures that alter primary or secondary sexual characteristics in under-18s.
It also goes to the very top. The President himself recently fawned over TikTok influencer Dylan Mulvaney — on Day 222 of Mulvaney’s “being a girl” project. Joe Biden was clear what he thought, “I don’t think any state or anybody should have the right to [ban gender affirming healthcare].”
On this issue, DeSantis is right. And Biden is wrong. No state should be using drugs — with such profound consequences — to treat what is a mental health condition in children. But is that a reason to vote Republican rather than Democrat? If it is, then the United States has entered the twilight zone where the medical treatment of a tiny group of people has displaced the economic and social policies that affect everyone. That is bad for democracy. And it is bad for America.