The Right-Wing Myth of “Gender Ideology”

In March of 2022, Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill – informally known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The bill specifically prohibits “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity…in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”. If violated, parents can sue for injunctive relief and may be entitled to damages. The law will take effect on July 1, 2022, and is hailed by Republican leaders as a measure to “reinforce fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding upbringing & control of their children.” In defense of the bill, DeSantis claimed “Elementary school kids should not have woke gender ideology injected into the curriculum. That is inappropriate, that’s not what we want in our school system” (CBS News Miami, 2022). Former US President and Republic heavy weight Donald Trump vocalized his support at the 2022 Faith and Freedom Coalition’s annual conference, stating “Pushing woke gender ideology, woke gender ideology, think of it, on young people is nothing less than child abuse. No teacher should be allowed to teach transgender to our children without parents’ consent” (in Rupar, 2022).

Likening trans-affirming education and care to child abuse is not new. In February 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbot (2022) issued a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), where he claimed that trans affirming care constituted child abuse. He then called on the DFPS to open child abuse investigations against parents who provide gender-affirming care to their transgender children. This mandate has been upheld by the Texas Supreme Court and to date, is actively being executed. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (2022) has called these efforts “a win for families against the gender ideology of doctors, big pharma, clinics trying to ‘trans’ confused, innocent children.”

While ‘gender ideology’ tropes may be new in U.S. political discourse, it has a long history of being used to mobilize along political lines. For more than two decades, anti-gender camps have leveraged ‘gender ideology’ rhetoric to delegitimize, thwart, and reverse feminist and LGBTQ+ rights. Anti-genderism, as it is commonly understood among academic circles, is a global phenomenon that emerged in the mid-1990’s in direct response international policy that embraced to new understandings of gender, sex, and sexuality as socially and culturally constructed (Corredor, 2019). Resistance to feminist and LGBTQ+ social movements is not new, and conservative politicians and religious organizations have regularly organized to oppose their agendas and challenge their progress over the decades. Anti-genderism and its ‘gender ideology’ rhetoric, however, is distinct in that it is an explicit counter to the epistemological turn within feminist and queer discourse and to attempts among feminists to reconceptualize and operationalize gender into international policy.



The first mobilization against gender and sexuality as social constructs emerged at the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, where feminist and lesbian activists proposed a new definition of gender to be included in the Conference’s Declaration and Platform for Action. The proposed definition read gender as “the roles and responsibilities of women and men that are socially determined. Gender is related to the way in which we are perceived, in the way we are expected to think and act as women and men, according to the way d society is organized and not by our biological differences” (in Alzamora Revoredo, 2003, p. 472). The Declaration and Platform for Action draft also included multiple mentions and protections for bi- and homosexual women. The Vatican – which is a Permanent Observer at the UN – openly opposed the new definition and the inclusion of sexual rights. It argued for definitions of gender to be grounded in “biological-sexual identity, male or female” and to omit “dubious interpretations based on wide-spread conceptions, which affirm that sexual identity can adapt indefinitely, to accommodate new and different purposes” (Glendon, 1996). In the end, the Vatican was successful. The proposed definition of gender as a social construct, as well as all mentions of sexual orientation and sexual rights, were eliminated from the comprehensive roadmap on global women’s rights and empowerment. 

In the years following, the Vatican manufactured the term ‘gender ideology’ to vilify feminist and LGBTQ+ evolving definitions of gender. In 2003, the Pontifical Council for the Family published its Lexicon: Ambiguous and Debatable Terms regarding Family Life and Ethical Questions, a compendium of articles that clarifies the Holy See’s stance on issues concerning family and life. Here it claimed that so-called gender ideology was responsible for erasing differences between men and women, promoting homosexuality, and inciting gender confusion. ‘Gender ideology’ was said to be an “ideological aggression against girls and women” (Rice Hasson, 2019) that is rooted in the “rejection of the family” and motherhood (Alzamora Revoredo, 2003, p. 475), and promotes “abortion…homosexuality, lesbianism and all the other forms of sexuality outside of marriage” (Alzamora Revoredo, 2003, p. 465).

