In 2019 a new, global threat to trans and gender diverse people emerged. A secret working group of Republican politicians, anti-trans radical feminists, and conservative Christian lawyers and clinicians drafted the first bill to make gender affirming care for trans youth a felony. Joining them was Natasha Chart and Kara Dansky, then two board members of the purportedly feminist organization Women’s Liberation Front notorious for its extensive work with the Christian Right. By January 2020 Chart and Dansky traveled to South Dakota to testify in support of the bill, weaving in dramatic, uncited claims of mass sterilization of autistic youth and surgery regret. While the bill failed, the collaborations built in the working group sparked the worst legislative crisis targeting trans people in U.S. history.
Yet this was only the beginning. What the public doesn’t know is that at the same time, the “feminist” members of this secretive working group were involved in launching an international campaign to push trans people out of public life. Calling itself Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC), now Women’s Declaration International (WDI), they have grown into a goliath of anti-trans activism with nearly 50 regional chapters worldwide. Its members pull inspiration from their central document, the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights (otherwise referred to as ‘the Declaration’), which positions itself against UN principles of protection for LGBTQ people to embed rigid definitions of sex and gender into national and international human rights law. WDI leadership has extensive history in anti-trafficking and anti-porn activism, using the power of the state and conservative groups or politicians at the expense of marginalized women doing sex work,i a strategy now known as carceral feminism.ii Now they’ve set their sights on opposing trans inclusive policies using what they have learned from opposing sex work. By adapting past movements’ strategies, WDI takes the rulebooks developed by carceral feminism to undermine trans rights worldwide.
Little is known about WDI’s true origins rooted in historical anti-trans and anti-sex work activism in the United States and United Kingdom, their deep involvement with the Christian Right, and how those origins have impacted trans rights movements on a global scale. This report describes the scale and influence of WDI against a background of growing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violence across the globe.
What is Women’s Declaration International?
Women’s Declaration International (WDI), previously Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC), is a highly influential anti-transgender activist group with over 40 country chapters. Founded in 2019 by British anti-transgender feminists Sheila Jeffreys, Maureen O’Hara, Heather Brunskell-Evans, and Jo Brew, together they drafted the start of their signature document the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights with an otherwise-unknown drafter named Tina Minkowitz,iii a human rights attorney reputed for her international advocacy for disability justice.iv Together they crafted a compelling, professional-sounding manifesto quickly used by WDI chapter leaders to recruit members and lobby religious conservative politicians. The goal is to reshape local, national, and international policy to undermine trans rights and redefine gender to be based on reproductive ability.
There’s just one problem: it’s a smoke and mirrors act void of any legal grounding. According to international human rights law experts, the idea that there are “sex-based rights” hinged on biology is “a fiction with the pretense of legality […] and do not in fact exist in the manner that the term is used[.]”v By relying on a cherry-picked interpretation of CEDAW, and ignoring decades of advancements in human rights law, WDI works to roll back international human rights law to the 70s–the same time period when the Christian Right was ’declaring war’ against LGBTQ people. The Declaration has made a splash among its supporters, with supporting signatures from over 35,500 individuals and 505 organizations as of May 1 2023,vi and WDI chapter leaders champion its use among activists and conservative politicians alike.
The Recipe for Success
WDI wouldn’t be nearly as successful without networking with conservative think tanks and politicians. Some of the strongest partnerships stem from the United States, Spain and Mexico,vii among the areas where the Christian Right has been furiously reshaping the political landscape. Part of what’s called the anti-gender movement, US-based Christian Right organizations funnel dark money across five continents with their eyes set on undermining policies for reproductive and LGBTQ rights. The collaborations across both borders and political alignments allows anti-trans propaganda to move from English to Spanish, escalating campaigns against trans people throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
Despite ongoing pushback, even among their own supporters, former members or Declaration drafters, WDI leadership insists that there is no conflict of interest in working with the Christian Right. In fact, they say it’s an emergency calling for drastic measures to combat ‘gender ideology’.viii This sense of urgency is central to WDI’s campaigns through its various chapters. Chapters will target specific policies offering protections for trans people, structuring their messaging around how the policy is a threat to cisgender women to rally local anti-trans activists to oppose them. Said messaging also allows chapter leaders to network with Christian Right organizations and politicians that have the resources to overturn trans-inclusive policies or pass policies blocking trans people from using restrooms, accessing health care, and more.
Strengthen community relationships. One of WDI’s main strategies is sowing division against trans people and organizations with inclusive policies. Ways to address this include following the lead of trans-led organizations, which are the most familiar with the impact anti-trans organizing; centering diverse, representative voices impacted by anti-trans organizing; centering international solidarity, as WDI and other anti-trans feminist networks are global and heavily impact trans communities in the Global South; strategically partnering with feminist and women’s organizations to strengthen trans-inclusive campaigns; and “building from the ground up” by networking with local, grassroots organizations in addition to national and international organizations.
Educate and inoculate. WDI’s campaigns rely on misinformation spread through social media and the press. This can be addressed by developing and distributing resources that address key points of misinformation targeting trans people; looking to trans-led initiatives that offer support for people currently or seeking to detransition; and coaching US and international feminist, women’s, and broader civil-society organizations against anti-trans feminist rhetoric.
Expose threats to trans liberation for strategic resistance. WDI and similar anti-trans feminist organizations often attempt to downplay or justify partnerships with Christian Right or far right groups or politicians. To counteract this, identify allegiances built between anti-trans feminist and religious conservative organizations or political parties; highlight those collaborations between anti-trans feminist and Christian Right organizations and activists in media, testimonies and policy submissions; and leveraging the rift between anti-trans feminists over rightwing collaborations to make it harder for them to influence feminist and women’s organizations.
Build a sustainable counter-resistance. Sustainability is key for any human rights movement. Ways to build sustainable counter-resistance includes investing in community resources fighting against anti-trans activism and policies, both local or international; investing in community resources researching threats to trans people in the broader society; emphasizing investments on organizations from marginalized, under-resourced trans communities targeted by anti-trans activists, such as trans sex worker collectives or groups supporting incarcerated trans people; volunteering at a LGBTQ organization resisting anti-trans policies; and creating structures for collective care to manage burnout among movement organizers.
WDI publicly celebrates three founders. First is Heather Brunskell-Evans, a philosopher who edited the anthologies Transgender Children and Young People and Inventing Transgender Children and Young People which argued that transgender youth are an invention of modern medicine.1 Then, Sheila Jeffreys, the lesbian feminist known in anti-trans circles for her book Gender Hurts and for her prolific anti-sex work activism. Finally there’s Maureen O’Hara, a self-described feminist activist, lawyer, and legal academic who, like her co-founders, also has a heavy focus on trans youth and sex work.
Yet there is a secret, unnamed founding member who put the entire wheel into motion: Tina Minkowitz. Minkowitz’s influence is crucial to trace given her outsized influence on the initial drafting of the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights and how she later distanced herself from the Declaration and its proponents.
A human rights attorney best known for her disability rights advocacy, particularly for survivors of forced psychiatric care, Minkowitz was one of the drafters of what became the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). This professional experience, combined with her 2016 Master’s thesis Female Autonomy vs Gender Identity: A critical analysis of gender identity in CEDAW jurisprudence and the Yogyakarta Principles, made her a key player in the original draft of the WDI Declaration. The strategy is clear: create a document that sounds like a formal UN document but with legal fictions the average person would miss. In a 2019 post for Feminists in Struggle (FIST), Minkowitz proclaimed how “using the language of human rights and making an argument based on UN human rights instruments gives us a basis to advocate to UN mechanisms like the Commission on the Status of Women and the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This in turn can help to shape global political debates, and those in our own countries [emphasis added].”
This strategy came to life in the summer of 2018. According to a series of emails obtained by Health Liberation Now!, Minkowitz reached out to her friend and collaborator Devorah Zahav, a prominent detransitioned radical feminist writing under the pseudonym Redress Alert who served as a key networking vector among her peers.ix Minkowitz and Zahav had worked together previously on an individual submission to CEDAW’s Update of General Recommendation No. 19, with Zahav giving feedback to Minkowitz prior to submission.
Now Minkowitz’s aim was to construct an organized coalition with its eyes set on the United Nations. Upon Minkowitz’s request, Zahav sent out emails to other detransitioned radical feminists for a unified effort.x Over the next several months the group, along with people Minkowitz consulted via a private Facebook group, came up with the Theydon Bois Principles–the document that would become the first draft of the Declaration.
By March 2019, the Declaration was ready to reveal to the public. Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) sponsored two events in an undisclosed location in midtown Manhattan. Joining Natasha Chart, one of the board members of WoLF, was Sheila Jeffreys, the author of the 2014 book Gender Hurts. Sitting alongside them were detransitioned members of the newly-formed Pique Resilience Project, where together they discussed Gender Hurts and detransition.xi Chart returned later that evening with Jeffreys to join the named authors in an official launch of the Declaration.xii
During the launch event–featuring Brunskell-Evans, Jeffreys, and O’Hara–Jeffreys explained her vision of the Declaration’s purpose. “The Declaration is a response to the influence that the notion of rights based on gender identity has in the human rights arena. It argues that gender identity rights are in conflict with the human rights of women,” she declared to an audience unseen in the video. “What we say in the Declaration, echoing the language of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, is that it is a form of discrimination against women to include men in the category of women.”xiii
Calling back to the original drafting of CEDAW, Jeffreys sidestepped the efforts made during the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing to define women’s rights within the context of gender that were quashed by religious regimes.xiv In the process Jeffreys ended up aligning herself with the positions as the Holy See, US Evangelical, and Muslim fundamentalist actors who all balked at the idea of something called “gender” because it could extend the concept of fundamental human rights to LGBTQ people. “We’ve done the Declaration because we think it’s important to think internationally when dealing with the threat posed by men’s cross-dressing activism.”
They were indeed thinking internationally. Over the course of the event on March 15, 2019, the full project was unveiled: an international campaign by the name of Women’s Human Rights Campaign (WHRC), with the Declaration as their central document. With language and strategy eerily similar to the vision laid out by anti-trans feminist author Janice Raymond in her book The Transsexual Empire, where Raymond called for society to “morally mandat[e trans people] out of existence[,]”xv WHRC aimed to cut off trans people from basic human rights from nation-state politics all the way up to the United Nations. In doing so WHRC would work to undo the progress made by their feminist peers around the world, all while working alongside the Christian Right that marked its presence in Beijing. The Christian Right would go on to build the anti-gender movement, pouring millions of dollars into Europe and beyond to roll back advancements in gender equality, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive freedom.xvi
Minkowitz’s influence in WHRC, meanwhile, is profound despite not being publicly credited by fellow organizers. Her positioning of CEDAW against the Yogyakarta Principles is foundational to WHRC’s efforts on state and international levels. She presented workshops for them, explaining the basis of her thesis to members worldwide. In doing so she gave both the founders of WHRC and the chapter leaders the tools and the rhetoric they needed to reshape the playing field on a global level. Minkowitz held this position with a degree of pride, continuing to sing the praises of the Declaration and its potential impact on international politics. She continued to back the document for years despite her frustrations with its deviations from her initial focus on lesbian rights in the Theydon Bois Principles. That is, until WHRC’s collaborations with the Christian Right became more explicit.
As part of their lobbying efforts, WDI chapters routinely incorporate references to different Articles in the Declaration in their submitted consultations. Similarly, the Declaration gives affiliated groups the reference points they needed to offer their own. This allows for a streamlined, sometimes heavily coordinated approach that would in turn flood public consultations such as the ones in Canada during the fight to ban conversion practices.
Scorching the Earth in the Name of Feminism
In Washington, D.C., WDI’s supporters sit in the banquet halls of luxurious hotels with chandeliers and wine as they attend their long-awaited National Convention. In regions like Mexico, they come armed with baseball bats covered in barbed wire. The difference couldn’t be more striking.
