History was made in a most unexpected way in late 2013 when the petition titled “Southern Poverty Law Center: Monitor Gender Identity Watch as a Hate Group” appeared at Change.org. At press time, the petition had garnered more than 7,000 signatures.
The petition raised many eyebrows, receiving an outpouring of support from within the transgender community. Gender Identity Watch (GIW) was founded and is run by Cathy Brennan, a Maryland based attorney with a long history of involvement in the radical lesbian feminist movement.
Many of the comments posted in response to the Change.org petition accuse Brennan of outing transgender people to their employers, publishing the names and addresses of transgender people, and celebrating transgender suicides.
Brennan is profiled on RationalWiki.org, a website which, according to it's homepage "analyzes pseudo-science and the anti-science movement,” as well as "documenting the full range of crank ideas." Many of the individuals featured on RationalWiki.org are conservative, anti-gay Christians.
According to RationalWiki.org, Brennan claims that no transgender people were killed during the Holocaust because the word didn't exist at the time. The site also claims that Brennan contacted a transwoman's personal physician and further reports that Brennan has networked Pacific Justice Institute, a conservative Christian organization, in the Institute's now debunked claim that a transgender teen was harassing other students at a girl's restroom in a Colorado school. Pacific Justice Institute's home page states its goals as "defending religious freedoms, parental rights, and other civil liberties."
Scrolling through GIW’s homepage reveals posts in which transwomen are referred to as "men pretending to be women.” Lesbian identified transwomen are referred to as "pretendbians."
Brennan's issue with the trans community is vague at best. She claims that transwomen are "erasing female identity and histories."
SFGN could not reach Brennan for comment; the only way to reach her is at the public comments section of GIW’s website, or in the comments section of her blog, BugBrennan.com.
However, SFGN staffdid encounter Brennan commenting on a transgender rights thread on Facebook. Her response at my attempt to converse with her: "BACK OFF MEN!" At the time, the banner of her personal Facebook page stated, "The bearer of this card has been labeled transphobic and doesn't give a fuck."
"Southern Poverty Law Center has been aware of the Gender Identity Watch Petition from the beginning," said Kim Rippere, president of Secular Woman, Inc., who posted the petition. "We know that they have an internal process for determining what groups are considered hate groups. We assume they will make a decision based on evidence and their definition of 'hate group.’ The petition does clearly show that thousands of people are supportive and think that GIW's actions are within the definition of a hate group."
Rippere said that she was pleased with the number of people who signed the petition and hopes more will sign on. "We think this sort of behavior sets back women and that ignoring this behavior only serves to further alienate populations."
Two prominent members of the transgender community spoke to SFGN regarding GIW.
Sandra Dunn made headlines when she ran for mayor of Amarillo, Texas in 2011. She currently sits on the board at Transgender Education Network of Texas. "This is not a choice," Dunn told SFGN. "It is something we struggle with daily for all our lives. For me the struggle I face is more from others than within."
Dunn said that she supported women's rights such as equal pay and choice as well.
"I did not step down from a higher plane of hierarchy as some might think. I see it as a step up. I stepped up to who I am. I am focused on elevating women to a place [they] we belong. The impression I get from Gender Identity Watch is the opposite.”
While Cristin Williams, managing editor of Transadvocate.com, a site which seeks to give a voice to the transgender community had this to say.
"I would assert that it is demonstrable that Brennan and her groups participate in harmful behavior that put vulnerable people at risk. It is a fact that 51 percent of bullied [transsexual children] attempt suicide. It's a fact that Cathy Brennan outed a trans-kid at school. It is a fact that Brennan worked with an ex-gay group in targeting a 16 year old trans-youth who was later put on suicide watch. It's a fact that Brennan has attempted to intervene in the medical care of trans-people. I do know of a transsexual who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after Brennan and her groups got done with her. Brennan and her groups will track down your family, friends, employer, school or medical provider and out you and/or attempt to tangle them in her various campaigns targeting both trans-adults and children."
Dunn also cites, “a lack of medical research," in reference to GIW.
The obvious question might be to wonder what motivates Cathy Brennan. "I don't have any opinions as to who Brennan is as a person or why she chooses to engage in the behavior she exhibits," said Cristin Williams. "I am only concerned with her harmful actions and the harmful actions of the groups she administers."
Gender Identity Watch: GenderIdentityWatch.com
Editor’s note: After this story was published Cathy Brennan contacted SFGN and said she’s always available for comment and says no one tried to contact her for the story.