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The Transphobia in Last Night’s Republican Debate Was Off the Charts

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis yell at each other during the Republican debate.

Another Republican primary debate took place last night and despite only featuring four candidates, it was just as unwatchable as the others. In addition to the usual constant interruptions, rampant misinformation, and bizarre personal attacks, this debate stood out for its off-the-charts levels of abhorrent transphobia.

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The other debates have featured transphobic segments but on Wednesday night, moderator Megyn Kelly pushed the subject hard, encouraging candidates to be as gross and malicious as possible.

***Content warning: extreme transphobia***

Early in the night, the candidates—Nikki Haley, Chris Christie, Vivek Ramaswamy, and Ron DeSantis—started throwing out jabs, accusing each other of the ultimate crime of not being terrible enough to the transgender community. Kelly cut them off after a brief back-and-forth, telling them they’d come back to the subject later. And she sure did.

Later on, Kelly took aim at Christie, calling him out for having signed bills as New Jersey Governor offering basic protections to transgender youth and for stating his belief that trans-affirming healthcare for young people is a parental rights issue, not something the government should be involved in.

“The surgeries done on minors involve cutting off body parts at a time when these kids cannot even legally smoke a cigarette,” Kelly said. (For the record, thousands of teenagers undergo breast augmentation every year, compared to fewer than 300 who have top surgery done.)

“Kids who go from puberty blockers to cross-sex hormones are at a much greater likelihood of winding up sterile,” Kelly continued, pushing entirely unproven fearmongering narratives. “How is it that you think a parent should be able to OK these surgeries, never mind the sterilization of a child, and aren’t you way too out of step on this issue to be the Republican nominee?”

Christie maintained his position that this is not an issue the government should be involved in. He did not go so far as to say that he respected transgender people or believed they have basic rights (only their parents have those, apparently) but he was the only person on the stage to say he wouldn’t work to actively harm them were he to be president.

Respecting trans rights is “disqualifying”

Vivek Ramaswamy wouldn’t even wait for Christie to finish talking before he yelled out, unprompted, that “if there’s one issue that’s disqualifying, it’s this one.” And from there, the three candidates rushed to proclaim themselves the absolute worst of trans issues, and to accuse each other of being too friendly to transgender people.

Ramaswamy called “transgenderism” (which is not a thing BTW) “a mental health disorder” and declared his goal to ban trans care under the age of 21 on a federal level.

DeSantis yelled about child abuse and “cutting off [children’s] genitals” and accused Nikki Hayley of resing to kill a bill prohibiting “men” from going into “girls’ bathrooms.”

Haley, in response, called DeSantis a liar and clarified that a decade ago when she was governor, she didn’t see the need for the government to get involved in something only “a handful of kids” were dealing with. She did, however, make sure everyone knew she still supported discrimination against trans people in the form of bathroom restrictions and sports bans and slammed DeSantis for not getting in on the bathroom bill train early enough.

DeSantis fired back a grossly simplistic taunt: “I signed [a bathroom bill], you didn’t; you killed it, I signed it; I stood up for little girls, you didn’t do it.”

To be clear, trans bans do nothing to protect “little girls” or women in general. There is absolutely no link between trans-inclusive policies and crime, violence, or bathroom safety. This is simply a right-wing talking point designed to scare people and unfortunately, that narrative has been so effective that the race for the Republican nomination now hinges on who cares the most about where people pee.

(featured image: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.

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