Nancy Kelley
14 min readSep 21, 2023

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The Heritage Foundation, ‘Project 2025’ and the future of LGBTQ+ rights globally

CW: Transphobia, homophobia, racism, misogyny

I’ve been thinking a lot about the implications of the Heritage Foundation’s recently published ‘‘Mandate for Leadership -the Conservative Promise — Project 2025’ for LGBTQ+ rights in the UK and around the world, since it was published a couple of weeks ago.

‘Mandate for Leadership -the Conservative Promise — Project 2025’ is the latest in a series of ‘policy bibles’ produced by the Heritage Foundation with the aim of influencing the presidential nomination and providing an incoming Republican administration with a day one policy toolkit:

‘The Reagan administration implemented nearly half of the ideas included in the first edition by the end of his first year in office, while the Trump administration embraced nearly 64% of the 2016 edition’s policy solutions after one year.’

In UK civil society we have a long history of failing to engage with the works like this — products of the US Christian right — perhaps because we assume the stories and strategies it uses won’t gain much traction in our far more secular nation. But it is increasingly clear that this failure to engage, plan and counteract domestically has caused real damage, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights.

However culturally alien the language can sound, the US Christian right is highly influential in our domestic politics and has become increasingly so over recent years as the Conservative government has shifted to the right on social issues. That is the reality that we must address, and urgently.

Overview

The scope of Project 2025 is dizzying: it sets out a road map for wholescale concentration of power in the office of the President. It advocates for aggressively deepening politicisation of the US civil service, dismantling hiring and promotion practices within the civil service that promote diversity of identity and experience, and shutting huge swathes of the federal government, including whole departments, down in their entirety. It also proposes immediate defunding of any federal work on countering misinformation and disinformation, and defunding of all public media. This is democratic backsliding on a monumental scale.

It is almost unfathomably obsessed with ending access to reproductive healthcare, along with total state control of reproductive knowledge, health and choices. It is deeply hostile to migrants, including the most vulnerable migrants, and violently rejects any analysis of racial disparity, or engagement with the USA’s past, present or future as a multi racial democracy. It is shocking, it is scary, and it is specifically scary when it comes to LGBTQ+ people and our human rights.

What is the story being told?

First: it is clear that the ‘war on woke’ is a real war — a ‘fight for the soul of America’:

‘America is now divided between two opposing forces: woke revolutionaries and those who believe in the ideals of the American revolution.’

It is wrong (and more than wrong, dangerous) to assume that this is hyperbolic. A great many people in Republican politics and life believe themselves to be in a war and believe that the tactics of war are necessary.

The ‘war on woke’ has been imported wholesale into UK politics over recent years, with hostility to trans people at its heart. We have to accept that that there are people in political and public life here who likewise believe themselves to be in a war, and we must stop reading everything through the lens of political calculation and spin.

Second: in Project 2025 we see trans people erased finally and completely as humans and fellow citizens. Trans people, and by extension queer people are no longer people. In the war on woke, trans people are reimagined as a poisonous ideology, as illicit and addictive drugs, as pornography:

‘Pornography, manifested today in the omnipresent propagation of transgender ideology and sexualization of children, for instance, is not a political Gordian knot inextricably binding up disparate claims about free speech, property rights, sexual liberation, and child welfare. It has no claim to First Amendment protection. Its purveyors are child predators and misogynistic exploiters of women. Their product is as addictive as any illicit drug and as psychologically destructive as any crime. Pornography should be outlawed. The people who produce and distribute it should be imprisoned. Educators and public librarians who purvey it should be classed as registered sex offenders. And telecommunications and technology firms that facilitate its spread should be shuttered.’

This is an extraordinary level of dehumanisation, designed to create circumstances where the state sees it as its duty to eliminate trans people[1], and to harshly punish cis individuals or institutions who seek to support trans people in living their lives.

It should also be pretty familiar. The language of ‘gender ideology’ in our politics and our press is all-pervasive, and the actual experiences, needs and perspectives of trans *people* are invisible. The junk science of social contagion is everywhere in the UKs public discourse about trans people, as is the idea that teaching trans people exist is sexualisation of children.