Anti-“Gender Ideology” Mobilizations

Over the next few years, conservative civil society groups and politicians across Europe – particularly those operating in Catholic dominated countries – leveraged Vatican discourse on gender to challenge domestic feminist and LGBTQ+ policy. The ‘gender ideology’ framed served as “symbolic glue” (Brustier, 2015) for a whole host of issues culled from a diverse constellation of social and political theories and policy agendas. In France, Italy, Croatia, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Austria, and Slovakia, programs and legislation that sought to enhance gender and sexual equality – such as increased access to abortion, same sex marriage, reproductive rights for LGBTQ+ persons, and the revamping of sex education programs – faced significant resistance and, in many cases, were abandoned. 

Such opposition was not limited to national politics. In 2011, the Council of Europe introduced a human rights document entitled the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, which today is commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. The agreement aims to “protect women against all forms of violence, and…contribute to the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women” (Council of Europe, 2011, p. 2). Within the text, gender is defined as “socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men” (ibid, , p. 3). This definition caused uproar among right-wing governments, who claimed that the convention promotes ‘gender ideology’ (Berthet, 2022). Some states, which had ratified the convention, have since withdrawn, including Bulgaria and Turkey. Others outright refuse to sign, like Slovakia and Hungary.

By 2015, other religious and conservative forces outside of the Catholic Church emerged as major players in anti-gender campaigns. Latin America is a prime example, where the conservative evangelicals have played a key role in thwarting feminist and LGBTQ+ policy. In September of 2016, tens of thousands of protestors mobilized in Mexico to oppose so-called gender ideology in sex education curriculums in public schools and same-sex marriage. Right-wing populist parties have also used gender ideology rhetoric as a political platform, as seen in presidential campaigns of Costa Rica’s Alvarado Muñoz and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. 

In August of 2016 in Colombia, anti-gender campaigns derailed a national program aimed to curbing bullying against LGBTQ+ youth in public schools. The national program was developed in partnership with the United Nations and sought to provide teachers and school administrators with tools to support LGBTQ+ students. Led by both Catholic and evangelical forces, hundreds of thousands of protestors took the streets across the county claiming that the program constituted ‘gender ideology.’ The pressure campaign was successful, and the program was scrapped. 

Just two months later, another anti-gender campaign emerged, this time around Colombia’s 2016 peace agreement which was set to end 52 years of violent civil war with the country’s longest standing guerrilla group known as the FARC. The peace agreement included an extensive gender perspective, which explicitly stated that women and LGBTQ+ communities must be taken into consideration during the transition from war to peace and in the rebuilding of a peaceful Colombia. Opposition against the peace agreement’s gender perspective was led primarily by conservative evangelical leaders and politicians who claimed that ‘gender ideology’ had infiltrated the peace agreement and was promoting “a new anthropology of being, which ignores sexual distinction and denies the difference and reciprocity between men and women” (Castaño Díaz et al., 2016, p. 1). Oppositions did not view the gender perspective as a matter of equality but rather as a surreptitious attempt to redesign [Colombia’s] legal system, the family, marriage, the right to life and religious freedom” (Semana, 2016). The anti-gender campaigns joined forces with other opponents of the peace agreement, and initially they were successful. In October of 2016, the public voted against the adoption of the peace agreement and negotiators were forced to go back and revise the text. The peace agreement was passed through senate just a few months later with the gender perspective intact (Corredor, 2021); nonetheless, the anti-gender campaigns, which had taken the nation by surprise, shook women’s and LGBTQ+ peacebuilding movements worldwide. 

“Gender Ideology” as Ontological and Epistemic Violence

As seen in the discussion above, “gender ideology” as a rhetorical mobilizer has been incredibly successful around the globe. It is a powerful empty signifier “capable of adjusting to different national contexts and different sexual issues” (Garbagnoli, 2016, p. 201). Its flexibility allows anti-gender camps to garner support from multiple sites of resistance, demonstrating not just it’s national organizing power, but also its transnational and discursive might. 

Yet ‘gender ideology’ rhetoric is more than a mobilizing tool used to contain policy developments associated with feminist and queer agendas; it is first and foremost an epistemological and ontological response to emancipatory claims about sex, gender, and sexuality (Corredor 2019). It serves to misrepresent and ultimately reduce a wide range of complex and emancipatory theories on gender, biological sex, and sexuality and distil them into a single, fabricated ideology/theory that threatens the heteronormative family, innocent children, the nation, and civilized moral order. 

