By Mitchell Zimmerman
The 1920s were both good and bad times for the Jews of Germany.
They’d been granted the same legal rights as other Germans and were established in respected professions. They were mostly treated as worthy of dignity. But that changed as antisemites scapegoated Jews for all of Germany’s woes — from the loss of World War I to the hyperinflation that had ruined so many lives.
Nazis not only stereotyped Jews as rich, cunning, and devious, but also likened them to revolting vermin — including lice, rats, snakes, and cockroaches. They were depicted as creepy, smelly, disease-ridden, sub-human.
Attacking this vulnerable, long-persecuted, tiny minority — under 1 percent of the German population — as repulsive and dangerous was the German far right’s way to activate loathing while evading the fact that they had no solutions for Germany’s real problems.
Today, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and other GOP leaders are following the Nazi playbook, substituting transgender youth for the Jews. They industriously promote hatred, fear, and physical revulsion of this small group — also barely 1 percent of the population — and pretend it’s out of concern for children.
It’s no coincidence that open antisemites actively harass LGBTQ events, nor that right-wing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric invokes anti-semitic tropes. In Nazi Germany, transgender people were viciously targeted alongside Jews. And although today’s GOP denies that it welcomes Jew-haters, they are comfortable working with anti-semites jointly attacking trans and LGBTQ people.
Meanwhile the GOP evades concerns that actually threaten Americans and our children — like gun violence in schools, poverty, hunger, climate change, medical debt, and the erosion of middle-class incomes.
Who are the people Republicans want to make us fear and loath?
Transgender people are simply those whose sense of themselves doesn’t conform to the gender they’re expected to assume. For many young people, the need to transition their gender presentation represents the culmination of a long and painful process.
Physicians recognize “gender dysphoria” as a medical condition, and families of such children work with doctors to determine appropriate treatment at various stages in the lives of their children. Young people and their families steering through this difficult terrain deserve support and compassion — not demonization.
But right-wing GOP politicians find it more useful to create scapegoats.
DeSantis recently signed a set of anti-trans bills that outlaw treatment for gender dysphoria for minors, make the existence of nonconforming people unmentionable in public schools, and provide for taking trans children away from their parents if, with their physicians, they decide to follow medically recommended standards of care.
These bills are unconstitutional and bigoted, as one federal judge ruled recently when he blocked DeSantis’s ban on trans health care from being enforced. Yet at least 20 other Republican-led states are pushing anti-trans laws, in some cases effectively barring gender-appropriate care even for adults.
Many of these laws also bar transgender people from public restrooms matching their gender identity, evoking the days of racially segregated toilets. These laws play on the false, malicious claim that transgender people pose a danger to others in restrooms — a claim for which there’s not one shred of evidence.
For a transgender woman, on the contrary, it’s uncomfortable and potentially unsafe to be expected to use a men’s toilet. Trans people have reported being harassed in large numbers simply for trying to use the restroom.
But reality doesn’t matter when your purpose is not to solve an imaginary problem, but to inspire fear of a despised group.
Like the Jews of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, trans people are a convenient target for cynical politicians with no interest in solving our real problems. We shouldn’t let them get away with it.
Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney, longtime social activist, and author of the anti-racism thriller “Mississippi Reckoning.”