The language of our politicians and pundits may be (slightly) more temperate but the ideas and their policy consequences are very similar indeed. There is no doubt at all that there is significant cross-pollination between the Heritage Foundation (along with similar institutions such as the Alliance Defending Freedom) and the UK Conservative party when it comes to the ‘war on woke’. As Maya Angelou said — ‘when people show you who they are, believe them the first time’.

Domestic policy

So what is the shape of the domestic agenda on LGBTQ+ rights in Project 2025, and how far down the same road are we in the UK?

Purging legal language

‘The next conservative President must make the institutions of American civil society hard targets for woke culture warriors. This starts with deleting the terms sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”), diversity, equity, and inclusion (“DEI”), gender, gender equality, gender equity, gender awareness, gender-sensitive, abortion, reproductive health, reproductive rights, and any other term used to deprive Americans of their First Amendment rights out of every federal rule, agency regulation, contract, grant, regulation, and piece of legislation that exists.’

This is an extraordinary goal: to erase all legislative, regulatory or policy use of commonly accepted terms that are necessary for a government engaging with the lives of LGBTQ+ people, as well as anyone who wants reproductive healthcare.

We have yet to see much support for such a wide ranging attempt to purge legal language in the UK, but there are domestic echoes. For several years now the UK anti-trans movement and its political and media allies have focused relentlessly on framing inclusive language as a threat and attempting to reshape legal, regulatory and policy language to exclude trans people.

See for instance: the seemingly endless faux outrage coverage of Brighton and Hove’s trans pregnancy guidance ). Or even the successful campaign to abandon standard parliamentary drafting procedures in the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 (legislation.gov.uk) to make sure a pregnant trans or nonbinary politician would not be entitled to support.

If Project 2025 proposes a decisive (likely not implementable) purge of inclusive language, in the UK the anti-trans movement has been fighting a long war of linguistic attrition — exhausting and frustrating, but with real world consequences — if our legislation, regulation and policy frameworks exclude the possibility of trans personhood — how can they ever serve the needs of trans citizens?

Purging the curriculum

“The noxious tenets of “critical race theory” and “gender ideology” should be excised from curricula in every public school in the country. These theories poison our children, who are being taught on the one hand to affirm that the color of their skin fundamentally determines their identity and even their moral status while on the other they are taught to deny the very creatureliness that inheres in being human and consists in accepting the givenness of our nature as men or women. Allowing parents or physicians to “reassign” the sex of a minor is child abuse and must end.’

The goal here on LGBTQ+ rights is to purge the curriculum of any acknowledgment that trans people and LGBTQ+ people exist. In particular, it is to prevent any child, in any school, having access to comprehensive relationships and sex education.

The UK anti-trans movement and aligned social conservative movements already use the same arguments as Project 2025 (social contagion, sexualisation of children, parental rights, faith and belief) to argue for the same goals here in the UK, and they are doing so with some success. Despite having only just stepped out of the long shadow of 28 of the Local Government Act, the government is currently reviewing the content of inclusive RHSE (a task that has been delegated to an expert panel that doesn’t have an expert in relationships and sex education on it) . And after years of delay, prior to recess, the government was trailing publication of trans inclusion guidance for schools in the right wing press, with ideas being floated including preventing any child from socially transitioning at school, informing parents of any sign their child might be exploring their gender identity, and protecting the ‘right’ of students and teachers to misgender trans children.

Ending access to any federally funded trans healthcare

Project 2025 of course seeks to ensure that no federal funding whatsoever is allocated to programmes for the purposes of providing trans healthcare, or to programmes which provide trans healthcare alongside federally funded activity. Supporting children with their transition (socially or medically) is something they propose should be criminalised.

The UK and US healthcare systems are profoundly different, so comparisons here are perhaps less useful. But trans healthcare in the UK is in an appalling state (outside of the limited primary care led pilots). Trans healthcare for adults is so chronically underinvested that the elapsed time to a first appointment with a Gender Dysphoria Clinic is now more than 4 years in multiple locations. Trans people are dying waiting for care, as in the case of Alice Litman, who died by suicide after waiting three years for an appointment, and whose family are pursuing justice through the courts as I write.

When it comes to trans healthcare for children, the latest service specification from NHS England moves provision from a position of chronic underfunding and gatekeeping to one in which access to puberty blockers is restricted only to children assessed as having ‘early onset gender dysphoria’ (this is not a diagnosis, and is not defined in the service specification) who are prepared to participate in research. In practice, this closes the door on access to these treatments for all but a tiny number of children.

