Dark Money Fuels Transphobic Opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and Equality Act

by Vins
Published: Updated:

The Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America (CWA), the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) and other women’s groups leading the opposition to the Equal Rights Act and the Equality Act are funded by dark money from a variety of right-wing interest groups, Truthout reported in March 2022. Julia Peck, Ansev Demirhan, and Alyssa Bowen wrote that the anti-feminist legacy of Phyllis Schlafly, who mobilized conservative women to oppose passage of the original ERA, back in 1977, “very much lives on” through the Eagle Forum, the CWA, and the IWF, but that these groups use transphobia as a new tactic in mobilizing opposition to the ERA, which would guarantee equal rights for all US citizens regardless of sex, the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

As Peck, Demirhan, and Bowen explained, “dark money”— funding used to influence elections, judicial nominations, ballot measures, and legislation, whose sources are kept secret from the public—“gives corporations and the wealthy undue sway in politics with little accountability.”

Many of the donors to the Eagle Forum are unknown, Truthout reported, but the Eagle Forum and its related Eagle Forum Education & Legal Defense Fund have received “tens of thousands over the years from the Bradley Foundation and Ed Uihlein Family Foundation, which are both massive foundations with deep connections to the far right.” (Both of these foundations, Truthout noted, also  funded groups that undermined public faith in the 2020 presidential election results.) Between 2010-2013, the CWA (and its partner organization, the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee) received more than $11 million from groups linked to the libertarian billionaire Charles Koch, including Freedom Partners, Center to Protect Patient Rights, and TC4 Trust. The IWF, which began as Women for Clarence Thomas, has links to Koch brothers money and the Bradley Foundation. According to the most recent IRS filings of the IWF and its partner organization, the Independent Women’s Voice, the two groups received more than $4.75 million from their funders since 2014.

Noting that 2021 saw “record highs in anti-trans violence and rhetoric” and was “the worst year for legislative attacks on LGBTQ+ people in recent history,” Peck, Demirhan, and Bowen reported that anti-ERA groups such as the Eagle Forum, CWA, and IWF are “riding the recent wave of transphobia.” In addition to promoting anti-trans positions to their own members, these groups seek to impress their position on the courts and in legislatures. For example, in October 2021 a senior policy analyst at the IWF, Inez Stepman, told members of a House committee that the ERA would put women’s physical safety at risk, invoking the violence cisgender women allegedly face at the hands of transgender women in prisons. As Peck, Demirhan, and Bowen concluded, “The fear-mongering about expanded transgender rights—grounded in the baseless claim that transgender women somehow represent a threat to cisgender women—is simply the latest in a history of attacks on the ERA based on the sexist notion that women are in need of protection and not equality.”

Source: Julia Peck, Ansev Demirhan and Alyssa Bowen, “Dark Money “Women’s Groups” Are Using Anti-Trans Scaremongering to Oppose ERA,” Truthout, March 22, 2022.

Student Researcher: Mia Wood (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Amber Yang (San Francisco State University)