With attacks against transgender kids soaring across the country, Minnesota residents held a March rally insisting, "Trans Rights Are Human Rights." Photo by Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Wow, That's An Incredibly... Made Up Figure! Jon Stewart's Master Class In Fighting Bigots

For an ostensible comedian, Jon Stewart just did a swell job showing mainstream media how to cover the daunting, complex issues facing vulnerable trans kids - most grievously, the threat posed by ignorant, fear-mongering zealots trying to legislate who they can and can't be. In his segment "The War on Gender," he let parents tell their moving stories - "Our child was telling us who she was" - and repeatedly called bullshit on Arkansas' A.G. spewing lethal lies about a first-in-the-nation ban on trans health care. Facts and follow-up questions, people. Take note.

For an ostensible comedian, Jon Stewart just did a swell job showing a largely negligent mainstream media how to cover the daunting issues facing vulnerable trans kids - most grievously, the surging threats, physical and psychological, posed by ignorant, right-wing, fear-mongering control freaks trying to legislate who they can and can't be. In the last year, that "furious eliminationist assault" on the very existence of transgender people has seen over 200 anti-trans bills make their often speedy way through 30 state legislatures, even as news organizations offered wary, both-sides, culture-war "debates": Are there too many trans people around these days, and which "woke" perpetrators are to blame? Many of those efforts have targeted gender-affirming health care for trans minors, a potentially lethal move for their mental and physical well-being. Several states have proposed restricting such care; as of last year, only Arkansas had tried to ban it altogether with its appropriately heinously named "Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) Act."

In April 2021, Arkansas lawmakers overrode a veto by GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson to become the first state to pass a bill banning all gender-affirming health care for trans children and teens; since then, Arizona, Alabama and Texas have passed similar measures. Right-wingers nationwide rushed to cheerlead for Arkansas' draconian HB1570, with 19 GOP-led states filing a brief in support along with groups of bigots like the Family Research Council and a "feminist" Women's Liberation Front, which opposes legal rights for trans people. (Don't ask.) Many others were less enthusiastic. The families of four trans minors aged 9 to 16, represented by the ACLU, sued, as did two doctors who treat transgender patients. Last July, a U.S. District Judge temporarily blocked the law; a panel of the 8th Circuit Federal Appeals Court, one of the most conservative in the country, upheld the block, the first of its kind by feds and thus a rare, small, temporary victory.

Next week, a full trial to determine if the law should be permanently set aside will begin before the first judge who blocked it. But Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledgeisso psychedto keep health care away from trans kids she couldn't wait till next week, and filed a motion asking all the 8th Circuit judges to reverse the three judges' ruling. Then she went on the first show of the second season of "The Problem With Jon Stewart," and got righteously eviscerated. The name of the segment - no both-sides 'debate' here - was "The War Over Gender." (You can see it free on Apple TV+). Its admirable, fact-based goal: To offer accurate information about trans health care from families and allies, to let them tell their moving stories, and to push back against a flood of anti-trans ignorance and lies fueling the current hate fest, all hosted by a guy who has admitted to and apologized for the occasional transphobic joke in his own checkered past, but also knows - Journalism 101 - how to ask a follow-up question.

The parents were eloquent: Their child at age 3 or 4 "telling us who she was," the truth "completely out of the realm of my understanding," the years "coming to understand our child knew who they were," the loss of uncomprehending friends, the child, once supported, who "just lit up." Rutledge was not. Stewart called relentless bullshit: On her term "experimentation," her mission of "saving" children from it, her inability to name doctors who support the ban, her ignorance of how many kids have gotten surgery the law bans ("Zero"), her argument to "let kids be kids" ("I have bad news for you - parents lose children"), her claim parents should get 2nd opinions ("You're not letting them"), her defense of a law that robs families of a choice recommended by every major medical association and field, pediatrics to psychiatry to endocrinology. Ruttledge: For every one of those experts, there's one who disagrees. Stewart: "You know that's not true." The whopper: Her assertion "98% of young people with gender dysphoria...move past that." Stewart: "Wow, that's an incredibly...made-up figure!" Thanks, Jon. Media, take note.

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