We are entering a phase of trans healthcare in the UK where provision is undermined, underfunded and restricted beyond breaking point. A successful, organised campaign to end publicly funded trans healthcare is not something we should consider as being beyond the realms of possibility here.

Ending anti discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ citizens

‘OCR should return its enforcement of sex discrimination to the statutory framework of Section 1557 and Title IX. Specifically, it should…. Issue a general statement of policy specifying that it will not enforce any prohibition on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination … and that it will prioritize compliance with the First Amendment, RFRA, and federal conscience laws in any case implicating those claims.’

Predictably, Project 2025 proposes removing all anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people, and vigorously litigating any attempt to extend anti-discrimination protections in employment, in the provision of goods and services or in the context of hate speech.

Here is one area where the UK remains distinctive: there is as yet no major groundswell of support for removing anti-discrimination protections as a whole. We do, however have a government that has publicly stated its intention to review key legislation (the Equality Act) and to specifically consider limiting the protected characteristic of ‘sex’ to exclude protection for trans people. This would have the effect of barring trans people not only from specialist settings, but from toilets, changing room and gym classes. We are so far through the looking glass now that the proposed ‘solution’ being offered by some in the anti-trans movement is a programme of toilet building — so trans people can be forced into segregated spaces.

Ending evidence collection and faking evidence

Finally, Project 2025 is open about the need to stop collecting certain types of data (for instance data about the existence of trans and gender diverse children and adults) and instead proposes significant investment in the collection of data that supports the pre-existing ideology of the Christian right. This approach isn’t uncommon for politicians — hence the phrase ‘policy based evidence’, but this is an unusually blatant example:

‘NIH [National Institutes of Health] has been at the forefront in pushing junk gender science. Instead, it should fund studies into the short-term and long-term negative effects of crosssex interventions, including “affirmation,” puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries, and the likelihood of desistence if young people are given counselling that does not include medical or social interventions.’

As with purging legal language, this approach differs tactically from that used by the UKs anti trans movement, but the goal is the same: to use pseudoscience to undermine care and support for trans people, and to defund, ignore or discredit any study or data that doesn’t support a transphobic and eliminationist worldview.

It’s worth recognising here that this is very much a shared project: UK and US anti-trans actors rely on the same junk science, and the same representatives of that junk science — they are sharing, amplifying and building an international pseudo evidence base, full of nested citations and methodological chicanary, and using it to justify removing and restricting the rights of trans people to live their day to day lives.

When it comes to LGBTQ+ people and specifically trans people, the policy goals in Project 2025 are very similar to those pursued by the anti-trans movement and its social conservative allies in the UK. This should not surprise anyone — the American religious right has been the key global driver of the anti-gender movement for decades, and over recent years as the UK anti-trans movement has risen to prominence alongside the wider domestic social conservative movement we have seen transatlantic relationships, collaborations and funding grow and grow.

We might *wish* the UK could never be like the US when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, but when it comes to trans rights we are far closer than you might think. The difference? Sometimes just that they say the quiet part out loud:

‘The Secretary’s antidiscrimination policy statements should never conflate sex with gender identity or sexual orientation. Rather, the Secretary should proudly state that men and women are biological realities that are crucial to the advancement of life sciences and medical care and that married men and women are the ideal, natural family structure because all children have a right to be raised by the men and women who conceived them.’

International policy proposals

If the domestic policy proposals in Project 2025 tell a story of a convergence between the US Christian right and the UK anti-trans and social conservative movements, the international policy proposals would hamstring the global LGBTQ+ rights movement, weaken (and potentially dismantle) international human rights frameworks and institute an approach to foreign policy that explicitly endorses and promotes the goals of the anti-gender movement.

This would be an extraordinary volte face compared to the approach of the Biden administration. Its potential ramifications are so enormous they are difficult to even imagine.

Defunding

Project 2025 calls for the defunding of international LGBTQ+ rights programming (including funding for LGBTQ+ work integrated into other programming), the dismantling of all DEI activities within USAID, and the punitive treatment of all grantees that are involved in DEI activities (even where these are not directly funded by USAID).

