Recognizing bigotry disguised by dog whistles - Salish Current
June 3, 2024
Recognizing bigotry disguised by dog whistles
Owen Ellis

Supporters of transgender rights stepped out to show that support in Friday Harbor, after an event advertised in coded anti-trans language was cancelled by local venues and moved by organizers out to the sidewalk. (Photo courtesy Owen Ellis)

June 3, 2024
Recognizing bigotry disguised by dog whistles
Owen Ellis

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Commentary: San Juan Island venues canceled speaker events when informed by community

Community members on San Juan Island recently successfully identified and shut down two talks by a transphobic speaker affiliated with Gays Against Groomers, a right-wing extremist group that calls transgender people a “bloodthirsty terrorist cult” and advocates for total bans on gender-affirming care. 

Island residents recognized coded language in the advertising for the events in early May and in YouTube videos posted by the speaker, Nicolas Blooms. When community members brought this information about Blooms to the venues where he was to speak, both quickly convened emergency board meetings and canceled the events.

The response of these venues, San Juan Island Grange #966 and the Mullis Community Senior Center, is a credit to the leadership of both organizations. The nature of social and political dog whistles is that not everyone will recognize them, so it is critical to listen when other people point them out. The willingness of the Grange and the Mullis Center to do so is an example of the best of our community.

A “dog whistle,” in social and political rhetoric, is coded language that disguises bigotry and hate speech behind seemingly innocuous phrases that provide a degree of plausible deniability. Recognizing dog whistles can be challenging because they are so often framed in ways that look reasonable without further context. Learning to recognize the language used by extremist and hate groups is a critical skill to develop.

In the advertising for Marinkovich’s event in Friday Harbor, several specific phrases stood out to community members as classic anti-LGBTQ+ dog whistles. These examples are illustrative when learning to recognize coded bigotry.

First, any argument that “children” or “innocents” need to be protected from an idea deserves a closer look. For example, Marinkovich wrote “…after being influenced by social media and peers, [Blooms] determined he was transgender.” This narrative that transgender people “influence” or “convert” children is a standard part of transphobic rhetoric, and any use of this language should be viewed as potentially coded transphobia. Another example comes from Blooms himself, in a post on X (Twitter) reading “Queer Theory and Gender Ideology HAS NO PLACE in school!”

Second, language that implies that some part of a person’s identity is ideological or pathological is another classic dog whistle. An example from Marinkovich is “…it is possible to heal from gender dysphoria. Nicolas realizes transgenderism is real, but perhaps not as common as some perceive.” The specific use of the word “transgenderism,” rather than “transgender people” or “transgender identity” indicates that the speaker thinks of gender as an ideology rather than an identity. Further, the idea that people can “heal” from gender dysphoria has been, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “…discredited by virtually all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.” Gender-affirming care is the recommended treatment for dysphoria, according to the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others.

A third example of a significant dog whistle was found by community members researching Blooms ahead of the event. In late 2023, Blooms posted a YouTube video titled “Gender Ideology: the Perversion of Nature.” This is an unambiguous example of bigoted language: any description of a person as “perversion of nature” is an attempt to dehumanize or demonize their existence. Further, the idea that trans people in particular are a “perversion” is anti-LGBTQ language that originated with Nazi Germany; transgender and gay people were among the earliest targets of the Nazi party, beginning with the destruction of the Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research) in Berlin in 1933.

Finally, any event, article, or social media post that has to do with a hot-button issue should be scrutinized, because extremist hate groups often take advantage of controversial topics to spread their ideas. This tactic was on full display in Friday Harbor; when the Grange voted to cancel their event, Marinkovich and Blooms held it on the sidewalk in front of the building. Protesters arrived partway through, and were met with graphic questions about their bodies and accusations of “indoctrinating children.” An event attendee told protesters that transgender people “aren’t part of this community.” When one protester asked Marinkovich’s husband Matt what his pronouns are, he responded with an explicit comment about his genitalia and laughed.

Despite all of this, the recognition and cancellation of these events by the San Juan Island community was a success. Marinkovich’s event attracted the people it was intended to attract, but it also caught the eye of community members whose vigilance and willingness to act prevented the spread of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in our community. Quick action against bigotry sends an important message: this island stands together against hate speech and in support of the LGBTQ+ community.

— By Owen Ellis

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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