The Shock Troops of Toluca
Mexico, one of the hearts of anti-trans and anti-sex work activity in Latin America, has become a battleground between radical feminists and trans people.xvii The most violent interactions are those in the heart of Toluca. On International Women’s Day in 2020, trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) marched in Toluca, one of whom assaulted a trans woman. Over the years the violence escalated. In 2021, TERF groups set up a camp advocating for the legalization of abortion, in direct opposition to an encampment of trans people advocating for a law to allow gender marker changes on legal documents.xviii The TERFs singled out trans women in the encampment, blocking the restrooms and threatening them with barbed wire-wrapped baseball bats. Afraid of assault just for needing to use a restroom, the trans camp was driven out. Shortly afterwards, the TERF group set the Congress of the State of Mexico on fire in protest after Congress signaled their support for the gender identity law.
By 2022, La Resistencia Radical EdoMéx–a WDI supporting organization–were burning trans flags and encouraging children to beat a piñata of the trans flag. “Are there girls who want to hit the piñata? Let’s get in line, because it brings sweets!” they proclaimed, building up to celebration as the children struck the pink, white, and blue pinata. “A round of applause for all the little girls who accompanied us!”xix Hanging in the background was the British suffrage flag.xx
These actions are thought to be part of a tradition of shock groups–front groups secretly used by government officials to break up protests–throughout Mexico, with an even greater impact in the State of Mexico itself. “[I]t’s on government websites that these groups have contracts with the state government to provide workshops on feminism, trauma and stuff like that for state employees,” researcher Julianna Neuhouser of the Mexican activist group Sexual and Gender Dissidence Resistance Network (Red de Resistencia y Disidencia S&G) told Health Liberation Now!, “and the next day they’ll be burning buildings down.”
One WDI supporting organization in particular, Indómitas Feministas Radicales, has become notorious. A few months after their workshops for the Women’s Secretariat they threw Molotov cocktails at the legislative chamber, leading Congress to install metal covers on the windows of the offices to protect them from vandalism.xxi Before that point members of Indómitas attended the 2020 march that led to a trans woman being assaulted.xxii Then, on June 5 2021, the day before the Mexican legislative election, Indomitas set the building’s doors ablaze causing it to burn for two hours without intervention from fire or police departments.xxiii
“It’s not weird for a feminist collective to work with government and maybe get some workshops, and it’s not weird for a feminist group in Mexico to burn things down,” Neuhouser noted. “But it’s really weird that it’s the same group.” Indómitas Feministas Radicales was joined in their workshops by Feministas Satánicas, another WDI supporting organization that has changed its name to Feministas Católicas. “The issue of TERF groups in Mexico isn’t limited to Mexico State,” Dawn Marie Paley writes in New Politics. “But Mexico State is where the protection of TERF organizations by those in power is clearest.”xxiv
Indómitas Feministas Radicales, meanwhile, changed their name to Raíces Radicales in June 2021 after burning the doors to the Mexican State Congress.xxv One member, “Enkei RD”, had signed on to the Declaration under Raíces Radicales on June 23. By June 27, the group officially signed on to the Declaration, just a day before their announcement on Facebook.
Radical feminist groups in Mexico and beyond have been strongly denounced for their destructive actions while never seeming to engage in other forms of activism, as well as their clear relationship with the local police and the post-dictatorial Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional or PRI) that had adapted their strategies after losing the Mexican presidency in 2000. As Toluca, Mexico is the PRI’s stronghold, they are able to build strategic allegiances with a range of groups to advance their rightwing goals. The TERF groups in the area seem to have a singular purpose: disrupt the operations of feminist and LGBTQ organizations and their actions. “It’s very blatant that’s what’s going on,” Neuhouser told Health Liberation Now!. “Other feminist groups have denounced them for this. The cops never show up. When the cops do manage to show up when they’re doing stuff, they’re like ‘get the Women’s Secretariat on the line, she’ll negotiate aside with us.’” Meanwhile, they never seem to support other organizations’ actions or honor trans sex workers lost due to transfemicide. The third part of the Volcánicas report detailed how the shock groups would assault trans women at demonstrations, dox activists, and destroy buildings in protest of the proposed gender identity law in Mexico state, yet didn’t join calls to decriminalize abortion or honor trans sex workers who had been victims of transfemicide.xxvi
One of the Mexican activists impacted, Daniela, had to stop participating in events for a while because of the threats her and her fellow activists received from TERFs in the area due to their support of trans people. At one point Daniela had been doxxed and forced to flee her home for a week. “I’m sure that the group that specifically works in Toluca are shock troops that are sustained by the state,” she told New Politics. “Sometimes I get scared saying that, because it’s a very serious accusation, but we have a lot of proof that has led us to that conclusion.”xxvii She recalled a heavy police presence, where the trans and trans-inclusive feminists would be regularly attacked and the TERFs left alone. Eme Flores, a researcher from Sexual and Gender Dissidence Resistance Network alongside Julianna Neuhouser, described similarly in an interview to It Could Happen Here: “You can see livestreams of their ‘protests’ and it was mostly them drinking coffee with the cops. Like, they were on first name basis with the cops while the other camp had trans women who were too scared to go to the bathroom because they were gonna be attacked.”xxviii
Within the heart of TERF radicalization in Mexico, according to Neuhouser and Flores, sits none other than WDI Mexico’s country contact Laura Leucona. Lecuona had become a staunch believer in antisemitic conspiracy theories that trans and sex worker rights were funded by (conveniently Jewish) billionaires, all stemming from the writings of the anti-trans theorycrafter Jennifer Bilek. “Laura Lecuona is by far the most radicalized out of all of them,” Neuhouser told Health Liberation Now!. “She’s the one that gets really into the Jennifer Bilek stuff [and] she’s become an anti-vaxxer.” A regular promoter of Bilek’s articles about the “billionaires funding the trans movement”, both in public and invite-only events, Lecuona serves as a key transmission point between anti-trans and antisemitic conspiracies from the Global North into TERF pockets of Mexico. In once instance during a secret fall conference titled the Foundational Conference of the National Abolitionist Feminist Movement (Congreso Fundacional del Movimiento Nacional Feminista Abolicionista), Lecuona gave a panel on “Genderism, Stereotypes and the Erasure of Women”. Sitting alongside her were Ángeles Álvarez, the former deputy of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, or PSOE) who now works with Spain’s anti-trans Alliance Against the Erasure of Women (La Alianza contra el Borrado de las Mujeres or simply Contra el Borrado).
Lecuona made her disgust clear: “Do not grant them [meaning: trans people] existence! […] If someone believes that transgender exists or speaks of transsexuals as something that really exists, then they believe that sexual stereotypes define our being and gives a plane of existence to the woman with a penis. There are no non-binary people. There are no trans people.”xxix Flores is clear about the impact that Lecuona’s rhetoric has. “The real core of who’s setting the tone, it really seems to be Laura Lecuona at least in part. She’s like the Overton window pusher. No one does her like she does.”
One of the ways that Lecuona is able to pull this off is because she is repeating Bilek’s views that trans people are the road towards transhumanism, funded by (again, conveniently Jewish) billionaires. Though this isn’t the only time that Lecuona has spread disinformation: She has also promoted a translated document produced by Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance (FLCCC)xxx that was used by Mexico City to justify investing nearly 29.3 million pesos (US $1.4 million) as part of an unauthorized experiment on citizens with COVID-19.2
Conspiracies and the Political Elite in Spain
The use of Jennifer Bilek’s work, and the connections to groups within the WDI network, can be also be shown through Contra el Borrado, an unofficial coalition of anti-trans feminist organizations in Spain. Contra el Borrado is one of the leading sources in Spain for circulating anti-trans rhetoric.xxxi They’re also responsible for developing a manifesto in response to the proposed trans rights law which was stacked with citations from the UK. Contra el Borrado are also a leader at promoting antisemitic conspiracies surrounding trans rights movements and funding, heavily relying on Bilek’s writings about how the “Q Lobby” is funded by wealthy philanthropists and pharmaceutical companies.xxxii Contra el Borrado regularly translates Bilek’s articles into Spanish to further their circulation outside of Anglophonic spheres.xxxiii
What makes it troubling is the fact that, according to Mayte Cantero Sánchez, a Gender Studies graduate student at Linköping University, the bulk of the Spanish anti-trans feminist movement is well-educated, scholarly cisgender women with regular contact with scholars and researchers and a number of high level media publications.xxxiv Sánchez researched TERF arguments made by Contra el Borrado as well as Movimiento Feminista, a radical feminist political party of which WDI Spain is a member, in their manifestos responding to the trans rights law to assess the nature of said campaigns.xxxv The TERF connection to scholars, researchers, and media publications makes it easier for them to circulate their views within the broader Spanish context as well as the literature originating from the US and UK, making WDI Spain one of the funnels of Anglophone anti-trans rhetoric into Spanish-speaking countries. “[T]he Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist (TERF) are a real threat to the legitimacy of trans people (and of gender non-conforming people in general),” said Sánchez. “Since they are quite numerous and they advocate from power positions. […] [T]his is mainly a white confrontation against transexual and transgender people.”xxxvi
How this plays out can be best illustrated through Contra el Borrado’s head and spokesperson, Ángeles Álvarez, who has done a complete flip of her views over the past several years. Álvarez, while she was a deputy for the PSOE, had previously defended trans communities during HazteOír’s anti-trans bus campaign only to be denounced for anti-trans rhetoric and called to be removed as deputy. Now she is reputed as one of the best known TERFs in Spain. Álvarez has gone as far as to align with Vox positions on comprehensive sex education, with both Álvarez and Vox accusing the Spanish Minister of Equality Irene Montero of pedophilia apologism.xxxvii While this could come as a surprise, Sánchez notes that the PSOE isn’t interested in advocating for trans rights, as their main focus for LGBTQ equality was the right to marry.xxxviii Álvarez links this back to US and UK anti-trans feminists, asserting that anti-trans feminist resistance in the PSOE was informed by English-speaking feminism in 2017 fighting ideological battles against trans communities.xxxix Contra el Borrado, in an interview for Spanish publication Nueva Revolución, described similar transmission as motivation for their founding. Contra el Borrado credited Álvarez for “opening the debate” on trans rights in Spanish media in 2019, as well as anti-trans news from the UK, Argentina, and Canada that had reached their “small group of women.”xl From there, Contra el Borrado generated their founding manifesto and quickly campaigned against Spain’s proposed trans rights law.xli
Such kinds of political arguments make their way into the manifesto constructed by the political party Movimiento Feminista, of which WDI Spain is a part. Upon analyzing the manifesto against the trans rights law, Sánchez found that the manifesto was filled with language that was designed to ridicule and dismiss arguments made by queer and trans people. Some language chosen invoked a “sense of danger, and even, [sic] chronic illness and death for the trans community”xlii purportedly caused by medical transition. Its citations were extensive, filling up 15 pages for an otherwise 5-page document, and it heavily relied on court cases, papers, and other materials from the UK.xliii
Contra el Borrado’s manifesto was similarly filled with UK references. By citing from abroad, groups such as Movimiento Feminista and Contra el Borrado are able to carry UK texts and references into Spanish politics, having ripple events in Spain and elsewhere. “Spanish TERF communities have access to this material and they reproduce the ideas of their British counterparts in a very literal way[,]” Sánchez wrote. “Actually, the TERF communities work in a quite international network, reproducing very similar arguments in very different situations and legal contexts.”xliv This is key with groups like Contra el Borrado their own chapters in Argentina and Mexico,3 where they in turn become adapted to regional contexts. Contra el Borrado’s Mexico branch has promoted Sheila Jeffreys’ essays and books via Facebook;xlv the Argentina branch, meanwhile, circulated a Spanish translation that Contra el Borrado did of Bilek’s post about Amazon pharmacies selling hormone replacement therapy.
