Non-Activists Getting Called Activists and More Stories From the Week
Erin Reed and Evan Urquhart have had it with NYT's mislabeling of them as activists — and they're right.
Hello, all. Happy Friday. Parker here. Today’s newsletter includes a quick round-up of stories I wrote and a few others that I just really enjoyed reading.
But first, real quick: here’s the part of the newsletter where I ask you to consider signing up for the free version if you’re new here and ask existing free subscribers to consider upgrading to the paid version.
On Monday, I published an interview I did with W. Kamau Bell about the launch of his newnewsletter.
On Wednesday, I wrote about the importance of context in trying to understand reality.
And on Thursday, I wrote about a specific kind of lie I see people tell on the internet and wonder if there’s a name for it.
What I’m reading:
Evan Urquhart andco-wrote a response to New York Times columnist Pamela Paul’s response to their responses to one of Paul’s columns from this past weekend. Sorry if that sounds a bit convoluted, but if you read the piece, you’ll get the idea. It’s a good article, worth reading in full (which you can do either at Reed’snewsletter, below, or at Urquhart’s Assigned Media).
For the past couple years, for the sake of my own mental health, I’ve been trying to keep everything happening with trans rights and whatnot just outside of my main focus. I’ll be honest: reading stories about horrible new laws and stuff like that is just poison for my brain, and I am so thankful that there are people like Reed and Urquhart1 who are able to stay so plugged in these days. It makes me feel less bad for being purposefully detached.
Anyway, one of the things that happened in this back-and-forth with Paul and Reed/Urquhart is that Paul referred to the two of them not as journalists but as activists. Here’s what they had to say about that. I’ll share my own thoughts following the block quote [bolded emphasis mine]:
Paul has responded to our journalistic criticism directly by dismissing us as "activists," a label that does not accurately describe the work she is responding to.
While activism in a just cause is a noble pursuit, and one of us, Erin Reed, has proudly worn that hat at times, another of us, Evan Urquhart, is a professional journalist with a decade-long career in the industry who has never participated in organizing or activism of any kind. Regardless, the word “activist” was used by Paul to create doubt about the professionalism and reliability of our journalistic work, and as such is equally misapplied for both of us.
If this has never happened to you before, you may not understand how or why the word “activist” so often gets used to delegitimize trans people, specifically. First off, there’s nothing wrong with activists. Activists are important people who do important work. I am not one of them, and as Reed and Urquhart’s piece makes clear, neither are they.
I’m bringing this up because the word gets thrown around very selectively when it comes to issues involving trans people. Anyone who believes trans people should have legal nondiscrimination protections or is themselves trans gets labeled an “activist,” while entire organizations that exist with the specific purpose of chipping away at trans people’s rights and bodily autonomy somehow manage to avoid getting called “activists.” It’s extremely one-sided, and this isn’t by mistake. Heck, I’m sure there are still places on the internet that refer to me as an activist. I am not one, and I hate that label (for myself).
Anti-trans columnists like Paul absolutely love to refer to trans people and their allies as “activists” to diminish their credibility. But as Reed and Urquhart write, if any people are “activists” on this topic, it’s the groups and people who travel the country testifying in favor of bills stripping away trans people’s rights, the people who get book deals to write about this topic as though they’re experts simply by virtue of having spent years waving around shoddy data that just so happens to reinforce their existing worldview, and so on. But no, those are the voices considered “neutral” and “nonpartisan,” right, right.
As they conclude:
If we are accused of activism in our published responses to Pamela Paul, it is only fair to apply that label to her and some of the sources she uses as well. For instance, Pamela Paul claims that "The Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine" is "one of the most reliable nonpartisan organizations dedicated to the field." She relies on non-reviewed journal letters to the editor from this group in her original essay and response to us on multiple occasions as evidence of her claims. However, what she does not reveal is that according to the Southern Policy Law Center, SEGM has received significant funding from the same sources that support the partisan Alliance Defending Freedom and the Heritage Foundation, organizations known for drafting anti-trans legislation. SEGM is closely linked with anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ extremist groups, a connection mapped out by the SPLC’s analysis. Its founder, William Malone, was part of an anti-trans working group in 2019 where members asserted that "god's will" is being enacted through passing trans bans. In this group, he stated, "It might take years, but we're going to get them." If that is not activism, what is?
Paul seeks to dismiss our criticisms of her misinformation about trans care as activism, but readers deserve better. They should be aware that every major medical organization in the United States supports gender-affirming care due to the evidence behind it. It's important for them to know that multiple judges have determined the evidence supporting trans care is comparable to that of most pediatric care, overturning bans on care in the United States. Readers also deserve to understand that the narrative Paul presents about high detransition rates and stories of regret does not stem from careful journalism, but rather, anti-trans activist groups. Lastly, they should be aware that these erroneous narratives are now being used to justify legislation aimed at banning transgender “for everyone.”
Paul linked to a study that had been retracted in her piece. Rather than bow her head in shame for such a glaring mistake, she responded by brushing off criticism as simply coming from “activists.” This, you may remember, is the exact same strategy that the Times used last year when journalists pushed back on the paper’s obsessive and factually dubious coverage of trans issues.
That’s it for me today. As always, thank you so much for reading. I’ll be back next week with some more stories. Thanks!
If you’ve noticed me plugging their work a lot lately, well, it’s because there’s a lot of really scary stuff happening with trans people’s rights that I want people to know about, even if I’m not the one to tell them. So, for real, please go subscribe to Reed’s newsletter and support Urquhart’s site.