House Staffers Banned From Wikipedia Over Anti-Transgender Edits

Human Rights Campaign calls on Boehner to investigate “troubling” edit to “Orange Is the New Black” actress’s page.

Actress Laverne Cox attends Netflix's 'Orange is the New Black' panel discussion at Directors Guild Of America on August 4, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
National Journal
Sarah Mimms
Aug. 22, 2014, 9:14 a.m.

A House staffer’s ed­its to a num­ber of Wiki­pe­dia entries on trans­gender people has caused an up­roar in the LGBT com­munity and, once again, res­ul­ted in Wiki­pe­dia ban­ning a House IP ad­dress.

The staffer, who iden­ti­fies as a “womyn” in com­ments on the site, ed­ited the Wiki­pe­dia entry for trans­gender act­ress Lav­erne Cox of Or­ange Is the New Black earli­er this month to de­scribe her as “a real man pre­tend­ing to be a wo­man.” The staffer ap­pears to work in the Ray­burn House of­fice build­ing.

The staffer, via notes pos­ted to Wiki­pe­dia, ar­gues that she is be­ing tar­geted in a “polit­ic­al witch hunt” by the “trans-lobby.” “I don’t see how dis­agree­ing with the concept that trans­pho­bia is a neg­at­ive thing is con­sidered ‘hate speech’. The whole concept of ‘trans­pho­bia’ is be­ing pro­moted to trivi­al­ize the ex­per­i­ences of real wo­men (or ‘womyn-born-womyn’ as some people call us),” the staffer wrote.

The staffer also com­plained of be­ing labeled a “TERF,” or “Trans-Ex­clu­sion­ary Rad­ic­al Fem­in­ist,” a term used to de­scribe fem­in­ists who be­lieve that trans wo­men are not “real” wo­men.

“These days, If I com­plain about a man us­ing the womyn’s re­stroom then I’m co­s­idered [sic] trans­phobic and get called a TERF. This has been hap­pen­ing a lot lately here in the halls of Con­gerss [sic]. If feel­ing un­com­fort­able about some creep­er com­ing in­to the same bath­room as me is con­sidered trans­phobic, then why is trans­pho­bia con­sidered a bad thing?” the staffer wrote. “I wouldn’t be sur­prised if the Ad­min who banned this IP is trans. If she is a real wo­man, then she should should be fol­low­ing real Fem­in­ists like Ju­lie Bind­el, not sel­louts to the trans lobby like An­ita Sar­keesian.”

The same IP ad­dress has been linked to a num­ber of oth­er entries re­lated to trans­gender in­di­vidu­als and is­sues have been ed­ited with a sim­il­ar mind­set, lead­ing Wiki­pe­dia ed­it­ors to as­sume that they are com­ing from the same staffer. Those ed­its in­clude an al­ter­a­tion of the Wiki­pe­dia entry for Camp Trans, an an­nu­al trans­gender protest out­side of the Michigan Womyn’s Mu­sic Fest­iv­al which ex­cludes trans people. The user ad­ded a line in­dic­at­ing that the event “was in­ten­ded for real wo­men,” which has since been re­moved by mod­er­at­ors.

In com­ments to Wiki­pe­dia ed­it­ors, the user also ac­cused the European Uni­on of “us­ing neo­co­lo­ni­al­ist meth­ods to im­pose trans­gen­der­ism on the na­tion of Geor­gia” and cri­ti­cized some mem­bers of Con­gress, the ma­jor­ity of whom are Demo­crats, for sup­port­ing the Em­ploy­ee Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act, which would provide work pro­tec­tions for LGBT in­di­vidu­als.

The com­ments were pos­ted an­onym­ously via an IP ad­dress that cov­ers a num­ber of House of­fices and could not be nar­rowed to a single staffer or con­gres­sion­al of­fice. So the site, as it has done in the past, banned the en­tire IP ad­dress from edit­ing Wiki­pe­dia entries for a month.

The Hu­man Rights Cam­paign, an LGBT ad­vocacy group, called the ed­its “deeply troub­ling.” HRC is now call­ing on House Speak­er John Boehner to in­vest­ig­ate which in­di­vdu­al (or po­ten­tially in­di­vidu­als) made the an­onym­ous ed­its. “At a time when more and more Amer­ic­ans are re­cog­niz­ing and up­hold­ing the rights and dig­nity of trans­gender Amer­ic­ans, it is an un­wel­come re­mind­er of how much work re­mains to be done,” HRC vice pres­id­ent Jeff Kre­hely said in a re­lease.

The ed­its were first noted by Con­gressEdits, a Twit­ter ac­count that auto­mat­ic­ally posts Wiki­pe­dia entry ed­its that are tied to con­gres­sion­al IP ad­dresses. The ac­count has be­come a ma­jor re­souce for journ­al­ists and ad­vocacy groups since it launched earli­er this year.

Ars Tech­nica notes this is the second time in a month that House users have been banned from edit­ing Wiki­pe­dia.

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