Yesterday’s post focusing on GLBT rights reminded me that we’re heading toward June and Gay Pride. As we prepare for the annual Pride celebrations, two things are clear: 1) GLBT Americans are winning the fight for civic equality, and 2) the nature of the remaining threat to that equality has changed.
I won’t belabor the first observation; anyone reading this blog can recite the “wins.” Same-sex marriage is recognized in more and more states, Fortune 500 companies are falling over themselves to be welcoming–to extend benefits and institute policies mandating fair treatment. Popular culture and even pro sports are accepting their no-longer-closeted celebrities.
All of these indicators point to a sea change in the attitudes of average Americans, and that change is confirmed by survey research. The days when coming out meant risking ostracism from friends and families, or difficulty getting a job, aren’t altogether over, but we’re getting close.
The threat today comes from the Neanderthals we keep electing–the theocrats who insist that America is a “Christian Nation,” who reject science, who believe women should be “subservient,” barefoot and pregnant, and that GLBT folks should be closeted (or worse).
Just a couple of examples:
A couple of days ago, the Indianapolis Star revisited a controversy that arose a couple of years back over allegations that a Ball State University Assistant Professor was teaching creationism, aka “intelligent design.” BSU’s President, JoAnn Gora–somewhat belatedly–issued a letter confirming the institution’s commitment to science, and its recognition that intelligent design is religious dogma, not science. (To do otherwise would have massively degraded the value of a BSU degree.)
Subsequently, the Indiana legislature’s God Squad made threatening noises; the explicit message was that requiring faculty to teach real science in science classes “violated Academic Freedom” (!) and the implicit message was that it would cost the University when the time for state appropriations rolled around. Last week, the Star reported that the professor involved was promoted. Whether he is still teaching Intelligent Design is unclear.
Indiana’s legislators aren’t the only ones waging war against genuine academic freedom, diversity and modernity generally. South Carolina’s not-ready-for-this-century lawmakers voted to slash funding for two of the state’s largest public colleges in retaliation for the introduction of books with gay themes into the schools’ freshman reading programs.
In February, the South Carolina House of Representatives voted to cut $70,000 — the entire cost of the offending programs — from the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate.
These two incidents—which, unfortunately, are anything but isolated—should sound alarm bells.
Red state legislatures are dominated by frightened old heterosexual white guys whose unspoken motto is “Stop changing the world, I want to get off.” The broader society is making its peace with complexity, diversity and inclusion, but these lawmakers, and the Rabid Righteous base that elects them, is waging a last-ditch effort to turn back the clock.
These guys—and they are almost always guys—are able to be elected thanks to a combination of voter apathy, vote suppression and gerrymandering. Those who go to the polls in states like Indiana and South Carolina are opting for candidates who reject science, progress and inclusion in favor of a constricted and literalist religiosity.
In 1966, Richard Hofstadter wrote Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. That anti-intellectualism–characterized by the elevation of sloganeering over analysis and “biblical truth” over complexity, evidence and education—is still with us; it characterizes the Tea Party and too much of today’s GOP.
It poses a threat not just to GLBT folks, but to all of us; it’s a formidable barrier to our ability to create a sane and tolerant society.