For the last several years, former LA Weekly contributor Belissa Cohen has gone mostly unnoticed as an anti-trans voice in Los Angeles.
Cohen has appeared at anti-trans protests undercover then used footage she took to appear on anti-trans outlets. She’s a spokesperson for “LGB Fight Back.” The organization regularly spreads baseless conspiracy theories that trans people are secretly straight and a danger to cisgender women. Cohen serves as an example of how both far right and “TERF,” (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist) groups are beginning to aid each other and work together.
Though Cohen calls herself a retired journalist, at one time she worked for LA Weekly as a Celebrity Photographer. She was the last writer for a column called “L.A. Dee La,” an influential stream of consciousness column detailing clubs and celebrities in the late 80s to early 90s. The column was discontinued in the mid-90s.
Cohen’s career in photography has in some ways been overshadowed by her feud with rock musician Courtney Love. While photographing an LA fashion show in 1998, Cohen took a photo of Love. Love then reportedly “went Xena,” on Cohen while yelling “Don’t be taking pictures of me! Do you think I’m not still punk rock?” Cohen later sued Love claiming that Love had kneed Cohen in the groin, pulled her hair and hit her in the face. The suit ended in a settlement shortly after very public animosity between the two: Love accused Cohen of having drug issues and Cohen hired high-powered attorney Gloria Allred.
LGB Fight Back’s beliefs system is boiler-plate TERF ideology, but their particular angle on anti-trans hate is novel. The group describe themselves as a “grassroots organization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people who advocate for the interests of the LGB community.” Comparing acceptance of transgender people to “gay conversion therapy,” LGB Fight Back believes that transitioning “attempts to ‘cure’ LGB people of their homosexual attraction and turn them into heterosexuals.” Mirroring anti-Semitic tropes about George Soros from the right, LGB Fight Back accuses billionaires (they don’t say which ones) of creating philanthropic foundations which serve as a “vehicle to indoctrinate LGB people into believing transgender ideology.”
Though Cohen often states concern for children as a motivator for her anti-trans activism, she’s been accused of endangering a child in a criminal case. LCRW was able to obtain Cohen’s legal history. In May of 2010, charges were filed against Cohen for Battery, Child Cruelty and Child Endangerment. She’s also been cited with at least five different criminal charges over the years. Documents show more than 16 different civil cases where Cohen served as plaintiff or defendant.
In an interview with TWA Flight 800 conspiracy theorist Kristina Borjesson, Cohen states that trans people don’t belong alongside gay, bisexual and lesbians. Calling the LGBTQIA+ alliance “forced teaming,” she draws a distinction between same-sex attraction and the status of trans, Queer, Intersex and Asexual people. Accusing transgender people of “internalized homophobia,” she accuses them of “LARPing as the opposite sex,” to pass in straight society. She claims that many of those who identify as queer are in heterosexual relationships. Intersex people, in her eyes, are ”weaponized,” to “use as an excuse” for transitioning and their existence is a “red herring.” Cohen compared asexuality to not wanting to sleep or eat, saying of asexual people that “something wrong with you as an organism and you need to get help.” Refusing to do anything but misgender trans people in the interview, she said that trans people are “medicalized,” and “impersonators.”
LA activist and musician Precious Child offered to clarify to LCRW how many in the trans community feel about the conspiracy theories from bigots like Cohen. She told LCRW that “The “T” and the “Q” are a visible contingent of the LGBTQ+ alliance.” Precious also told LCRW that in many ways, trans people suffer risks that cisgender gay, lesbian or bisexual people do not.
“Many (but not all) gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals are cisgender meaning they identify strictly with the gender they were assigned at birth. This means that picking them out of a crowd might be difficult or impossible. Meanwhile, gender expression can make trans or queer people more visually recognizable,” she said.
Precious Child also told LCRW that public transgender life is made more difficult and even dangerous by those like Cohen.
“TERF ideology is functionally indistinguishable from that of Christofascists (longstanding fundamentalist Christian movements in the USA) and MRAs (men’s rights advocate),” Precious Child told LCRW. She said that groups like Cohen & Keen’s often harass trans women. “Groups that deem gender identity a fraud, that claim trans people are mentally diseased, and habitually call trans people pedophiles and groomers are hate groups. Trans people suffer violence, impoverishment, and death as a result of this hate.”
Cohen also did a friendly interview with anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen (perhaps better known by her nom de plume “Posie Parker”). Keen is probably best known for harassing and misgendering Sarah McBride, the Press Secretary for Human Rights Campaign. Keen has also cozied up to far right elements in the past like the Heritage Foundation, Neo-Nazi / KKK collaborator Jean-François Gariépy and Tucker Carlson. Keen once called for men to enter the girl’s restrooms at schools with firearms in order to “protect women.”
LGB Fight Back organized six protests on Valentine’s Day in 2021 outside several Children’s Hospitals nationwide. Cohen attended the protest outside Los Angeles Children’s Hospital carrying a large “protect kids from big pharma” sign. LGB Fight Back touted that “nothing could stand in their way; not snow, freezing temperatures, counter protesters, or hospital security…” the Los Angeles protest appears to have attracted six people on a 71 degree day.