WDI Spain and WDI Mexico have consistently joined forces to broaden the reach of anti-trans feminism in Spanish-speaking countries. During their June Abolitionist Meeting titled “Eradication of Sex Trade, Prostitution and Pornography”, WDI Mexico was joined by Teresa Ulloa, the regional director of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin American and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC), and sex work abolitionists from Spain and Argentina.xlvi In July WDI Mexico moved on to trans youth and surrogacy. Joining Lecuona and WDI Dominica country contact Michelle Morales was Agrupación de Madres de Adolescentes y Niñas con Disforia Acelerada (Association of Mothers of Adolescents and Girls with Accelerated Dysphoria or AMANDA),xlvii a group within the Contra el Borrado network that promotes the debunked theory of “rapid onset gender dysphoria” for trans youth. AMANDA later presented at the Ilustre Colegio Oficial de Médicos de Madrid (ICOMEM)–the professional association certifying physicians in Madrid, Spain–where they presented about how Spain’s proposed trans rights law pushes youth to identify as trans. As evidence, AMANDA played translated clips of the documentary The Detransition Diaries from anti-surrogacy activist Jennifer Lahl.xlviii Afterwards, AMANDA staged a protest against the trans rights law in Madrid.
The allegiances between anti-trans feminists in Mexico, Spain, and Argentina grow stronger. Meanwhile, the fight for the trans rights law in Spain is stalled. Despite the law passing through Congress in the summer, members of the PSOE have filed a letter to Carmen Calvo, now Secretary of Equality of the PSOE after her departure from her role as Vice President of Spain in 2021, pushing for a series of amendments to the law, which Calvo says has no chance of passing until the demands are met. Such demands include removing the + from LGTBI+, replacing all references of “trans” to “transsexual”, and removing all gender neutral language. “We must distinguish between the State’s response to trans people and a queer theory that comes to destroy everything that has progressed in the laws of equality between men and women[,]” Calvo answered during an interview with Spanish publication El Mundo. The Constitution does not contemplate gender, it contemplates sex. […] Queer theory changes all that and, in my opinion, brings to the table very important legal security problems.”xlix
In Spain, the trans rights bill has since passed, enshrining the right to self-identification for trans people after a lengthy debate in committee with a series of proposed amendments, including requiring trans youth ages 14 to 16 to have court orders before changing their legal gender markers.
Raising the Heat in the US
The chandeliers, meanwhile, nestle under the ceilings of the Dupont Circle Hotel just minutes away from the United States Capitol. For three days, stretching from September 23rd to 25th, over 100 women packed themselves into the Dupont Ballroom for the 2022 WDI USA National Political Convention.l “Entering that ballroom was a surreal experience”, recounted Aurora Linnea, one of the attendees in a report of her experience for the radical feminist media outlet Women’s Liberation Radio News (WLRN). “I had not been expecting anything quite so luxurious, nor did I expect to see Phyllis Chesler’s head projected on the wall, shivering with glitch and crimsonly aglow, like the Great and Powerful Oz. All that was lacking were the torches and fog machine.”li
Chesler’s glowing, floating head set the stage for a weekend gathering of the who’s-who in United States anti-trans feminist activism. Chesler is one of the authors of the Islamophobic op-ed with Donna Hughes justifying the Bush administration’s War on Terror. She wrote in 2021 about how her “vibrant and visionary radical feminism has been hijacked”lii by trans people, sex worker activists, and allied feminists. Harking back to the losses in the TERF and sex wars, Chesler and her fellow speakers were poised to “reignit[e] the women’s liberation movement” for the next generation of anti-trans and anti-sex work activists.4
The reception from attendees at the DC convention was a mixture of awe and shock. Attendees were impressed by the luxuriousness of the venue, food offered, and theatrics. Members of Feminists in Struggle (FIST) described it as “a swanky hotel[,] and we sat in a ballroom complete with sparkly chandeliers and white tablecloths.”liii Linnea was particularly impressed with a performance of Carolyn Gage’s play The Second Coming of Joan of Arc, which she reported as having left the audience in tears.
Yet the convention was awash with unanswered questions and alarming exercises, which left people feeling conflicted. Those from FIST who attended, the group whose members had previously challenged Dansky about networking with the Religious Right, were quick to note what wasn’t discussed. According to FIST, WDI USA organizers “never touched upon feminists taking money from Christian Nationalists, or the WDI-USA promotion of Women’s Bill of Rights, or their opposition (or at least WoLF’s) to the ERA […] or the WDI statement in opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act or their former work on their Equality for All Act […] or the history of the right wing trying to co-opt feminism through groups such as the Independent Women’s Forum.”liv FIST attendees were also skeptical of the funding of the event, given the venue and largely-unsuccessful fundraising.
WDI USA fundraisers have struggled ever since the scandals surrounding Women Picket DC broke out, with their convention speaker fund reaching only 14% ($9,670) of their $70,000 goal. WDI USA even noted, in their FAQ for the event, that tickets were not going to be enough to cover the costs. Without a record of donors or sponsoring organizations, it’s unclear where WDI USA got the funds to put on such a lavish event.
Attendee Aurora Linnea, meanwhile, was disturbed by the violent rhetoric of some women present. The last panel, led by WDI USA board members, was a group discussion and exercise on what each person’s vision of victory looked like. “Victory is freedom, grace; it is something beautiful[,]” Linnea recounted. “Which is why I was dismayed by the ugliness of some of the visions laid out by the panelists. There were repeated references to castration, and one woman told us that since the Y chromosome was the problem, victory would be a world without men. She envisioned reproduction via techno-parthenogenesis or captive breeding programs involving “small, docile males” easy to control. Male infanticide was proposed, a touch shyly.”lv Such visions struck her as being centered on female supremacy with its roots in the kinds of biological superiority that lead to genocide, recalling Andrea Dworkin’s 1977 essay “Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea.” “To destroy male fetuses in the womb, to mutilate men’s sexual organs—these are not visions of victory, but of vengeance. They are neither radical nor redemptive. Surely we needn’t set our sights so low.”lvi
Regardless of their rhetoric, WDI USA seems fine with partnering with far right men and their work if it benefits them. Before the National Political Convention, WDI USA had been hard at work targeting as many state bills, school boards, and prisons as they possibly could. One tactic used – a favorite among “gender critical” and conservative lobbying groups alike – is the use of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filings to try to mine for information that can be used as propaganda. The purpose is to ‘rebrand’ the perception of trans-supportive literature and policies as being part of a “radical gender ideology”.
This strategy was perfected by Christopher Rufo of the Manhattan Institute, who applied it to claims that critical race theory was being taught to school children to undermine the fabric of society. In doing so he deliberately erases the fact that critical race theory is a formal legal framework taught in post-secondary education, not to K-12 grade levels. This, he argues, is part of the point. “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think “critical race theory[,]” Rufo tweeted in March 2021. “We have decodified the term and will recodify it to to annex the entire range of cultural constructions that are unpopular with Americans.”lvii
Claiming success against his newly constructed strawman, Rufo quickly adapted his strategy to target “radical gender theory”, focusing on queer and trans-inclusive material in schools. Ultimately, Rufo copy-pasted the same strategies from his “Anti-CRT Parent Guidebook”lviii into “A Parent’s Guide to Radical Gender Theory”;lix the only things changed were the introductions, quotes mined, and his proposed terms to “[win] the language war”. A new project, and a new rallying point, was born.
WDI USA has used this strategy, and even some of Rufo’s gathered material, in their own activism. In an FOIA project targeting schools, titled “Stop ‘Gender Ideology Indoctrination in Our Schools”, WDI USA published a five-part archive of over 400 pages of materials mined from FOIA requests.lx The starting material in part 1 was pulled from Rufo’s personal page targeting the San Diego Unified public schools, which they admittedly copy-paste into their own.lxi They copied 80 pages from Rufo’s 247-page document and selected the parts that catered to their own membership with their own transphobic comments. Another 56 pages from Rufo’s documents about Oregon were copied into part 3 of their archive, with FOIA responses, book scans, and news scrapes for another eight states. Ultimately, 31% of WDI USA’s “archives” came directly from Rufo’s far right campaign. At the conclusion of the archive, WDI USA directs members to their own instructions on filing FOIA requests.
WDI USA has also constructed a similar project targeting prisons across all 50 states, coordinated with the project Keep Prisons Single Sex. Keep Prisons Single Sex, a WDI supporting organization, is also reputed for targeting prisons in Canada, the US, and the UK. They have also protested outside of the United Nations headquarters.lxii In all of these instances, WDI USA and Keep Prisons Single Sex push the blame of violence towards incarcerated women onto trans women rather than recognizing the reality that the vast majority of violence against women in prison comes from correction officers. Incarcerated trans women, particularly trans women of color held in men’s prisons, are at even higher risk.
According to the report Coming Out of Concrete Closets from Black & Pink, a prison abolitionist organization centered on the needs of LGBTQIA2S+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS, 79% of trans women responding reported experiencing sexual assault from other prisoners during their incarceration; 22% reported assaults from staff.lxiii The real problem here, according to advocates like Black & Pink, is the prison system and how prisoners are treated. “Violence, harm, harassment, and sexual assault are pervasive in prisons across the United States. Reform efforts, such as PREA, are failing to meet the immediate needs of prisoners, especially LGBTQ prisoners,” say Black & Pink. “It is the responsibility of advocates to support and nurture the leadership of prisoners that are most targeted for harm, especially transgender women, nonbinary gender prisoners, and cisgender gay men. Physical, emotional, and sexual violence are essential tool of prisoner control and as long as prisons continue to function, these tools will remain at the disposal of those maintaining power.”lxiv
In the conclusion of her book The Abolition of Sex, Kara Dansky describes much of WDI’s campaigns up through 2021, including the actions of the US chapter. Dansky writes that “[t]he U.S. chapter of WHRC, which launched in 2020, is actively involved in efforts to advance the Declaration and stop the spread of gender identity in the U.S. at the federal and state levels[,]” a concerning confession to queer and trans advocates throughout the country. She goes on to note that “WHRC USA representatives have met with staff members from key House and Senate offices and submitted volumes’ worth of testimony before state legislatures” with a primary focus on sports.lxv
While the example Dansky gives is a Democratic Senator in New York, the area of the highest success and therefore concern is with Republican policymakers. As the GOP gains a laser-sharp focus on trans issues, particularly trans youth, anti-trans feminist talking points will continue to meld in with proposed legislation, election bids, and party platforms. One hopeful candidate, Michelle Evans who is running for State Representative in Texas House District 136, even went so far as to call herself a “TERF; a trans-exclusionary Republican female” during a speech on Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull’s anti-trans Let Women Speak tour when it stopped in Austin.lxvi Her branding was welcomed by the crowd with cheers. Embroidered onto her jeans, patches saying “women (n): adult human female”, Keen-Minshull’s characteristic brand.
Pressuring the United Nations
Influencing systems on the state or federal level isn’t enough for WDI. One of the most critical areas of concern is WDI’s advocacy at the UN level as they create back doors to shift language and international human rights policy to be trans-exclusive. After launching their Feminist Question Time webinars in April 2020, which gave supporters the chance to network internationally, WDI chapters got to work on a range of UN submissions. In February 2021, two submissions were sent to Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz in response to a request for information for a UN Report on Gender, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. One was sent from WDI, in which they protest the framing of the UN OHCHR’s Call for Input for their annual report on gender theory. The Call for Input had noted that “within multilateral and regional organisations, among other fora, there are currently narratives that, under different lines of characterization (including the accusation of so-called “gender ideology”), seek to eliminate the gender framework from international human rights law instruments and processes, and national legislative and policy documents”,lxvii the precise strategy that WDI uses through their Declaration, consultations, and submissions to federal and international legal bodies. Sheila Jeffreys submitted her own comments independently, though WDI later uploaded it for their own circulation.
