The “Radical Feminist” Group Helping Push Ohio’s Trans Bathroom Ban

“There is a long history of collaboration and cooperation between the Women’s Liberation Front and the far Christian right”

click to enlarge State Rep. Beth Lear, R-Galena. - (Photo from Ohio House website.)
(Photo from Ohio House website.)
State Rep. Beth Lear, R-Galena.

A “radical feminist” group called the Women’s Liberation Front, that has helped shape anti-trans laws nationwide, has also played a role in a proposed Ohio law that would ban transgender people in schools and on college campuses from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity and appearance, emails obtained by the Ohio Capital Journal show.

Introduced in May of last year by state Reps. Beth Lear, R-Galena, and Adam Bird, R-New Richmond, Ohio House Bill 183 — also known as the Protect All Students Act — states, “a school shall designate each student restroom, locker room, changing room, or shower room that is accessible by multiple students at the same time, whether located in a school building or located in a facility used by the school for a school-sponsored activity, for the exclusive use by students of the male biological sex only or by students of the female biological sex only.” 

The bill goes further, adding “No school shall construct, establish, or maintain a multi-occupancy facility that is designated as nongendered, multigendered, or open to all genders,” and, “No school shall permit a member of the female biological sex to share overnight accommodations with a member of the male biological sex. No school shall permit a member of the male biological sex to share overnight accommodations with a member of the female biological sex.”

Speaking in the House Education Committee on Oct. 4, 2023 for the bill’s first hearing, Lear said her legislation would “protect all students and restore sanity,” as she attacked public schools for affirming the gender identity of students in their care.

“Affirming confusion is not compassion. In fact, encouraging confusion puts all students at risk,” Lear claimed. “Children’s brains are being forced to consider issues that are too complex for many adults.” 

The Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law released a study on gender inclusive public accommodations, like bathrooms, in 2018, which showed: “reports of privacy and safety violations in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms are exceedingly rare.” 

A report from CNN published in 2019 — based on data from 3,673 adolescents in the LGBTQ Teen Study, an anonymous web-based survey of US kids ages 13 to 17 found transgender teens are more likely to be victims of sexual assault if not given access to bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.

HB 183 was passed in the House Higher Education Committee in a 10-5 vote on April 10, after some minor revisions. Discussing those alterations at the bill’s fourth hearing on Jan. 10 of this year, Lear mentioned the role input from academia had on the changes they made. 

Several of these issues are things that we discussed with IUC (Inter-University Council) and OSU, so these are some of their requests,” Lear said. “That’s one of the main ways that we are trying to make sure that both K-12 and higher ed have opportunities to create policies that fit their student body.”

Lear expressed a more combative sentiment toward institutions of higher education in an email conversation with Sharon Byrne, executive director of Women’s Liberation Front, from Dec. 5 last year. Byrne submitted proponent testimony for HB 183, writing, “single sex intimate facilities should remain a largely permissible option for schools to provide, particularly for the benefit of women and girls.” 

In an email to Lear, Byrne wrote, “We sent out a call to action to supporters today to ask their Ohio rep to push HB183 out of the Higher Education Committee and to the floor for a house vote, and to vote for it,” before noting their similar effort for Ohio’s ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. “We did the same for HB 68 — the SAFE Act.” 

Byrne thanked Lear for bringing the bill forward and referenced Senate Bill 212 — a bill which would require age verification to view online pornography — saying her organization would “likely support that too.”

“Thank you Sharon!” Lear replied. “We’ve been working all day (and still are) because the universities want amendments. We’ve made concessions I consider minor, they’re still pushing, but we’re not giving another inch.” 

Days later, HB 183 was dropped from the higher education committee’s agenda. In an email from Dec. 9 last year, Lear wrote to Byrne, seeking strategy advice on getting the bill through the Ohio House Higher Education Committee, chaired by state Rep. Tom Young, R – Washington Twp.

“Chair Young says this bill is important, and he will have it back on the agenda in January or February for a vote, but claims there are too many big issues up on our last day before Christmas break. I am frustrated. Do you have any suggestions?” 

Byrne responded by laying out a potential avenue Lear and her colleagues could use to get both Lear’s bathroom ban proposal and the state’s gender-affirming care ban on the Statehouse agenda. 

“What’s your working relationship with Young? Do you need him as an ally? Because I typically would pivot to holding a press conference on Monday or Tuesday, the best days for news media, and pulling the troops out to speak on both bills, and why they’re important, and how the legislative chairs have effectively sidelined them,” Byrne said.  

