Supporters of anti-trans activist Chris Elston demonstrate against gender affirmation treatments and surgeries on minors, outside of Boston Childrens Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 18, 2022. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images)

Leaked Emails Reveal Just How Powerful the Anti-Trans Movement Has Become

What was said in private emails just a few years ago is now said publicly—online, in the media, and on the floors of state houses around the country.

A leaked cache of emails from 2019 and 2020 reveals how the anti-trans lobby in the U.S. was playing the long game when it came to targeting trans people—and is now able to push for anti-trans policies more publicly than before. 

The emails, which are available online for journalists and others to read and were first reported on by Mother Jones, reveal conversations about anti-trans policies between South Dakota GOP Rep. Fred Deutsch, anti-trans lobbyists, and other state lawmakers. They include revelations about some of the ways that anti-trans lobbyists—and elected Republicans like Deutsch and Idaho Rep. Julianne Young—collaborate and strategize to write and endorse policies that directly target trans people on a national scale. 


Now, what was said in private is said publicly—online, in the media, and on the floors of state houses—suggesting that in the last few years, the strategy that was being hashed out in those emails has come to fruition, and the movement that created it is emboldened.

At the time the emails were written, the anti-trans lobby was somewhat underground; anti-trans hate wasn’t new, but the people pushing for anti-trans policymaking, including members of the American College of Pediatricians, classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, didn’t have the mainstream momentum they have today. That’s perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from the emails, experts say. 

“That’s what’s actually most striking: There is some sense of, ‘Oh, we have to be careful of what we say publicly,’” Chase Strangio, the Deputy Director for transgender justice with the American Civil Liberties Union, told VICE News. “None of that is present in 2023. By 2023, speaking hatefully publicly about trans people is totally and completely normalized.”

They also reveal the deeply evangelical bent of the anti-trans movement. The emails are littered with false claims about trans people, including claims that show the group believes they’re doing God’s work by targeting a vulnerable minority group. . One person used the term “perpetrators,” presumably to refer to trans people or parents who support their trans kids. Several equated transgender identity to “severe mental illness.” Notably, they were already sharing fringe media equating drag queen story hours to “grooming”—a narrative that’s playing out all over the country right now as more states consider banning drag altogether. The team of people in the emails also repeatedly reduced trans existence by referring to it as “ideology.”


“A man is NOT a woman! If this is not the definition of insane I don’t know what is!” Michelle Cretella, the former executive director of American College of Pediatricians, wrote in one email. 

Several conversations took place about what kind of language to include in the bills, with key players disagreeing with any use of language that implies transness could be legitimate. “I agree that adopting use of cis-gender only validates transgender as a healthy variant which it is clearly not,” one person said.  

“You can see their utter and complete disgust and disdain with trans people of all ages,” Strangio said of the emails. Anti-trans conservatives often justify their efforts by saying they’re “protecting children,” despite the fact that gender-affirming care is often critical, and endorsed by the country’s major medical organizations as safe and effective. VICE News previously reported how GOP lawmakers are targeting trans adults, too.

And yet, three years ago, as anti-trans hate proliferated in their emails, those involved seemingly tried to lay somewhat low. In one message Elisa Rae Shupe, a trans woman, questioned whether Deutsch should be using his work email, which could be subject to freedom of information requests: “I've been wondering, if the ACLU files suit, are they going to be able to obtain all of our emails because Fred is using his legislative email account?” (Shupe, at the time, had detransitioned and was an anti-trans advocate. She’s since re-transitioned, renounced her ties to the group, and shared the emails with journalists.) 


Deutsch himself messaged the group with the proposed text for a gender-affirming care ban that would criminalize doctors for providing care to youth under 16 and added, “As always, please do not share this with the media. The longer we can fly under the radar the better.”

“These people are entirely strategic. They know what will sell in the public and they were being very coy in their messaging in 2019 and 2020,” a civil rights attorney and LGBTQ advocate, Alejandra Caraballo, told VICE News. “Now that they feel like they can just be completely unleashed, we’re seeing the rhetoric that was very much used in their emails privately.”

Indeed, the sentiments expressed in the private emails are mainstream today, and they’re being repeated on social media, in the news, and in statehouses. Republican lawmakers and their supporters routinely try to reduce transness to mental illness or gender ideology. This week, a Florida GOP representative went viral for comparing trans people to “mutants,” and implying they’re a product of the devil. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a state lawmaker equated drag queens to sexual deviancy—using language that echoes the leaked emails.

“I will do everything I can as a senator in this chamber to protect Arizona children from perversion (and) grooming,” said GOP State Sen. Anthony Kern, who sponsored Arizona’s drag ban.


VICE News previously reported how the anti-trans push started out small and local, with schools districts and local governments trying to ban trans kids from playing on sports teams that correspond to their gender and telling trans students to only use bathrooms that match their gender assigned at birth. But the emails reveal that lawmakers and lobbyists were seemingly thinking about future opportunities to target trans people. In 2020, Deutsch attempted to introduce a ban on gender-affirming care, which failed. But in an email Margaret Clarke, general counsel for the Alabama wing of the Phyllis Schlafly–founded conservative interest group Eagle Forum, said, “Please do not say that the South Dakota effort failed. Deutsch successfully inspired, encouraged, and counseled numerous efforts… this is just the beginning.” 

The emails “tell the story of how manufactured this entire debate is and how it’s being pushed by such a small, powerful, well-funded group of individuals and organizations,” Caraballo said. “Issues around trans people participating in sports was kind of their Trojan horse—kind of a wedge issue to get attention to the broader mainstream.” 

Fast forward to today, and South Dakota just passed a gender-affirming care ban that echoes the one that failed three years ago. Deutsch, still a member of South Dakota’s House, celebrated the bill’s passing in a since-deleted tweet, saying, “This concludes the effort I began three years ago.” South Dakota is one of 15 states that have passed trans healthcare bans, which are among the nearly 500 anti-trans bills introduced by GOP lawmakers for this year’s legislative session alone—a record-breaking figure. This year is also the first year since at least 2015 that lawmakers have introduced drag bans. 

On the plus side, the emails also reveal a lot of information that lawyers could use strategically, especially at a time when people are turning to groups like the ACLU to challenge—and block—anti-trans bills. For example, the ACLU is planning on suing Idaho over its new gender-affirming care ban. 

“These emails could be powerful tools,” Caraballo said. For example, if “experts” often used by anti-trans lobbyists are in court as defendants or witnesses, these emails could provide grounds for broader discovery into them as a way to show they’re biased, she said.

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