The submissions were roundly criticized by the Independent Expert. In Practices of Exclusion (A/76/152), the thematic report analyzing the backlash against full inclusion of gender and gender identity into international human rights law, Madrigal-Borloz writes how “’[g]ender ideology’ narratives evoke a global conspiracy and a coordinated strategy aimed at destroying the political and social order, and the malleable nature of the concept has cleared the path for its usage to push for restrictive ideas and policies.”lxviii Madrigal-Borloz traces this push in international human rights law back to 1994 and 1995 when the Holy See and other religious world leaders petitioned against the use of the term gender during the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo and the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.
WDI’s submission to the call for input was placed squarely in this context. WDI made two arguments that were echoed throughout the Christian Right, First, that comprehensive sex education was a violation of children’s rights. Second, that legal recognition of gender based on self identification was discrimination and violence against cis women. Both arguments were rejected, Madrigal-Borloz stressing that “the Independent Expert does not consider the protection of women and girls to be inconsistent with the rights of any LGBT individuals, including trans persons.”lxix
Ultimately, the report reaffirmed that gender based discrimination and oppression includes gender identity, and raised the alarm that self-proclaimed “human rights organizations” were positioning themselves against the rights of other marginalized groups. “The mandate holder is convinced that it is the duty of the State to respect and protect every human being’s freedom to determine the confines of their existence. Gender identity and gender expression are an essential part of that determination, and backlash arising from the recognition of gender in international law is a significant ongoing challenge likely to lead to significant harms unless it is met with decisive State action.”lxx
WDI was not swayed. In fact, WDI held two events at the civil society forum organized by the NGO Committee on the Status of Women New York (NGO CSW/NY) which runs parallel to the annual session run by the UN Commission on the Status of Women (i.e. UN Women). In 2019, UN Women had launched the Generation Equality Campaign to mark the 25th anniversary for the Beijing Platform for Action in partnership with the governments of Mexico and France, and NGO CSW/NY was tasked to convene global civil society organizations for the Gender Equality Forum. During NGO CSW 65 in March 2021, several WDI leaders presented on the Declaration and its various Articles.lxxi The presentation was awash with talks of trans people as a threat to cis women and children, with Jeffreys making it clear that the purpose of the Declaration was to undermine international advancements in trans rights.
Following repeated disruption of panels from WDI members, WDI’s exhibit on the virtual forum was removed and attendees reported being kicked from the Zoom sessions for promoting the Declaration in panel chats. WDI released a press release in the following weeks, confirming that their director Jo Brew and seven other attendees had been removed for “disruption” and “offensive comments”, though they deny any guidelines violations. Lecuona and Brew later issued a joint press release to the UN Women’s Generation Equality Forum pushing for trans-exclusionary language and elimination of sex work as part of their policy commitments.
Despite their removal the previous year, WDI presented again in 2022 during the NGO CSW66.lxxii There Jeffreys was joined by Lecuona from Mexico, Rochelle Dean from WDI Bahamas, Graziella Florimond from WDI France, and anonymous representatives from WDI China. Florimond focused her presentation on undermining the Yogyakarta Principles and reducing the category of woman to reproduction, with her first slide reading in rainbow letters “Gender Identity is based on a lie”. Lecuona focused on the right to express views, claiming that by respecting people’s pronouns “you are abiding by their rules […] you are letting them win.”lxxiii Dean continued many of the same rhetorical lines as used by WDI USA during their FOIA school project, that diversity education is pushing “gender ideology.” Jeffreys ended her portion of the presentation by declaring trans rights as a perversion and extension of pornography, directly tying in her work with CATW Australia.
The next month, in April 2022, WDI filed a submission to UN Women with a lengthy, outrageous list of demands including immediate codification of their Declaration into UN policy, promoting the Declaration as the “gold standard” within UNCSW66 documents and to UN conventions and committees moving forward, and ECO NGO status.lxxiv Within the submission, WDI leverages the many webinars they hosted during Feminist Question Time, embedding a list of speakers across 6 continents, attaching the Declaration in full.
It should be noted that the NGO CSW Forum, according to NGO CSW/NY’s Virtual Report Forum following CSW 65, is designed to “[provide] civil society organizations (CSOs) and activists the opportunity to engage in the processes and CSW sessions without ECOSOC-accreditation or a UN grounds pass.”lxxv Giving grassroots organizations, which may not have the same resources or platform as ECOSOC-accredited organizations, equal opportunity to participate in international human rights forums is crucial for full inclusion and representation. However, it also gives room for possible exploitation by destructive groups such as WDI.
Presenting parallel panels through the NGO CSW Forum allows for WDI to take advantage of a lower bar for approval, as according to NGO CSW/NY, attendees do not need to be ECOSOC-accredited, unlike the forum operated by the UN CSW. To the average individual, the presentation might appear to be an official United Nations Commission event, one that WDI fosters in later submissions where they call the NGO CSW 66 parallel event a UN CSW66 presentation. The Feminist Question Time webinars, meanwhile, give global members opportunities to network more, expand their reach, and be embedded into WDI submissions as “internationally renowned women speakers.”lxxvi But this appearance of legitimacy doesn’t appear to be enough, as WDI was still pushing for formal consultation status to embed their anti-trans activism into UN policy. WDI doesn’t just want to appear legitimate, they want to be recognized as such to bolster their global destruction of trans rights. As of writing, UN Women hasn’t engaged with WDI’s demands.
While their past attempts had failed, WDI and their supporters saw their biggest success in late 2022: getting the ear of Reem Alsalem, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Violence against Women and Girls. Previously supporting trans people’s rights to self-identify their gender, Alsalem reversed her position after relentless campaigning from For Women Scotland, a WDI supporting organization with far right ties leading the charge against the proposed gender recognition reform,lxxvii and WDI’s Scotland chapter. Alsalem signaled her own opposition to the reform on November 29 2022 when she filed a letter to the UK government requesting they intervene.5 Within she cited a Scottish parliament submission by HEAL Survivors Grouplxxviii which relied on WDI’s Declaration and For Women Scotland to argue that trans women being housed in women’s shelters is inherently a safety risk.lxxix The about-face resulted in sharp pushback from advocacy organizations and UN LGBTQ Independent Expert Victor Madrigal-Borloz, who noted that “in the countries that have legal recognition of gender identity based on self-identification, there is no credible evidence to suggest systemic risk of predatory men using the process of identifying and living as a woman as an opportunity to perpetrate gender or sexual-based violence.”lxxx
Alsalem has repeatedly rejected criticism, as well as distancing herself from other UN Experts that support trans people and pledging to “intervene on laws that have passed” when questioned about her selective intervention in the Scottish gender recognition bill.lxxxi As of April 2023 her official Twitter account maintained a steady stream of anti-trans propaganda, following For Women Scotland along with multiple WDI chapters, Jennifer Bilek, and the far right anti-LGBTQ group Gays Against Groomers founded by QAnon proponents, among others.
Living the Declaration
Both the anticipation of WDI’s launch and the launch itself, while secretive, sent a spark throughout WDI’s pre-established networks. With signatures starting to roll in on March 7 2019, they carried through the week of the launch and into the days after. Some regions, such as the United Kingdom, United States, and Australia, had a steady growth of interest in the week prior, demonstrating how the news of the Declaration’s launch was circulated within pre-existing anti-trans feminist networks. New Zealand and South Korea showed the strongest interest on March 14, the day before the launch event. Russia, meanwhile, lagged behind the rest by a week, with the bulk of their initial interest peaking in April. As Russia does not have a WDI chapter, this suggests that Russian signatories heard of the Declaration later than other regions.
Over the first year, WDI (then WHRC) and its founding members took the time to set the tone for the chapters. April 2019 saw the translation of the Declaration into Korean by South Korean radical feminist Hyejung Park,lxxxii who had previously translated copies of Sheila Jeffrey’s Gender Hurts and would become WDI South Korea’s country contact, furthering the Declaration’s circulation throughout South Korea. Soon the WDI founders followed up with a UK-based launch in Leeds in May to complement the US-based launch in New York. By July, regional director Teresa Ulloa signed as a representative of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin American and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC), officially tying the Declaration to anti-trafficking NGOs in Latin America.
By August 2020 WDI reached another milestone: the launch of their Spanish translation of the Declaration, and thus the formation of several new chapters. With country contacts from Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and the Dominican Republic, Jeffreys was able to spread her version of trans and feminist history to hundreds of prospective members throughout the Spanish speaking world.
WDI also began their weekly webinar series Feminist Question Time once the COVID-19 pandemic hit as a way for members “to network internationally”. It proved to be a huge success: from 2020 to 2022, they ran over 100 webinars with speakers and activists from every corner of the globe. The speakers, many of whom are active in now-WDI or through supporting organizations, cover a range of topics based on their activities on the ground or areas of expertise. Yet there is a pattern of the focus areas. Predominantly members of WDI and their chapters, or the organizations they work with, focus on laws pertaining to anti-discrimination, conversion therapy bans, gender self-identification, and gender affirming care for trans youth.
There is also consistent focus on opposing surrogacy, decriminalization of sex work, and pornography–such as through WDI’s backing of neoconservative and anti-porn activist Donna Hughes, who gave her own presentation for WDI in turn–though to some speakers’ frustrations they weren’t encoded into the Declaration as much as they’d like. The Declaration’s lack of commitment to opposing sex work was a point of contention for Melissa Farley, an American clinical psychologist whose controversial research has been foundational for anti-sex work activists. Farley argues that the existence of trans people is inherently linked to the sex industry due to the popularity of transgender pornography on PornHub, crediting WDI and their webinars for “be[ing] able to put these ideas together.”lxxxiii Yet she feels that the Declaration’s specific stance on sex work isn’t strong enough and in a 2022 presentation for WDI, called for reaffirming “women’s right to live a life free from the exploitation of trafficking, prostitution, and pornography.”lxxxiv
WDI’s laser focus on gutting social and legal progress for trans people set the tone for its regional chapters around the world. While the campaigns varied region to region, each based on the region’s political climate, several threads remained consistent. Time and time again, WDI chapters channeled their energy into gutting anti-discrimination legislation, efforts to ban conversion practices, access to bathrooms or gender affirming care, the ability to change gender markers on legal documents, and housing arrangements for incarcerated trans women. In the process, WDI has routinely aligned with Christian Right lobbyists in each region.
Following are case studies from some of the most active regions: United States of America, Mexico and Spain, Australia and the United Kingdom, Canada, and South Korea.
Vajra Ma of the Oregon-based spiritual feminist nonprofit Shakti Moon Foundation, who signed the Declaration two days after the launch in March 2019, soon joined others in forming a US regional chapter of WHRC. In 2020, Ma became part of the interim steering committee for the chapter (then called WHRC-USA) alongside Thistle Pettersen, the founder of radical feminist media project Women’s Liberation Radio News (WLRN), and Kara Dansky and Natasha Chart, then board members of Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF).lxxxv Together they hit the ground running. Vajra Ma soon submitted legislative testimony on behalf of the chapter during the upcoming legislative session.
Pettersen, meanwhile, took WHRC USA to the streets. Just a day after the launch stream was released by Women’s Liberation Radio News, she led a march on the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, alongside fellow WHRC USA steering committee member Kerri Bruss. The march was to call for the pending Biden administration to alter the proposed Equality Act to omit gender identity and expression as protected classes – a campaign that would set the stage for their model alternative bill (“Equality for All Act”) in 2021. Soon after, Pettersen and Bruss joined the Green Party’s National Women’s Caucus (NWC) in attempts to “generate support for the Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights[.]”lxxxvi However, both would end up being ousted due to violating the party’s caucus bylaws on respect for diversity and other caucus members.