Cohen’s presence at events and interviews mirror a larger anti-trans movement coming from the right. As the far-right has begun to embrace transphobia nationwide, Cohen has been increasingly seen alongside right-wing extremists. In October of 2022 she attended events alongside Keen, members of LEXIT, the SPLC-designated hate group Mass Resistance and Gays Against Groomers. But this wasn’t her first time publicly demonstrating against trans people.
The July 2021 Wi Spa protests were one of the largest flashpoints between transphobic and antifascist protesters of the last several years. A cisgender woman who went by “Cubana Angel,” posted video of herself yelling about a “man with a penis,” in the women’s room of WiSpa in Los Angeles’ Koreatown. A traditional Korean spa, WiSpa is segregated by gender and mandates nudity in the gender-segregated areas. “Cubana Angel,” released the video in June, 2021 and it includes her stating that “there is no such thing as a transgender.” A July 3, 2021 protest was organized and attended by members of groups like Proud Boys, LEXIT, Official Street Preachers. Members of the TERF movement attended to demonstrate against the spa and included Joey brite, Gaye Chapman and Aimee Ichikawa. Far-right groups and individuals were violent at the protest. Two people were stabbed and two media members were hit with a metal rod by a far-right activist called Aaron Simmons. Habitual sign theft victim Jairo Rodriguez had several signs stolen and was beaten after threatening the crowd with pepper spray.
Cohen attended both Wi Spa protests.She took video while present, though said she was not there as a member of LGB Fight Back. At the first event July 3, Cohen was not recognized by any of the participants and reportedly was able to pass a note with her contact information to Chapman to connect with her later. Since then, Cohen and Chapman have often appeared at events together.
Later, Cohen went on Women’s Declaration International’s YouTube channel showing videos of protesters at WiSpa. Women’s Declaration International has been described as a hate group by multiple organizations. The head of their Norway branch faced potential prison time for hate speech directed at that country’s Prime Minister. Making wild declarative statements regarding antifascists, Cohen also spent several minutes talking about the “gay Antifa flags,” and “the Gender Unicorn.” Cohen intentionally misgendered trans people she took photos of while making fun of their appearances.
On September 3, 2022 Cohen attended one of the regular “Babies Lives Matter” marches on Hollywood and Highland with Gaye Chapman. Claiming that counter-protesters that yelled at her to leave were “women-exclusionary feminists,” she released video of protesters screaming at them to leave and titled the video “Hate In My Heart.”
Cohen has occasionally run afoul of other anti-trans activists. Cohen tweeted that a member of anti-trans group Gays Against Groomers named Jaime called her a transphobe. What exactly Cohen could have said to a member of a group which regularly accuses doctors who perform gender reassignment surgery of being pedophiles is unclear. Cohen appeared at the protest alongside TERFs like Arizona-based group Mom Army and Gaye Chapman. Members of far-right groups like Babies Lives Matter and LEXIT also attended.
Cohen organized an October “Let Women Speak” event which featured Keen, also bringing in various anti-trans luminaries like Gigi LaRue, Aimee Ichikawa, Gaye Chapman. Jairo Rodriguez told the crowd of his co-organizing the Wi-Spa protests, to applause. A man with a “meat is murder,” sign wandered into the event and rambled into the microphone for several minutes.
The LA event was the first of a tour lasting several weeks and ends in New York City November 14, 2022. As of writing, every stop on the tour after Los Angeles has been counter-protested to varying degrees and all are live-streamed by a channel called “Known Heretic.”
The second event on the tour was a counter-protest of a pumpkin carving contest judged by several drag queens alongside State Senator Scott Wiener near his office. Several times, people wandered away from Wiener’s pumpkin patch to yell at the group. Keen wandered away from the event at one point and appears to yell at the Senator. Belissa Cohen did not appear to attend, but did retweet claims that EventBrite shut down services for Kellie-Jay Keen. A woman rapped “In a trans world, where drag is queen / a woman born woman is a dangerous thing,” as the crowd clapped.
Portland was marked to be the third event, but it was canceled and neither Keen or Cohen attended. TERFs who went anyway were pied in the face by antifascists. After collecting themselves, several begin singing songs with whipped cream on their faces.
In Tacoma, Keen and Cohen both arrived and were counter-protested by a group chanting “TERFs go home.” Several in the counter-protesters group are heard saying “don’t touch me,” as the camera for a live-stream appears to be inches away from their faces. Not long after, the trasphobes realized that many of the counter-protesters were schoolchildren. Cohen called the event “very exciting and a little bit scary,” as counter-protesters chased them out of the area of the school.
By October 29, Keen and Cohen’s group had security armed with handguns. Several people yelled “TERFs go home,” at the group as the men looked on. October 30 featured the TERF group being surrounded on several sides by Chicago bicycle police attempting to block counter-protesters shouting them down. Cohen did not attend. Kellie-Jay Keen took an opportunity to take a selfie with Proud Boy Chicago Chapter Leader / January 6 Capitol Riot Attenee Edgar J. Delatorre.
The tour is halfway through. The east coast portion began in Virginia on November 3rd, and ends in New York on November 14th.