Claiming that support for what she calls “GenderID” bills has dropped in recent years, and that Democrats who lead on trans rights get “punished in the polls,” Byrne says “you have an advantage here in that Ohio constituents are likely less progressive than Californians, who are already peeling back support for aggressive pro GenderID policies and laws.” 

Byrne also points out how small the segment of trans and trans advocate Ohioans is, compared to the rest of the population. 

“The ‘storm’ on these bills in your state from trans activists is a smaller group with larger megaphones than Ohioans’ sensibilities overall,” Byrne said, adding that Lear should “try exploiting that division.”

“Call a press conference with parents, supporters of your bill, and those of 68, and lay out a case that Ohioans expect the legislature to protect their children from unnecessary sexualized medical exploitation and to protect the rights of women and girls to safe spaces, such as bathrooms,” Byrne wrote. “Call them out on it. Encourage Ohioans who want to protect women and girls and schoolkids to contact their legislator and express their feelings (and tell them how).” 

Byrne said that “This could gin up quite a bit of voter anger, which would apply major pressure to those chairs.”

During the press conference held on Jan. 10 of this year, when numerous Republican lawmakers discussed overriding Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of HB 68, Lear echoed the sentiments expressed by Byrne. Lear thanked “all the moms, and dads, and grandparents, who have been emailing, and calling and texting our offices nonstop. I personally have never seen so many people say “please, do what’s  best for all of our kids, please override the veto.” 

Calling this group the “silent majority,” Lear spoke directly to them, saying “you have started speaking up, we need you to keep talking.” Lear used similar rhetoric in Facebook posts from December and January. 

Mutilating and sterilizing children is the opposite of #donoharm. I am disgusted that Gov DeWine doesn’t understand children and families are being manipulated by a medical system that profits from destroying the lives and futures of children,” Lear wrote in a post from Dec. 29 last year. 

In an email from the same day, Byrne praised Lear, saying “we’re impressed with Rep. Lear, and hope to work with her for more legislation that protects and advances the rights of women and girls in 2024.” 

Lear did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

What is the Women’s Liberation Front?

Founded in 2013 and based in Washington D.C. the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) promotes itself as a group designed to “restore, protect, and advance the rights of women and girls using legal argument, policy advocacy, and public education.” However, WoLF is most well known for supporting anti-trans legislation. 

WoLF created the “Women’s Bill of Rights,” a model bill that defines sex as either male or female, and requires any school or government agency that collects statistics for anti-discrimination compliance to identify individuals who are part of that dataset as either male or female at birth. 

Versions of their “Women’s Bill of Rights,” have been introduced in several states, with the bill even reaching the U.S House and Senate

WoLF’s most recent IRS filings show the organization has $1,037,264 in revenue, entirely from contributions and grants. 

“We feel that gender ideology is very threatening to women, and represents the erasure of women,” Byrne said in an interview with the Ohio Capital Journal. “Sex is biological, and you cannot change it.” 

Despite this stance, Byrne sees WoLF as fundamentally nonpartisan, working with lawmakers who will support their policies. 

“There are Republicans who support a same-sex bathroom, but you go to them for reproductive rights and they’re like ‘back in the kitchen with you!’” Byrne said, adding that among WoLF’s members “75% of them are progressive refugees.”

Research from watchdog group revealed that WoLF received a grant for $50,000 from the Alliance Defending Freedom in 2021. The same organization gave WoLF $15,000 in 2015

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a far-right, Christian legal advocacy group that has been at the forefront of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States. Reporting from NBC News showed that many of the “bathroom bills,” introduced in statehouses were based on model legislation from the group.

ADF senior counsel Matt Sharp testified in favor of Ohio’s House Bill 68, and guided legal strategy on the bill. Internationally, ADF lawyers have spoken at conferences in Jamaica to support laws criminalizing gay sex, defended statutes in Belize that punish LGBTQ+ sex with up to 10 years in prison, and defended European laws requiring sterilization of trans people before they could receive recognition of their preferred gender. 

“It’s an incredibly sophisticated playbook. It truly is,” said Maria Bruno, Public Policy Director for Equality Ohio, when asked about the right-wing groups supporting anti-trans legislation nationwide. “We have seen that there is a small, but very well-funded, and well-organized group of organizations such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, the (Center for Christian Virtue), and the other state-level affiliates in different states, and Moms for Liberty. Many of them have overtly anti-LGBTQ sentiments on their position platforms or are pretty open book about the fact that they don’t believe that LGBTQ people should exist in peace.” 