Come January 2021, WHRC-USA focused on developing their suggested amendments to the U.S. Equality Act, which they dubbed the “Equality for All Act”. Kara Dansky, who was serving on the chapter’s Steering Committee, used the Equality Act as a rallying point for WHRC members. She called upon members to contact US President Biden’s Cabinet members to challenge the executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people by federal agencies because it included trans people, as well as pushing for more signatures for the Declaration and plugging WHRC USA’s “Equality for All Act”.lxxxvii The executive order codified the Bostock decision, holding that U.S. law does prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.lxxxviii The framing of WHRC USA’s communication in response was clear, centering on the supposed threats that trans people posed. Invoking mental images of locker rooms and prisons, Dansky presented trans women as predators for using locker rooms or being housed in prisons based on their gender.lxxxix
Then, during the spring of 2021, WHRC USA took to the streets again for International Women’s Day. WHRC USA, sponsored the Women Picket DC protest march in the US Capitol, an action organized against President Biden’s executive order. After crowdfunding $30,000 and collecting signatures for the Declaration, a crowd of around 200 anti-trans activists gathered at the National Mall in Washington DC on March 8, 2021. Some dressed as handmaids from The Handmaid’s Tale, while others, including Dansky, wore sashes in the US suffrage colors.
Marchers parked themselves on the corner of Constitution Avenue waiting for President Biden to drive by. “We are adult human females!” they chanted with drums as his limousine passed. “We want our sex-based rights!”xc The only outlets willing to cover the event included the Christian Post and Sound of Hope, a radio station connected to the Epoch Times media network reputed for circulating disinformation about COVID-19 and the 2020 presidential election. The next day Dansky appeared on the Tucker Carlson show, where she plugged the Declaration again and reinforced Tucker Carlson’s false claims that cisgender men could identify as women to gain access to government contracts for female business owners.
Over time, questions arose within anti-trans networks about how the $30,000 of crowdfunded money had been spent, as some attendees noted the lack of security they were assured would be presentxci and inconsistent bookkeeping with up to $10-15,000 reportedly unaccounted for.xcii
Then, in fall 2021, WHRC USA sponsored a four-day event called Sovereign Women Speak. Stretching from August 20th to 23rd, the conference gathered attendees in Seattle and Tacoma, Washington, for dinners, panels, and ultimately, a prison protest. Saturday they took to the road. After attending a series of panels ranging from “Mapping the Trans Agenda” to deescalation training, the crowd parked a giant party bus plastered with a giant banner outside of the women’s prison in Gig Harbor. Flying over their heads was a plane with a banner trail: “Sovereign Women Demand Single Sex Prisons”. Dansky, representing WHRC USA, stood over the crowd on the roof of the party bus, giving a speech to the crowd as they chanted, raised their signs, and banged on drums.
The day after was a full day conference with a collection of private events and public panels, some of which were filmed and released online. During the public session, Dansky gave a presentation on the Declaration, titled “NO MERCY,”xciii declaring that the United Nations has been “captured” by transgender people because of their use of the term gender in international human rights documents. Dansky’s statements ran parallel to the argument previously used during the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing by parties such as the Vatican. Dansky pointed to the Declaration’s selective citation of UN declaration and general comments as “weapons” wielded by WHRC to counteract the United Nations and federal bodies that had purportedly been “captured.” Reciting a modified quote from Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Dansky continued: “Lastly, show your enemy no mercy; instead, misgender him at every opportunity.” The crowd cheered with applause.xciv
The event’s organizer, April Morrow, went on to organize a number of other events under Sovereign Women Speak, including a portion of a 2022 tour through the US by WDI supporting organization Standing For Women where one of the attendees reportedly maced a teenage counter-protester.
About a week after Sovereign Women Speak in August 2021, WHRC USA released a statement of support alongside WHRC director Jo Brew regarding the lawsuit American College of Pediatricians v. Becerra, brought by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the Christian Right legal group reputed for their go-to lineup of anti-LGBTQ “experts” and shadow-writing anti-trans bills, in partnership with the fringe, anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience group the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) that provided ADF with “experts” for anti-LGBTQ bills and lawsuits. Together, ACPeds and ADF challenging the expansion of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act to protect queer and trans people seeking health care. Alongside them stands the Catholic Medical Association (CMA), who had opposed Section 1557 as far back as 2014. In their 2014 complaints, CMA argued that the expansion of Section 1557 prevented discrimination for individuals seeking abortion services as well as gender affirming care, which they claimed violated their religious freedom to deny care. Despite ADF and CMA’s ongoing campaigns against abortion access, the connection was never denounced by WHRC USA: in fact, they describe ADF as “a politically and religiously conservative organization” that had been in strong connection with their chapter leadership—including Dansky—to discuss “how best to oppose gender identity ideology in law.”xcv
By winter 2021, WHRC USA began fundraising for their “Deck the Halls of Congress” campaign. The campaign was to send copies of Kara Dansky’s new book The Abolition of Sex, which argues that trans women are behind an effort to abolish sex “as a legal, social and physical category of human beings,”xcvi to all members of Congress. Ultimately raising just shy of $7,000, WHRC USA would go on to mail 535 copies of the book – one for each Representative and Senator.xcvii
While WHRC USA had only been active for a year by this point, their activities throughout 2020 and 2021 set the stage for escalations throughout 2022. Over time the chapter developed stronger allegiances with the Christian Right, targeted legislature and school boards across the country, developed their first political convention, and joined WHRC supporting organizations in an anti-trans propaganda tour that attracted Proud Boy leaders who were at the January 6th Capitol insurrection. WHRC USA gained power but their choices in partnerships caused rifts among members.6
Mexico and Spain
Following the launch of the Spanish translation of the Declaration in August 2020, several WHRC chapters in the Spanish speaking world emerged.xcviii Two of the new chapters–Spain and Mexico– grew well beyond the others throughout 2021, nurturing each other’s movements with key TERF and Catholic Right connections.
Mexico State saw International Women’s Day 2021 protests from anti-trans feminist groups over a proposed law that would have allowed trans people to change gender markers on legal documents. Anti-trans activists faced off with trans activists who had set up their own camp in favor of the law, and the trans activists shut down their camp after threats of violence. In a podcast episode with It Could Happen Here, American-Mexican researcher Julianna Neuhouser of the Sexual and Gender Dissidence Resistance Network (Red de Resistencia y Disidencia S&G) described the incident. “At one point there were two sit-ins outside the state congress,” she recalled. “One to push for a gender identity law and another to push for legalization of abortion, which are obviously both important things. The latter, however, was controlled by these TERF groups who later mysteriously never seemed to appear at other protests asking for the legalization of abortion. But they were there, and they ran off the trans encampment. One of the big incidents was ‘defending the sanctity of the women’s bathroom’ with barbed wire wrapped baseball bats.”xcix
Later it was revealed that the group responsible—Indómitas Feministas Radicales (now Raíces Radicales), a WHRC-supporting organization—were allied with the local police and far right political parties, with grave consequences. “This is a case of an ideology developed in the First World, in this case England which is largely a safe country where even as fascist an ideology as TERFism only very rarely leads to real violence, but it gets exported to countries that are not safe where it does turn into real violence.”c
Late spring and summer 2021 brought more bursts of activity in both Mexico and Spain. By May 2021, WHRC Spain became a supporting committee for Thinking Feminism: A Global Look (Pensar el Feminismo: Una Mirada Global), an international conference centered on “an approach to the challenges that a global feminist movement poses, bringing together theorists and activists of undeniable renown in their respective areas.”ci Hosted by the Spanish Classics and Moderns Association (Clásicas y Modernas) founded in 2009 to promote gender equality in culture, the event was sponsored by the Valencia City Council and Ministry of Culture, strengthening the political ties.
To kick off the event, the morning of May 14 the Thinking Feminism conference was introduced by then-Vice President of Spain Carmen Calvo. Joining her was a speakers list awash with familiar faces from various WHRC chapters: Sheila Jeffreys (WHRC founder in the UK) spoke on a panel moderated by WHRC Spain country contact Amparo Domingo, and Laura Lecuona (WHRC Mexico) and María José Binetti (WHRC Argentina) spoke on the subject of feminism in Latin America. All of these figures were also present during the 2020 launch event of the Spanish translation of the Declaration, which spread the Declaration and its vision throughout Spain and Latin America.cii Lecuona and Binetti were also joined by Raquel Rosario Sánchez, an affiliate of WHRC that had previously attempted to sue the University of Bristol for protests due to her connection to Women’s Place UK. While not known to be a formal member of WHRC, Sánchez has an ongoing relationship with them, appearing as part of WHRC’s Feminist Question Time in 2021ciii and the subject of support campaigns from the head organization.civ
The conference in Spain was a bizarre display of how anti-trans conspiracies can be polished and presented among even the most senior of politicians. The morning after the conference inauguration with then-Vice President Calvo, Jeffreys gave an hour-long presentation about how trans people oppress the masses through porn, BDSM, and capturing institutions, laid out in as much graphic detail as possible. She explained that this graphic detail is necessary because “even though that knowledge is disturbing and often disgusting, knowledge of what is happening means that [they] can fight back.”cv Her idea of fighting back? Joining WHRC. Jeffreys followed up the presentation with an explicit plug of the Declaration, presenting it as an example of international feminist coalition against the existence of gender identity.
Jeffreys’ arguments were underscored by a panel for Latin America in the afternoon session, with the presentations from WHRC Mexico country contact Laura Lecuona, WHRC affiliate Raquel Rosario Sánchez, and WHRC Argentina country contact María José Binetti. Lecuona spent much of her presentation on anti-sex work and anti-surrogacy activism in Mexico, eventually tying in anti-trans activism.cvi In the process Lecuona was invoking the same image of the “pimp lobby” that had become so popular in anti-sex work activism.cvii Yet she needed to take it a step further, proclaiming that “[t]ransgenderism is just a stop on the road to transhumanism.”cviii
Binetti spoke last, arguing that the fight for the trans rights law in Argentina was not a local campaign but one imposed by queer theorists and billionaires from the Global North.cix In doing so, she erased the work from grassroots trans and travesti7 organizations that had been fighting for their own survival as part of the #FuriaTravesti movement. Curiously, Binetti also echoed a talking point crucial to the US Christian Right’s anti-LGBTQ campaign in Africa, where LGBTQ people in Uganda faced accusations of being funded by “big money” while US and Ugandan churches pushed for the death penalty.cx A consistent thread between all three women’s presentations was the claim of wealthy funding into the trans rights movement, though only Lecuona offered a citation: the anti-trans conspiracy theorycrafter Jennifer Bilek, whose work had been translated extensively into Spanish.
The Spanish launch event and Thinking Feminism conference were both a success. The heavy representation of WHRC members and affiliates at Thinking Feminism helped further the connection between TERF networks in Spain and Latin America, as well as leading to a hefty spike in signatories from Spain, Argentina and Mexico. The Spanish launch of the Declaration also played right into the campaign against the proposed trans rights law in Spain. Initially included by Minister of Equality Irene Montero as part of a government agreement between Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, or PSOE) and United We Can (Unidas Podemos), the proposal sought four major changes to the process of changing gender markers on Spanish National Identity Documents: allowing trans adolescents over age 14 to change their gender markers, making the process easier for non-Spanish residents, and removing requirements to be on hormone replacement therapy for at least two years or have a clinical diagnosis.
The bill was immediately met with hostility. Many of the most vocal opponents came from the PSOE itself, including from then-Vice President Carmen Calvo who previously served as the Minister of Equality until she was replaced by Irene Montero from Unidas Podemos in 2020. Calvo presented a series of road blocks: first proposing to have the bill folded into a co-occurring LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill instead of being its own, then suggesting two additional barriers in the process for changing gender markers–requiring a judge for requesting and then for ratifying the change–and taking issue with gender affirming care for trans youth under age 16.cxi Former PSOE deputy Ángeles Álvarez also joined the ranks, declaring in 2022 that “PSOE did not write [the proposed trans rights law]” despite it being part of a joint government agreement with Unidas Podemos, and that the pushback against the trans rights law was driven by Anglo-Saxon anti-trans feminism throughout Spain.cxii Similarly, a merger of anti-trans feminists and the far right appeared through Feminist Part of Spain founder Lidia Falcón, the nationalist conservative Vox party and ultra-conservative lobby group HatzeOír, where together they also targeted the trans rights law.