These camps insist on a stable and predictably correlated relationship between biological sex, gender identity, and heterosexual orientation (which the Vatican sees as the one and only natural unity of mind, body, and soul). These principles are then used to “Other” those who do not conform to patriarchal, heteronormative, and cis-gender standards. In other words, anti-genderism aims to exert ontological power in their effort to control the narrative around how we define and understand gender, sex, and sexuality. This in turn is used to construct an imagined past and future rooted in traditional social and moral order. Anti-genderism and it’s ‘gender ideology’ are also a form of epistemic violence. The assertion of a single inflexible “truth” contingent on marginalization regularly denies the lived realities of those that they “Other.”

Take the Heritage Foundation’s as an example. This U.S.-based conservative think-tank that has incredible influence over national public policy, regularly publishes on issues of ‘gender ideology’ and ‘transgender ideology.’[1] Between 2018-2021, the Foundation published 139 commentaries (similar to blog posts) on gender. The vast majority of these commentaries focus on transgender issues as they pertain to U.S. policy issues, such as gender-neutral bathrooms, transgender athletes, and workplace discrimination. In line with anti-gender groups around the globe, the Heritage Foundation regularly distorts and oversimplifies the complex theoretical debates within feminist and transgender studies around gender, the body, and sexuality. It also habitually engages in ‘Othering’ of trans people by using a discourse that associates transgender identity with deviance and dehumanization. After reviewing and coding all 139 commentaries, my preliminary findings show that the most common ways trans people were ‘Othered’ is by portraying them as either victims of mental illness who need to be fixed (and thus can return to ‘normalcy’) or as sexual predators in disguise, (aka people to be feared). At the core of these interpretations is a refusal to acknowledge the lived experience of trans communities as real and legitimate. In other words, the Heritage Foundation’s language denies their experiences and seeks erasure of the transgender individuals. This is not only apparent in their portrayals of transgender experiences, but also in their language, where they strictly use of the term ‘biological male’ when referring to transwomen and/or non-binary individuals who were born male (as opposed to their preferred pronouns and gender identity).

Concluding Remarks

As ‘gender ideology’ discourse takes hold in the U.S., we must remember that this is not simply a political strategy wielded to gain media attention nor a merely populist tactic to garner votes. Anti-genderism and its ‘gender ideology’ rhetoric ultimately serves to “delegitimise feminist and LGBTQ studies and struggles and to reaffirm that sexual norms transcend historical and political arrangements” (2016, p. 187). In their attempt to assert epistemo­logical and ontological control over the meanings of sex, gender, and sexuality, anti-gender camps try to not only shore up an existing social order or the status quo ante, but also to endorse an imagined future rooted in exclusions and repression, whereby women’s rights would exist only in a space of victimization and subordination, and LGBTQ+ communities – particularly trans individuals – would remain invisible.

Dr. Elizabeth Corredor is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Toronto Metropolitan University in the Department of Politics and Public Administration. Her research examines the advancement of – and resistance to – women’s and LGBTQ+ equality policy. Her current book project – Gender Justice, Resistance, and the Politics of Peace in Colombia – examines the unprecedented inclusion of – and backlash to – women’s and LGBTQ+ persons into Colombia’s most recent peace process with the FARC that occurred between 2012-2016. Other areas of her research have looked specifically at the backlash that occurs in mainstreaming gender and LGBTQ+ rights into policy and practice, including but not limited to peace processes, trans-affirming medical care, and academic freedom in public education.

Work Cited

Abbott, G. G. (2022). Letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. In T. H. J. Masters (Ed.).

Alzamora Revoredo, B. O. (2003). An Ideology of Gender: Dangers and Scope. In Pontifical Council for the Family (Ed.), Lexicon: Ambiguous and debatable terms regarding family life and ethical questions (pp. 19). Human Life International. 

Berthet, V. (2022). Norm under fire: support for and opposition to the European Union’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention in the European Parliament. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 1-24. 

Brustier, G. (2015). France. In E. Kováts & M. Põim (Eds.), Gender as symbolic glue: The Position and Role of Conservative and Far Right Parties in the Anti-Gender Mobilizatoin in Europe (pp. 19-39). Foundation for European Progressive Studies. 