The Alliance Defending Freedom is a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group, as was the Center for Christian Virtue from 2015-2017, when it was known as Citizens for Community Values.

Women’s Liberation Front is unique among this network in that it considers itself a feminist organization, billing themselves on social media as “unapologetically radical feminist.” 

“There is a long history of collaboration and cooperation between the Women’s Liberation Front and the far Christian right,” explained Erin Reed, a trans journalist and activist who tracks anti-LGBTQ laws across the country. “It’s very interesting to hear the continued collaboration between a group that ostensibly calls itself feminist, but is perfectly content to work with and even raise money for organizations that actively oppose feminism and justice for women.” 

Reed also spoke about the history of TERFs — Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists — the school of thought that the Women’s Liberation Front stems from. 

“The idea being that transgender people should be excluded from womanhood, that transgender people do not deserve the same protections, legal rights, and more as lesbians, gays, bisexuals,” Reed said.

Originating as a fringe faction within the larger feminist movement, TERFs grew to prominence in the United Kingdom during the last decade, with celebrities like J.K Rowling amplifying their ideals, along with the British press. Through organizations like WoLF, TERF ideology began impacting American politics as well. 

“They have managed to give the far right ideas that the fundamentalists are offering a sheen of feminism in order to try and get policies that they want passed, regardless of who they’re working with to get those policies passed,” Reed said. “And the far Christian right has been perfectly content to use that sheen in order to pass anti-trans laws.” 

How are these groups impacting trans Ohioans?

Dara Adkison is Board Secretary of TransOhio, trans masculine, and a parent. Adkison spoke about the parents of trans students, and how they feel about HB 183. 

“In terms of what we’ve heard from the parents that we’ve been speaking with, over the course of 183 being heard in committee and previous versions of the bathroom bill… they’re horrified, dismayed, sad and angry for their children,” Adkison said. “Most districts don’t have a preponderance of trans students. There’s one or two. And so knowing districts (that) tend to know who the trans student is, it makes their kids really easy targets,  and so they’re scared.” 

Adkison emphasized that many of these students “have been out in their school for the majority of their education in this generation, so they’ve been using the correct bathroom for many, many years.” 

For Adkison and others at TransOhio, their work consists of providing resources and options for parents to help their trans children. And, in some instances, if there is a district-level bathroom ban policy, helping families relocate to other districts. 

“And that’s not an accessible option for most. But if things get really scary, you do what you got to do for your family,” Adkison said. 

It’s a problem that Anne and Bradie Anderson understand. Bradie is a trans girl, and has lived openly as one for most of her life, first coming out in the second grade. 

“She was about six or seven years old when she was completely out, and then she was thrown out of the Catholic school that she attended,” Bradie’s mother Anne explained. “Everything has been a fight since that period of time.”

Years later, Bradie was pulled out of school again. 

“When COVID happened, I came out going into the sixth grade, and nobody really cared until the seventh grade, and then I got really bullied and stuff. Then I had to leave the school last year because the bullying just got a little too much,” Bradie said.

Anne spoke about her experiences at school board meetings, where “Brady was getting called out by adults in our town at the school board meetings for being a cheerleader and changing in the restroom with the other girls.”

Speaking about HB 183, Bradie said “it would be really horrible,” detailing how invasive the bill would be if enacted. 

“It’ll be really invasive because when I’m at school, nobody’s looking for me trying to see if I’m in the bathroom or not. And now they’re gonna have to do that. And if they catch me in the bathroom, then I’m going to be thrown out. Like, that’s just really weird.”

Anne and Bradie have frequently discussed leaving the state.

“She doesn’t want to leave, quite frankly,” Anne said. “But when it comes to college, she’s going to end up having to (leave) as far as I’m concerned right now.”

Anne Anderson spoke about the “trickle down,” effect of these bills, saying, “They’re making it a hostile environment with all of these anti-trans bills. It’s saying that trans people are less than, and it’s okay to bully them or pick on them or treat them as people see fit because the Statehouse is doing it.”

Despite this, Bradie has repeatedly discussed her circumstances, even testifying at the Statehouse, because, she said, “I really don’t think a lot of like people have met trans people. And I think it’s important for somebody that like, looks like me, to go out there and say something to these people that really are just clueless.”

Asked what she would say to the lawmakers and interest groups behind bills like HB 183, Bradie said this: “I’m a woman and I don’t really care what they think. I will forever be a girl.”

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.
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