Elizabeth Duval, a trans philosopher from Spain, places this hostility squarely in the context of a broader conflict between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos. In her book Después de lo trans: Sexo y género entre la izquierda y lo identitario, Duval describes how the PSOE’s dedication to trans-exclusionary radical feminism and centrist state power caused enormous tension with members of the Unidas Podemos, which was viewed as radical.cxiii This posed problems for Calvo in particular, given her previous position as the Minister of Equality for PSOE and having been replaced by Podemos’s Irene Montero. The power struggles between the PSOE and Unidas Podemos, particularly Calvo and Montero over who should be Spain’s Minister of Equality, is key to understanding the delay of the trans rights law according to Duval.cxiv This context, Duval argues, is why key Spanish feminist allegiances with HazteOír were possible despite previous condemnations of their campaigns,cxv much like the allegiances between anti-trans feminists and the Christian Right in the US and Mexico.
While the original proposed trans rights law was blocked by Spanish Congress after all of the PSOE deputies abstained from voting, the bill later merged with a co-occurring LGBTQ anti-discrimination bill into a broader umbrella bill that also banned conversion therapy and forced surgery on intersex children. In response, the WHRC Declaration saw more spikes in signatures and come June 2021, protests emerged against the bill, and WHRC Spain participated. According to Spanish news outlet El Español, some groups at the protests were opposed to the LGBTQ anti-discrimination law despite presenting themselves as feminists.cxvi
Around the same time, anti-trans protests in Mexico continued. Anti-trans feminists staged a demonstration in Plaza de los Mártires, Toluca, where they beat the Plaza floor and stone fountain with hammers in protest of a proposed law allowing people to change their names. One group—Indómitas Feministas Radicales, a WDI supporting organization—held sit-ins in front of the Congress of the State of Mexico and set fire to its doors.8
WHRC Mexico sent a letter to the Mexico City Congress on August 27, 2021,cxvii opposing a proposed bill that would allow trans youth in Mexico City to change their gender on their legal documents without a court order. Local trans advocacy groups had been fighting for the bill since 2019 when Tania Morales, the president of the Association for Transgender Children (Asociación por las Infancias Transgénero), brought the initiative to the Senate Chamber.cxviii Previously, advocates described how being able to change documents through administrative channels instead of a court order was needed since the trial process was lengthy, invasive and prone to denials.cxix WHRC Mexico argued that trans youth are unable to know their gender and thus should not be able to change their gender markers because they may regret it,cxx an argument that the Association of Transgender Children had already refuted by noting that there are no barriers to marker reversals in the proposal.cxxi As part of their evidence WHRC Mexico leveraged the UK case of Keira Bell,cxxii a detransitioned woman who sued the Tavistock gender identity clinic using attorneys and expert witnesses connected to UK and US Christian Right networks. In the letter WHRC Mexico also posited that gender identity is an invention of the Yogyakarta Principles—an argument that WHRC Mexico country contact Laura Lecuona has made before—and that the Yogyakarta Principles are not binding in Mexico.cxxiii At the end they presented Article 9 of WHRC’s Declaration, centered on “rights of the child,” to pressure Mexico City Congress to codify aspects of the Declaration into lawcxxiv—omitting the fact that the Declaration is also not binding, is deceptively designed to mimic binding international human rights declarations, and was developed without any formal consultation processes with state bodies or regional stakeholders.
Ultimately, Mexico City Congress was not swayed. The next day, on August 28, 2021, Mexico City governor Claudia Sheinbaum signed the bill, thereby lowering the age restriction to change gender markers to age 12 with parental or guardian consent.cxxv
Australia and the United Kingdom
In March 2021, WHRC Australia released a statement denouncing a “Feminist Declaration” drafted by a Women’s Rights Caucus of over 200 organizations worldwide and supported by the advocacy group International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA World). The Feminist Declaration was designed to both mark the 25th anniversary of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.cxxvi WHRC Australia falsely claimed that ILGA was using the Feminist Declaration to legalize child sexual exploitation. Anna Kerr, the country contact for WHRC Australia, used carefully clipped quotes from the Feminist Declaration to change their meaning, and referenced ILGA’s support for decriminalizing sex work, their funding, and a past controversy where ILGA had been denied ECOSOC consultative status with the United Nations three times because three pro-pedophilia groups had previously been members.
While it is true that pro-pedophilia groups had been members in the 1990s, ILGA ousted these groups from their ranks as soon as they heard of the groups’ membership as they were in violation of ILGA’s adopted resolution on protection of the child. The organization also implemented a four-step screening process with applications and multiple regional board member endorsements and a full membership voting process for additional safeguarding.cxxvii Per ILGA’s statement in 2017 on the controversy, after outlining their safeguarding protocols, “[i]n short, ILGA does not support paedophilia, and never has.”cxxviii ILGA regained their ECOSOC consultative status in 2011, yet they continue to face harassment over the controversy from anti-LGBTQ activists.
Because of this ongoing harassment towards ILGA, WHRC Australia’s claims took on a new life in the UK. The British trans-led research group Trans Safety Network, traced the trajectory of WHRC Australia’s allegations, as they morphed to attack both ILGA and British LGBTQ advocacy organization Stonewall UK, and ultimately made their way into a conference for the newly-formed Scottish nationalist Alba Party. The allegations that ILGA World and Stonewall UK were advocating for pedophilia soon morphed into a full on conspiracy theory when WHRC Australia’s media release made its way onto “gender critical” social media in the UK with the added claim that trade unions in the UK were advocating pedophilia, and calling on outraged readers to sign WHRC’s Declaration.cxxix “WHRC’s motivations in doing this are not worth speculating on,” writes Trans Safety Network researcher Mallory Moore,cxxx but their impact was clear: enabling homophobic narratives, creating a template for conspiracy theories to adapt to different regional contexts, and building momentum to allow claims to break out of anti-trans feminist spaces into conservative or far-right spheres.
The universality of antisemitism
The ILGA conspiracy was able to take root in part because WHRC Australia leveraged an article in the Catholic Right publication First Things by U.S. anti-trans feminist writer Jennifer Bilek, a former member of Deep Green Resistance whose work fixates on Jewish funders of LGBTQ advocacy. Claiming that “transgenderism is the bridge” to making literal superhumans, Bilek weaves together provocations of pharmaceutical conspiracies, institutional capture by the New World Order, and fears of transhumanism. Bilek’s work helps to create a bridge between anti-trans feminists and the far right, including adherents to QAnon. After her 2018 article “Who Are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology?” in The Federalist, Bilek and her theories have spread like wildfire in anti-trans networks. At one point, Bilek was cited by Darren Bailey, the Republican candidate for Governor of Illinois. During the second gubernatorial candidates’ debate on October 18, 2022, Bailey began reciting anti-trans disinformation about the TAWANI Foundation, claiming that the family foundation of current Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker “is funding experimental gender surgeries on children across the nation.” His campaign directed press to one of Bilek’s recent publications in Tablet Magazine targeting Pritzker and his cousin Jennifer Pritzker, a prominent transgender woman whose TAWANI Foundation funds cultural institutions, human rights advocacy, education programs, LGBTQ rights, health care, and environmental or historic preservation.cxxxi Bilek is also a prolific blogger at her website The 11th Hour Blog,cxxxii where she self-publishes additional conspiracies about artificial intelligence, famous trans people, and porn. Bilek’s articles–whether from The Federalist or The 11th Hour Blog–are often used by white supremacists, either as citationscxxxiii or via plagiarism with antisemitic cartoons edited in.cxxxiv Over time her writings become more and more popular among WHRC members worldwide.
By fall and winter of 2021, WHRC UK moved on to their own campaigns. One was their submission to the UK government Women and Equalities Committee’s consultation process on the UK’s Gender Recognition Act reform, arguing for its full repeal. Two months later they followed up with another submission, this time to the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on bathroom access. Despite the Ministry’s call for evidence reaffirming that trans people are protected by the 2010 Equality Act, in both cases WHRC UK argued that trans women should not be recognized as women or able to use women’s spaces.
Then WHRC UK began drafting their own submission to the governmental consultation process on a conversion therapy ban. They argued that gender affirming care for transgender people is itself conversion therapy, and thus gender identity and expression should not be covered in the proposed ban. To justify this they leveraged detransitioners again, much like WHRC Mexico did in their brief to the Mexico City Congress in August 2021.cxxxv WHRC UK embedded potshots at Stonewall UK, one of the leading LGBTQ advocacy charities in the UK and another target of the conspiracy theories around ILGA World, into what is but one part of an ongoing campaign against Stonewall’s reputation.
In October 2020, 11 WHRC chapters were founded in Canada—one national and ten provincial. WHRC Canada quickly found a legislative target of choice in Bill C-6, the proposed federal ban on conversion practices. Similar to WHRC UK, Canada’s regional chapters started drafting briefs to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, proclaiming that “[a] legislated ban on conversion therapy will lock in the affirming approach as the only way to treat gender dysphoria.”cxxxvi Their briefs stood in direct contrast to ones filed by survivor coalitions, legal ethicist experts, workers unions, and the Canadian Association of Social Workers. WHRC-Canada’s allies, meanwhile, were the very church networks that positioned themselves as alternatives to affirming trans people’s identity.
A common claim in efforts opposing conversion therapy bans, including those from WHRC, is that they’re being driven by trans lobbyists. Fae Johnstone, the Executive Director of the Canadian 2SLGBTQ+ consulting firm Wisdom2Action, argues otherwise. She had been part of the trans and survivor advocate committee that the Liberal Party consulted with for amendments, but the committee was formed after the bill had already been proposed. “Nobody in community had seen the bill until they launched it,” Johnstone told Health Liberation Now!. “They weren’t engaging with us much.” Once the bill went out for open comment from the public, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights started receiving a record-breaking flood of opposing briefs, including four from WHRC chapters and several others from WHRC supporting organizations in Canada. Johnstone recalled how strangely coordinated it seemed. “You can see across those brief submissions copy-pasted language or frames of reference. A lot of those groups were [WHRC] associated groups. A lot of them were citing each other and the international Declaration. […] You can see that somebody orchestrated a whole lot of the same submissions.”
Amidst a lengthy season of stallings and concern trolling by Conservative Canadian Members of Parliaments, Bill C-6 ultimately failed to pass due to an election being called, but the Liberal MPs put forward another version in the following legislative session: Bill C-4. The Conservative Party that previously opposed Bill C-6 quickly pushed it through the legislature without opening for public commentary, raising questions among activists if the Conservative Party was trying to clear its reputation after stalling the previous bill.9 The new Bill C-4 became law on December 8th 2021.cxxxvii
August 2021 was a busy season for South Korea when they officially launched their own WHRC chapter. The chapter was headed by WHRC South Korea country contact Hyejung Park, who had previously translated WHRC’s Declaration into Korean along with several of Sheila Jeffrey’s publications and was a guest on WHRC’s Feminist Question Time.cxxxviii According to Jinsook Kim, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication at the University of Pennsylvania, the launch was rooted in the resurgence of the Korean feminist movement in 2015 when the hashtag #iamafeminist became popular, leading to regional pushback against Korean beauty culture and pervasive public sexual violations via secret filming in bathrooms and locker rooms as part of the global #MeToo movement.cxxxix
Over time these factors led to mass protests in 2018 organized by Uncomfortable Courage, a group which designed the event to be explicitly trans-exclusive. “[T]he organizing online community Uncomfortable Courage limited its membership to “biological females,” again, supposedly for the sake of women’s safety at the protests,” said Kim. “Moreover, its official announcement of the protest included transphobic images and the request that participants report any “transgender-looking individuals” whom they observed at the rally.”cxl
Simultaneously, the Korean online LGBTQ community was in crisis. Online space Megalia was fractioning into another group called Womad due to opposing views on solidarity with gay men. Kim at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication writes how “Womad explicitly pursued an essentialist and separatist politics for women, advocating female superiority and a biological notion of women that excluded trans women. This essentialist politics thus shared commonalities with the politics of TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) activists in such countries as the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia[.]”cxli Over time, Womad would join the ranks of Korean supporting organizations for WHRC, furthering the alignment with US and UK-based TERF activism.
