Gender wars in Florida, scientists attacked in Belarus, and QAnon returns to Twitter

Isobel Cockerell


As the war in Ukraine rumbles on, it’s easy to forget Belarusian despot Aleksandr Lukashenko’s reign of terror. For the last three years, regular and random arrests have dominated daily life. This week security forces stormed through the laboratories of the National Academy of Sciences, rounding up and detaining 44 academics working there. Their phones were checked, photo folders and Telegram accounts combed through. They were suspected of subscribing to a Telegram group called “Scientists against Violence,” which authorities have designated as “extremist.” The scientists were interrogated and released on the condition they not disclose the details of their detention. Belarus has consistently been targeting every professional field with arrests, and scientists and academics are an easy target. Back in September we reported on how scientists in neighboring Russia are being targeted and charged for treason.

Curiouser and curiouser — that’s all I can say about the covid news seeping out of China. The scenes get more bizarre by the week. Videos have emerged from Zhengzhou, in the central province of Henan, where authorities locked down an area surrounding an iPhone factory. People tried to flee the restrictions, breaking out of the industrial park, climbing over fences and wandering through wheat fields with their belongings to try to escape the restrictions. And at Shanghai’s Disneyland, my version of a Halloween nightmare went down: people were locked inside the Happiest Place on Earth while every visitor and worker was subjected to a covid test. They were forced to stay there for hours — but the rides were reportedly still operational while they waited for their results, so that was a plus. “We’ve entered a new phase of madness,” one Weibo user posted, when a video emerged of elementary school children singing a nursery rhyme. In the rhyme, they sing lines from classical Chinese poetry, and a new line: “let’s do PCR tests together.” The rhyme continues: “From a distance the waterfall looks like a hanging stream / Li Bai [a prominent Tang dynasty poet] is doing nucleic acid tests with me.”

As we predicted last week, QAnon adherents are returning to Twitter — in droves. “For anons, having a chance to return to the battlefield we were forcefully removed from on January 8th, 2020 is an opportunity to continue the war we fought so hard to win” wrote the owner of one Q Telegram group to his 46,000 readers. “Days before the election, we may be given an opportunity to fight.” The conspiracy theorists, who believe the world is secretly run by satan-worshiping pedophiles, thought Musk was communicating with them via his “satanic” Halloween outfit.

After months of violence targeting doctors and hospitals taking care of transgender young people, the Florida Board of Medicine has voted to ban gender-affirming care for all trans teenagers. As defined by the World Health Organization, gender-affirming care encompasses a range of social, psychological, behavioral and medical treatments designed to help people affirm their gender identity when it conflicts with the gender they were assigned at birth. Accredited medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association all support gender-affirming care for trans youth.

The Florida Board will start drafting a rule outlawing surgeries, hormone therapy and puberty blockers for trans people under the age of 18. Dr. Meredithe McNamara, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Yale School of Medicine who treats trans youth, told the board the state’s review had relied on the work of people who had no experience in the field. “Neither of the authors of the state’s review is a subject matter expert,” McNamara said. “One individual is a dentist. The other is a post-doctoral fellow in biostatistics. At a bare minimum, the systematic review should be conducted by those who are qualified to assess the literature. I wouldn’t trust a dermatologist review of the literature on a neurosurgical procedure, for instance.”

“Florida brought in some random people with no expertise in treating #trans youth to pose as experts,” tweeted trans youth mental health researcher Jack Turban. “This is truly something out of a dystopian novel, but it’s going to impact real lives.” The public testimony portion of the hearing was cut early — to shouts of protests from the crowd. Activists and trans youth, some of whom had staged a “die-in” outside the courtroom, were told to “email” the board if they had any more testimonies to share. We’re now hearing reports that trans teens and their families are considering fleeing the state as they’ll no longer be able to access their medication. 


If you want to learn more about America’s gender wars, I highly recommend “The Problem with Jon Stewart,” which came out on Apple TV last month — it’s free to watch even if you don’t have a subscription. The first episode is devoted to the “war over gender” and it is forensic in its analysis and Stewart is stunning in his takedown of the anti-trans movement.