Castaño Díaz, E., Palacios, S. L., & Moreno, P. (2016, October 13). Propuesta de ajuste de los Acuerdos de Paz entre el Gobierno Nacional y las FARC-EP por parte de la Iglesia Evangélica de Colombia

CBS News Miami. (2022, June 15). Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses ‘woke gender ideology’ ahead of ‘Don’t say gay’ law taking effect.

Corredor, E. S. (2019). Unpacking “Gender Ideology” and the Global Right’s Anti-gender Countermovement. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 44(3), 613-638. 

Corredor, E. S. (2021). On the Strategic Uses of Women’s Rights: Backlash, Rights-Based Framing, and Anti-Gender Campaigns in Colombia’s 2016 Peace Agreement. Latin American Politics and Society, 63(3). 

Council of Europe. (2011). Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Istanbul, 11.V.2011. 

Garbagnoli, S. (2016). Against the Heresy of Immanence: Vatican’s ‘Gender’ as a New Rhetorical Device Against the Denaturalization of the Sexual Order. Religion & Gender, 6(2), 187-204. 

Glendon, M. A. (1996). Declaración sobre el documento final y presentación de las reservas de la santa sede. L’Osservatore Romano: Vatican Retrieved from

House Bill CS/CS/HB 1557. (2022). Parental Rights in Education. In.

McGann, J. G. (2021). 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report. In TTCSP Global Go To Think Tank Index Reports. University of Pennsylvania.

Paxton, A. G. K. (2022). Just secured a win for families against the gender ideology of doctors, big pharma, clinics trying to “trans” confused, innocent children. In @KenPaxtonTX (Ed.): Twitter.

Rice Hasson, M. (2019, March 20). Gender Ideology: Ideological Aggression Against Women and Girls Commission on the Status of Women 2019, New York, NY.

Rupar, A. (2022). “No teacher should ever be allowed to teach transgender to our children” — Trump. In @atrupar (Ed.): Twitter.

Semana. (2016, Sept 25). “Lo que he tratado es de abrirles los ojos a los colombianos”: Alejandro Ordóñez.

[1] University of Pennsylvania’s 2020 Global Go To Think Tank Index Report, which that ranks leading global think tanks in a variety of categories, ranked the Heritage Foundation #1 out of 86 in “Best Use of Social Media and Netowrks;” #1 out of 65 in “Think Tanks with the Best Use of the Internet;” and #2 out of 92 in “Best Advocacy Campaign.” It was also recognized as the 2017-2019 winner of the category entitled “Think Tanks with the Most Significant Impact on Public Policy Center of Excellence for 2017-2019.”


Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

Latest Issue

2024: Vol. 23, No. 1

By Catharine MacKinnon: Interview: Catharine MacKinnon on Abortion and Misogyny

By Richard Wolin: Introduction to Martin Heidegger’s “The German Student as Worker” and “The German University”*

By Martin Heidegger: The German Student as Worker: Matriculation Ceremony Speech November 25th, 1933

By Martin Heidegger: The German University

By Philip Green: The Alt-Left and Ukraine

By Elizabeth S. Corredor: The Right-Wing Myth of “Gender Ideology”

By Barry McCrea: The Novel in Ireland and the Language Question: Joyce’s Complex Legacy

By Paola Cavalieri: “You’ll Come with Me”: Humans and Animals in Times of War

By Axel Fair-Schulz: The Two Faces of East German Socialism

By Bill Nevins: Poetry Review Column

By Benjamin Shepard: REVIEW ESSAY: On Friendship and Social Movements: AIDS activism and struggles against fascism, global AIDS and harm reduction

By Justin Elghanayan: Review Essay: Thomas de Zengotita’s Postmodern Theory and Progressive Politics: Toward a New Humanism (New York: Palgrave, 2019)

By Bill Nevins: Review: Fintan O’Toole, We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland (Liveright /W.W. Norton, 2022)

By Warren Leming: Review: Aaron J. Leonard, The Folk Singers and the Bureau (London: Repeater Books, 2020)

By Michael R. Jackson: Review: John McWhorter, Woke Racism: How a New Religion has Betrayed Black America (New York: Forum, 2021)

By Amy Starecheski: Review: Benjamin Heim Shepard’s Sustainable Urbanism and Direct Action: Case Studies in Dialectical Activism (Rowman & Littlefield: 2021)

By Kevin Dan: Review: Benjamin Shepard, Sustainable Urbanism and Direct Action: Case Studies in Dialectical Activism (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021)