Upon launch WHRC Korea immediately organized a push against South Korea’s proposed anti-discrimination bill due to its inclusion of gender identity. With attempts dating back to 2007, the bill proposed in 2020 was a landmark campaign to enshrine equal rights protections to all citizens in South Korea, protecting citizens on the basis of race, disability, religion, and more. The proposed bill was met with pushback from Christian groups and the conservative People Power Party (PPP), with some churches meeting with Korea’s center-left Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) to keep it from passing.cxlii
WHRC Korea organized a campaign opposing the bill, spreading propaganda briefscxliii and soliciting signatures via an online form.cxliv The group leveraged Korean coverage of protests at a Korean spa in Los Angeles, California over the summer that included members of the white nationalist group Proud Boys.cxlv The internet erupted over the spa’s trans-inclusive policy following a video released online by “CubanaAngel,” who was later revealed to have ties to Mark T. Little of the US Christian shadow funding network Council for National Policy. The protests led to multiple stabbings from Proud Boy attendees. The coverage by Korean publication JoongAng, while briefly mentioning “Christian organizations,” did not clarify that said organizations included a known white nationalist group reputed for violence or that they were the ones responsible for the stabbings.
In citing the protests against Wi Spa without noting their far-right connections, WHRC Korea continued the violence perpetrated towards trans people in Los Angeles and in Korea. “Some of these raetpem [self-identified radical feminist] groups, such as Women’s Human Rights Campaign Korea, have even opposed the enactment of anti-discrimination laws on the baseless grounds that the law—in particular, the prohibition of discrimination based on gender identity—overlooks and thereby condones the violence and crimes against women committed by other social minority groups, such as transgender people[,]” Kim writes. “Even as I complete this writing, in March 2021, however, the Korean transgender community has lost three members within the past month, including the country’s first known transgender soldier. These tragic reports are not irrelevant to the surge in transphobic claims and discriminatory policies against them.”cxlvi
WHRC South Korea championed their signature collection campaign, calling it a success. Gathering 2096 signatures and submissions, WHRC South Korea members traveled to the National Assembly office in Seol to deliver them.
Within a month, WHRC South Korea’s claims made their way into parliament. In a parliamentary audit on October 22 discussing the proposed anti-discrimination bill, Representative Seo Jeong-suk of the conservative People Power Party (PPP) invoked the disinformation about the Los Angeles Korean Spa, trans women participating in women’s sports, and incarcerated trans women housed in women’s prisons.cxlvii To justify her opposition to the bill, Rep. Seo pointed to the United States and United Kingdom. “The cases that occurred in the United States and the United Kingdom can also happen in Korea,” Seo said. “Efforts to find a solution to prevent reverse discrimination against women are continuing, with more than 50 bills currently being proposed in the United States to restrict transgender people from participating in same-sex sports events.”cxlviii WHRC South Korea celebrated, declaring that “[t]his parliamentary inspection of the Ministry of Gender Equality is the first case in which women’s opinion against transgenderism has officially been delivered to the political power[.]”cxlix According to WHRC South Korea, Seo had emphasized that opposition to the anti-discrimination bill “is not only the opinion of Christians but also the opinion of lesbians.”cl Referring to the comments by Rep. Jeong-suk as “historic,” WHRC South Korea reported the event to international feminists in their networks.cli
As the debate raged on, the conservative PPP and the contrasting center-left Democratic Party of Korea (DPK) were both denounced by South Korean human rights activists for their part in blocking the anti-discrimination bill.clii Despite over 100,000 signatures in support of the anti-discrimination bill, members of the South Korean Coalition for Anti-Discrimination Legislation grew frustrated with the DPK’s slow response and lack of commitment. Two human rights activists, Miryu and Jong-gul, staged a hunger strike in front of the South Korean National Assembly in Seol to push the DPK to act. The PPP, meanwhile, refused to join public review hearings. After the PPP refused to attend a hearing on May 25, 2022, and the DPK refused to respond to the South Korean Coalition’s concerns, the South Korean Coalition held a press conferencecliii with executive committee member Miryu ending the hunger strike the next day. “This is not the end[,]” Miryu said. “I may be ending my hunger strike, but we will not stop the fight for anti-discrimination legislation.”cliv The review for the bill has been extended into May 2024.
Following the push against South Korea’s proposed anti-discrimination bill, WHRC South Korea’s online activities have been sparse. As of this writing, it’s unclear whether WHRC South Korea is still an active regional chapter, as their main social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook have been inactive since January 2022.
A New Leaf: Becoming Women’s Declaration International
Looking back at 2020 and 2021, the broader strategy of WHRC and its chapters becomes clear. With the use of their Declaration, designed with official-sounding flare to mimic UN declarations, WHRC and its affiliates are able to position their version of reality against legislation or declarations uplifted by established coalitions of feminist and LGBTQ advocates so as to undermine their credibility. In the process the Declaration is used as a rallying point for their members and creating the persuasive arguments they needed to gain more.
One anonymous signatory, during the 2019 UK launch event in Leeds, illustrated this reasoning as she described her reason for signing. “It’s time we took some positive, definite steps forward,” she told a filmer from Leeds Spinners, a trans-exclusionary crafting group that supported WHRC’s event. “A lot of the time, feminists are defending our territory and this seems like a very concrete thing that we can clearly say, ‘look.’ ‘Declaration’ is a very strong word in itself, and people understand the concept of a declaration of rights.”clv It’s this very dedication that allows WHRC and its members to justify working with actors of the Christian Right despite direct conflicts with their own proclaimed values.
Yet eventually WHRC had to switch gears. Claiming a need to “reflect [their] global reach”, come January 2022 the organization announced a formal rebrand from Women’s Human Rights Campaign to Women’s Declaration International (WDI).10 While the rebrand didn’t have an immediate impact on their success, seeing as the web addresses never changed, the Declaration still gained a small wave of new signatories throughout the winter.
And then WDI’s digital momentum took a serious hit over the course of 2022. Despite slowed enrollment, the patterns remained the same. The bulk of the support for the Declaration came from just 10 countries, with a heavy concentration coming from the United Kingdom, the United States, and Spain. These three countries, which routinely share anti-trans rhetoric connected to to radical feminist and “gender critical” activism, make up the central base of WDI’s supporters. The allegiances within and across borders had already been built. Together, networks in these empires sent shockwaves in feminist and LGBTQ movements around the world, all while working under the cover of global, grassroots organizing.
The Recipe for Success: Allegiance with the Right
Radical feminist collaboration with the Right has long been a point of contention, both within and outside of their ranks. A partnership with lasting ties, conservatives and (mostly white) liberal women have for decades joined forces against porn, freedom of sexual expression, and sex work, often in the name of combatting sex trafficking. The recipe for success had already been written, and there were connections and experience to lean on. Now WDI just needed to put it into action.
The seeds for WDI partnership with the Right were planted early and across multiple chapters. In the US, multiple WDI USA members have prior working relationships with conservative lobbying groups despite ongoing pushback from their membership. Marian Rutigliano, an emergency medicine specialist who later became a WDI USA board member, spoke on a panel by Heritage Foundation in 2019.
Dansky had past working relationships with Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) and Family Policy Alliance (FPA) during her time with WoLF. While Dansky has claimed that “there’s no formal partnership” between WoLF and any specific Christian Right organizations,clvi its allegiances became clear over 2021 and 2022 as WDI USA has engaged in a blitz of brief drafting in response to proposed legislation across the country. Out of 32 briefs it wrote supporting bills in 2021-2022, 31 backed Republican-sponsored legislation, meaning the group sided with the GOP 97% of the time. Many of the bills they supported in 2021 were drafted by the ADF. Another 20 briefs opposed pro-LGBTQ legislation, 17 (85%) of which were sponsored by Democrats. WDI USA also sent a “model bill” to 13 state legislatures who were pushing 19 proposed anti-trans bills, attempting to make the proposed legislation more trans-exclusionary.11 While there’s little evidence showing their model bill had any impact, the attempt reveals their dedication to erase trans people from public life.
This massive legislative effort was possible because of the pre-established connections that Dansky already had as a result of her work with WoLF and Hands Across The Aisle, a coalition of trans-exclusionary conservative and progressive women developed in 2017,clvii and whose founding members spoke on a panel at the Heritage Foundation just days after their formation.clviii From there, the coalition spoke at Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, where Concerned Parents and Educators executive director Meg Kilgannon used Hands Across the Aisle as an example of successful allegiances between anti-trans feminist and Christian organizations in a broader strategy to “divide and conquer” LGBTQ organizations.clix The group later filed letters with the Department of Housing and Urban Development opposing inclusion of trans women in women’s shelters.clx While Hands Across the Aisle is now largely inactive, members still occasionally list themselves as group representatives when signing anti-trans briefs coordinated by WoLF.clxi
According to Dansky, she represented WDI USA “in a national coalition to protect women’s sports, loosely referred to as the Title IX coalition.” The coalition included WoLF, anti-trans group Save Women’s Sports, as well as “a handful of conservative organizations with whom we disagree on many topics.”clxii Together they decided what bills to address, how, and whether they aligned with the language of the Declaration.
In May 2022, WDI USA went on to back the Women’s Bill of Rights, sponsored by Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, who previously tried to block the Food and Drug Administration from approving new drugs for terminating pregnancies. “The U.S. chapter of Women’s Declaration International, a nonpartisan global organization that support women’s sex-based rights around the world, is proud to support the Women’s Bill of Rights, which would enshrine into law many of the principles outlined in the global Declaration on Women’s Sex-Based Rights, which we work to advance throughout U.S. law,” Dansky declared.clxiii Formal partnership came to a head with the Our Bodies, Our Sports rally in Washington, D.C., where WDI USA stood alongside goliaths of conservative women’s groups and think tanks including ADF, FPA, and Heritage Foundation.
Dansky’s collaborations with the Right have been extensively criticized by her community of anti-transgender feminists, even by members of early supporting organizations for WDI. During a 2019 round table discussion hosted by WRLN,clxiv Anne Menasche of Feminists in Struggle (FIST) challenged Dansky about WoLF’s well-documented relationship with the Heritage Foundation, which was undermining women’s rights across the US.clxv Menasche couldn’t reconcile the notion of working with politicians and lobbying groups that also opposed reproductive rights. As the debate went on Dansky let the mask slip, revealing the real purpose behind the strategic allegiance: shifting to secular arguments for more reach.
“[T]he way that conservatives tend to frame gender and gender identity is ultimately really harmful[,]” Dansky proclaimed, referring to the Christian Right’s heavy focus on religion. “[O]ne of the things that we have succeeded in doing is helping understand that leading with their religious freedom, for example, leading with religious freedom is a mistake.”clxvi
Sex worker activists have heard this all before. After all, such arguments were also used by formative coalitions between the Right and feminists to change the political landscape on sex trafficking. Melissa Gira Grant, a former sex worker and author of Playing The Whore, wrote for Political Research Associates about one such coalition built by Michael Horowitz and the impact it had worldwide. According to Grant, by including long-standing anti-porn activist Laura Lederer, Horowitz was able to reach women’s groups and leaders that otherwise would remain at odds with conservative movements, including Donna M. Hughes. Hughes, being both an anti-porn activist and neoconservative, played a pivotal role in encouraging feminists to work with the Christian Right–including against “Islamic fundamentalism” after 9/11.clxvii During the Bush administration Hughes was also essential in pushing what would become the Rescue Industry, fighting against funding that supported sex work unionization or anything that “‘empower[ed] victims of trafficking rather than rescu[ing] them.”clxviii Her aim was to take down the entire industry, which would only work if the concepts of sex work and trafficking were inherently linked. Giving the Right the language they needed to reframe their position, Grant concludes that “[t]he Horowitz coalition has proven itself to be the first successful moral entrepreneurs of the war to combat human trafficking.”clxix
Dansky, meanwhile, justifies such partnerships with an almost militant dedication. Her commitment to undermining the rights of trans and gender diverse people, regardless of consequences, echoes the commitment of neoconservative Hughes. “I think we’ve made some inroads on that front[,]” Dansky said. “And I want to take down the system, you know, however, using any means necessary.”clxx Any means necessary—even if that means handing tools to the carceral state that ultimately harms both cis women and trans people across the board.