‘U.S. foreign aid has been transformed into a massive and openended global entitlement program captured by — and enriching — the progressive Left. The next conservative Administration should scale back USAID’s global footprint by, at a minimum, returning to the agency’s 2019 pre–COVID-19 pandemic budget level. It should deradicalize USAID’s programs and structures and build on the conservative reforms instituted by the Trump Administration’.

,The next conservative Administration should dismantle USAID’s DEI apparatus by eliminating the Chief Diversity Officer position along with the DEI advisers and committees; cancel the DEI scorecard and dashboard; remove DEI requirements from contract and grant tenders and awards; issue a directive to cease promotion of the DEI agenda, including the bullying LGBTQ+ agenda… It should eliminate funding for partners that promote discriminatory DEI practices and consider debarment in egregious cases’.

This would be catastrophic for the global movement for LGBTQ+ rights, already grotesquely underfunded by comparison to anti-gender movement actors — see for instance:

Human rights and commitment to multilateral systems

Similarly, Project 2025 is clear that an incoming Republican administration should take a highly restrictive approach to international law, and adopt a hostile stance to multilateral institutions seeking to uphold human rights in practice.

‘International organizations should not be used to promote radical social policies as if they were human rights priorities. Doing so undermines actual human rights and weakens U.S. credibility abroad. The next Administration should use its voice, influence, votes, and funding in international organizations to promote authentic human rights … It must promote a strict text-based interpretation of treaty obligations that does not consider human rights treaties as “living instruments” both within the State Department and within international organizations that receive U.S. funding, including by making respect for sovereignty and authentic human rights a litmus test of personnel decisions and elections processes within international organizations.’

In fact, Project 2025 proposes the US government becomes an overt actor in the anti-gender movement globally:

‘African nations are particularly (and reasonably) non-receptive to the U.S. social policies such as abortion and pro-LGBT initiatives being imposed on them. The United States should … reject the promotion of divisive policies that hurt the deepening of shared goals between the U.S. and its African partners.’

‘It [US State] has dispensed with decades of bipartisan consensus on foreign aid and pursued policies that contravene basic American values and have antagonized our partners in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. …. It should deradicalize USAID’s programs and structures and build on the conservative reforms instituted by the Trump Administration.’

Let us be clear that ‘antagonising partners’ in Asia, Africa and Latin America means working diplomatically and programmatically to support women’s reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQ+ people in some of the harshest environments around the world. Ending this work means stepping away from any attempt to moderate even the most extreme and egregious state abuses of human rights.

It means a USA that responds to rollbacks of rights, like the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Ghana with indifference, and removes its diplomatic support for progress at the UN level, emboldening and enabling anti-rights regimes around the world.

I started reading Project 2025, saw this on page one of the foreward and ran for the hills:

‘Today, America and the conservative movement are enduring an era of division and danger akin to the late 1970s. Now, as then, our political class has been discred[1]ited by wholesale dishonesty and corruption. Look at America under the ruling and cultural elite today: Inflation is ravaging family budgets, drug overdose deaths continue to escalate, and children suffer the toxic normalization of transgender[1]ism with drag queens and pornography invading their school libraries… Contemporary elites have even repurposed the worst ingredients of 1970s “radical chic” to build the totalitarian cult known today as “The Great Awokening.” And now, as then, the Republican Party seems to have little understanding about what to do. Most alarming of all, the very moral foundations of our society are in peril.’

Then I went back and read all 920 pages and sat with it for a while.

I believe that in the UK we still are still clinging to the idea that there is a very significant gap between the views espoused by the US right and the UK right on LGBTQ+ policy. There isn’t when it comes to trans people. Their views and policy goals are very similar, and the level of collaboration, mutual support and funding transfer across the anti-trans and social conservative movements is high. Most worrying of all they are slowly gaining rather than losing ground in the UK, the US and many countries around the world.

The direction of travel set in Project 2025 — the ‘policy bible’ that an incoming Republican president will tell his team to pick up and run with will accelerate this process. It has the potential to hamstring the global LGBTQ+ rights movement and turbo charge an already dominant anti-gender movement by throwing US political and diplomatic muscle behind the effort to roll back human rights globally.

In short, this is a VERY big problem for all of us, and looking away won’t help.

[1]Its worth saying that if your stated goal is to reduce the number of trans people, however politely or obliquely you frame it, this is eliminationist thinking.

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Nancy Kelley

Passionate about human rights and social justice. Love data, love books, love learning.