The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) is 501(c)(3) nonprofit and conservative anti-transgender think tank who describe themselves as promoting “a conservative alternative to feminist tenets,” while accepting large donations from conservative charity The Bradley Foundation in exchange for lobbying against pro-women policies like paid sick leave, childcare policies, and addressing the wage gap between men and women in the workplace.
There's this systemic eradication of women that is being attempted by the Left, and it's more than sports … They're changing definitions. They're changing terms that are specific to women ... These large organizations and large companies, these woke companies, continually make the claims that men make the best women.
The IWF began as an informal network of women, “Women for Judge Thomas,” established to support Clarence Thomas after his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1992, in spite of allegations of sexual misconduct by Anita Hill. Its founders, Rosalie Silberman and her friends Barbara Ledeen and Anita Blair, assisted in a smear campaign against Hill, whose accusations were characterized as “a dirty political trick.”
The IWF registered as a business in the state of Virginia on November 12th, 1992, as the Women’s Washington Issues Network. They received tax exempt status in August of 1993, and filed to change their name to the Independent Women’s Forum on May 3rd, 1995.
The organization’s anti-transgender stances go back as far as 2002 when, speaking to The Washington Post on the IWF’s 10th anniversary, Silberman said “any time [a college] can change its constitution to take women out … because they have to be sensitive to transgendered students, then the culture wars are not over.” In 2013, Sabrina Schaeffer, then executive director for IWF, stated in an interview with Glamour that the IWF took no public stance on abortions or gay marriage to avoid alienating some women. However, the Center for Media and Democracy found that in 2014 the IWF had spent over $800,000 supporting anti-abortion senators.
According to Ronnee Schreiber, Associate Professor of Political Science at San Diego State University, in her book about conservative women’s organizations in America, by 2006 the IWF had over 20,000 members and a budget of $1.05 million.
Public tax information for the IWF is available as far back as June of 2000. That year, they reported direct public support of $843,823, total expenses in excess of $1.2 million, and net assets of $481,129. They also reported expenditures for salaries and other compensation in excess of half a million dollars.
Direct public support for IWF varies dramatically between years, reported as $2.54 million in 2002, compared to just $201,526 in 2003. Similarly, the IWF reported contributions of only $834,348 in 2011, then $4.39 million in 2012. The IWF typically reports revenue in the millions of dollars. Their latest public filing in 2021 represents their highest revenue to date at $6.56 million.
In January of 2010, a donation report from Independent Women’s Voice, the action arm of the IWF, reported that more than 89% of their contributions were from wealthy men, including conservative political players the Koch brothers.
History of Anti-LGBTQ+ Activism
The IWF has long been opposed to the protections set by Title IX for women’s equality in public education, in particular fair inclusion in sports. In spite of their opposition to equality in women’s sports, the IWF has, since 2019, argued against the inclusion of transgender people in Title IX protections, in particular transgender women participating in women’s sports.
In October of 2021, a senior legal fellow at the Independent Women’s Law Center, the IWF’s legal arm, published an article in the Orlando Sentinel in which she stated that the protection for women in education and the workplace that Title IX provides had led to “the erasure of women from society,” misconstruing transgender women in sports as “women [competing] with and against male-bodied athletes.”
In that same month, IWF Senior Policy Analyst Inez Stepman testified before congress against the inclusion of gender identity into the long-debated Equal Rights Act, suggesting that allowing transgender women to cohabitate with cisgender women in places like prisons would lead to higher rates of sexual assault. She provided no evidence to justify this assumption, and failed to mention that transgender women currently imprisoned in male prisons face high rates of sexual assault and violence.
Documents uncovered by True North Research show that the IWF budgeted nearly $6 million to ten swing states before the 2022 US midterm elections for the purposes of anti-transgender messaging.
In February of 2022, the IWF publicly opposed the Violence Against Women Act on the grounds that it would also include transgender women.
In May of 2022, Republican house representative Debbie Lesko introduced House Resolution 1136, dubbed a “Women’s Bill of Rights.” The IWF were listed as co-sponsors. The proposed resolution would have legally defined women and men by their natal genitalia, and would have forced transgender women to cohabitate with men in athletics, prisons, domestic violence shelters, and restrooms. The resolution was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary on the day it was introduced, who then referred it to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties in November of 2022. No progress has been made since then.
In July of 2023, IWF uploaded a trailer to YouTube for a “Identity Crisis,” a documentary about detransitioners, or people who previously identified as transgender but no longer do. In the trailer, they warn of young adults “identifying as transgender at alarming rates,” and suggest that detransitioners are being “silenced.” They claim to feature the stories of mothers whose “daughters fell victim to transgender ideology.” On their webpage devoted to the documentary, there is a sidebar requesting stories from people who have been “affected by the gender ideology movement.”