Such kinds of strategies are also used by Laura Lecuona, the WDI country contact in Mexico who spoke at the launch of the Spanish translation of the Declaration in 2020. Previously with Feministas Mexicanas Contra Vientres de Alquiler (FEMMVA), Lecuona’s roots started in anti-surrogacy activism and grassroots lesbian literacy circles. Over time she would make her anti-trans stances known and fold the ideologies together into her political organizing. Local researchers Julianna Neuhouser and Eme Flores, with the Sexual and Gender Dissidence Resistance Network, explained in an interview how Lecuona’s past work with FEMMVA opened doors for the collaborations between anti-trans feminists and far-right political powers seen in Mexico today. “It started as a way to platform this incipient alliance of radfems in Mexico,” Flores said. “It got a bunch of them in meetings with politicians. They got to actually do some lobbying, and it’s doubtful how much of it was just surrogacy stuff.”
Members of FEMMVA had made connections with the Early Institute, a think tank which former FEMMVA members called out as being tied to the Mexican far-right secret society the National Organization of the Anvil (also known simply as “The Anvil” or El Yunque). Journalist Álvaro Delgado, whose book The Anvil: The Extreme Right In Power (El Yunque: La ultraderecha en el poder) folds in numerous interviews from former Yunque members, illustrated the group’s extensive infiltrations into the National Action Party (Partido Acción Nacional or PAN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional or PRI) through a range of front groups. The group, reported to date back to the 1950s, seeks “to prevent diabolical Marxism from taking over Mexico”clxxi through the implementation of a Roman Catholic state. The front groups are designed to “hide the true structure of the National Organization of El Yunque, the paramilitary and ultra-Catholic secret society conceived to combat the ‘Jewish-Masonic-Communist conspiracy’ in Mexico.”clxxii In doing so, members of El Yunque can sway or even recruit high ranking politicians, though many will deny that they’re members or that such an organization even exists.clxxiii
FEMMVA, like Dansky and WoLF, defended their collaborations amidst the controversy. In a public Facebook statement FEMMVA noted that “[i]n radical feminism there is an open debate about the possible collaboration of feminist groups with right-wing organizations with which some causes unite us but not others. The issue is not settled. The members of FEMMVA think that some punctual tactical alliances with certain groups can be beneficial for the cause, and many feminists are with us in this.”clxxiv The conflict about Lecuona and connections to the Early Institute, according to Julianna Neuhouser and Eme Flores, ultimately led to the internal collapse of FEMVVA. However, the precedent had already been set. “To the top, transphobia is the real thing,” Flores noted. “It clearly was a way to get the most radfem talking points with the most cover. Afterwards, I think it was those meetings where WDI Mexico started.”
Meanwhile, WDI affiliates in Spain had their own problems, namely through Lidia Falcón. After all, another El Yunque front group is HatzeOír,clxxv the ultra-Catholic, far right organization in Spain that launched CitizenGo. HatzeOír is reputed for their two traveling anti-rights propaganda buses as part of a “free speech” campaign: one attacking trans people in 2017 and one attacking feminists in 2019 with a mockup of Hitler wearing makeup hovering over the hashtag #StopFeminazis. The anti-feminist bus was scheduled to make its rounds all the way up until International Women’s Day while calling for the repeal of laws against gender violence. The buses were immediately rebuked throughout Spain. Ángeles Álvarez, then spokesperson for Equality of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (Partido Socialista Obrero Español or PSOE), declared the anti-trans bus “a hate campaign based on intolerance,”clxxvi though she would later be exposed for anti-trans statements within the Spanish Congressional Equality Commission that prompted a federal coalition of LGBTQ organizations to call for her removal as PSOE deputy.clxxvii The next year, Álvarez became the head and primary spokesperson of the anti-trans, antisemitic coalition network Alliance Against the Erasure of Women (La Alianza contra el Borrado de las Mujeres or simply Contra el Borrado) upon its founding in January 2020.clxxviii Anti-fascist and anti-capitalist networks, meanwhile, threw paint at HatzeOír’s anti-feminism bus and covered part of it with a rainbow anti-fascist flag. The backlash led to the anti-trans bus being impounded by Mandrid officials, though the anti-feminism bus got away with a simple fine. Ultimately, though, HatzeOír held firm; the anti-trans bus made rounds throughout the United States in late March 2017,clxxix followed by tours in Germany, France, Italy, Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Africa throughout 2017 and 2018.clxxx
The anti-trans bus made a reappearance when in March 2021 Falcón appeared on a HatzeOír-hosted panel as part of HatzeOír’s ongoing campaign against the trans rights law, alongside Alicia Rubio,clxxxi a member of the far-right Spanish political party Vox who serves on the Assembly for Madrid. Falcón continued to appear with Rubio well into 2022, even participating in a Vox-sponsored event that was then streamed by the Feminist Party of Spain,clxxxii which once again received sharp criticism from Spanish LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, commenters on the livestream repeated the same debate seen in the US and Mexico: is it or is it not acceptable to work with far right parties? HatzeOír certainly seems to think so; according to Neuhouser, documents released via WikiLeaks revealed them identifying radical feminists as potential allies all the way back to 2017,clxxxiii a similar strategy that has been successfully wielded by Christian Right groups in the US. Sometimes even including through HatzeOír themselves, as they hosted Miriam Ben-Shalom of Hands Across the Aisle Coalition to the 2018 CitizenGo conference in Madrid.clxxxiv
Falcón, and by extension her Feminist Party of Spain, regularly got support from WDI Spain after the Party was overwhelmingly ousted from the United Left (Izquierda Unida) coalition due to her prolific anti-trans views. WDI Spain contrasted their support of Falcón’s Feminist Party of Spain with their sadness about HatzeOír and the bus, though they don’t mention HatzeOír by name.clxxxv Yet despite these past denouncements of HatzeOír and Vox, WDI Spain have continued to defend Falcón and remained silent on her collaborations with HatzeOír and members of Vox.
The coalitional strategy isn’t just tolerated within the various independent country chapters of WDI. Explicit support goes all the way to the top, with Jeffreys herself declaring her own rightwing collaborations and the justification for her and WoLF doing so. During one of the earliest Feminist Question Time webinars in May 2020, Jeffreys joined Dansky and panelists from the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, and Brazil. Together they answered a submitted question about strategy and what political groups to work with since liberal parties are trans-inclusive. Dansky, in her response, explained how “it’s very hard to accomplish anything without working with what are traditionally referred to as “rightwing” organizations. And that’s in part because they have most of the power.”clxxxvi Reflecting back on the criticisms posed against WoLF for their collaborations with the ADF, Heritage Foundation and FPA, she asserted that they “considered the assault on women’s rights presented by the gender identity agenda as an emergency.”clxxxvii
This reference to “an emergency” was stressed by all of the other panelists. Democrats and Liberals won’t talk to them, they argue, so they have no choice but to work with structural powers that have vested, worldwide interests in undermining LGBTQ and women’s rights. Some of these groups in the US–the ADF and Heritage Foundation–are part of a Christian Right funder network called the Council for National Policy (CNP). Together, ADF International and the Heritage Foundation have invested over $24 million dollars into anti-gender movements throughout Europe.clxxxviii And that’s not even accounting for their investments within the US, the very kinds of funds that WoLF benefited from.
Reflecting on the responses from other panelists at that webinar in 2021, Jeffreys gave her own input. She recounted her positions based on her own collaborations with Christian Right politicians as part of her anti-sex work activism. Ultimately, her position on the matter is quite clear. “I don’t believe in any ‘we mustn’t touch the Right or work with the Right’ and all that kind of stuff. I support the complex decisions that WoLF has been making in the US about how to work on this issue.”clxxxix While she had previously stressed that this was her opinion, and not necessarily reflective of WDI itself, the ongoing collaborations with the Right across chapters seems to continue with WDI’s blessing regardless of criticism from outside or within the organization.
Ultimately, the collusion between the Christian Right and WDI USA chapter proved to be too much for Katherine Acosta, a former WDI USA board member, and Tina Minkowitz, author of the Theydon Bois Principles, despite their key organizing roles in the group. Acosta, who had served on the legislation response team alongside Dansky, resigned from the WDI USA board, citing a series of collaborations between the chapter and Christian right actors.cxc The first, Acosta alleges, was the submission of comment to the The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) 2020 Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy. According to Acosta, the invitation came from former Trump administration USAID Deputy Chief of Staff and anti-LGBTQ activist Bethany Kozma, who was pushing the USAID to “use ‘sex’ instead of ‘gender’.” Not knowing her background and with Dansky knowing Kozma personally, the committee agreed.cxci Acosta proceeded to draft the comment with another steering committee member, which Dansky sent to Kozma on behalf of WDI USA.
What ultimately pushed things over for Acosta was the chapter’s opposition in full to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R.3684). According to Acosta, Dansky, taking issue with a minute inclusion of gender identity under its nondiscrimination clause, brought it to the board where they debated how to respond. Board members opposing the entirety of the Act noted that they were “‘governed’ by the Declaration,” not feminist politics.cxcii Admitting that she wouldn’t be able to defend their opposition to the bill if the board voted to, Acosta claims Dansky told her, “if you can’t, then you can’t serve on this board.”cxciii After the board voted to oppose the bill by a narrow margin, Acosta resigned.
Acosta argues that the steering committee for WDI USA hadn’t formally collaborated with conservative groups until Dansky came on board in late 2020,cxciv when she brought in the connections she had made through WoLF and Hands Across The Aisle Coalition.cxcv However, other members of the interim steering committee note Dansky’s involvement in the planning groups prior to the launch in August.cxcvi
Tina Minkowitz took to Facebook in March 2022. Citing WDI USA’s campaign against the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, which opposed Justice Jackson’s confirmation as an Associate Judge on the Supreme Court for her refusal to answer a trap question about the definition of “woman” by Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn, Minkowitz withdrew her signature from the Declaration.
The impact across the board is dire. On the ground, Mexican trans and feminist activists are still having to battle with the violent TERF groups attempting to disrupt their movements and TERFs embedded into government roles. Carol Arriaga, who was Secretary of Women in Mexico’s leading party Morena much to the protest of the party’s LGBTQ coalitions, has since been replaced. The US is seeing escalating campaigns against queer and trans people from the GOP all the way down to paramilitaries, militias, and neo-nazis, who are welcomed to events by WDI sponsoring organizations with open arms.cxcvii While WDI has released a statement about committing to non-violent tactics, they do not name the fact that the location event was organized by Sovereign Women Speak or that their attendees pepper sprayed a minor, nor do they attempt to distance themselves from the tour group Standing for Women. On the UN level, meanwhile, WDI’s strategies follow the playbook of anti-sex work and anti-trafficking organizations, where active efforts to shift language gave room for the international rise of the Rescue Industry.cxcviii
As the violence and intensity drives up, will more members of WDI move to disavow the actions of their peers? Or will they make a brief cry of protest into the ether, only to slink away into their own continuing spiral of detest for trans people? At this point, only time will tell. Either way, the damage is done. A new carceral feminist beast has been born, growing in strength as they link arms with the Religious Right and state bodies, with catastrophic effects. It’s going to be left to the grassroots trans and gender diverse movements around the world to combat the latest threat to our right to exist in society. And so we will, as we have many, many times before.