Watch Out for the Backlash

When people talk about “backlash,” they are generally referring to a reaction to something–an effort to undo or reverse a previous change.

Backlash is thus the proper term to apply to the movement that began in the mid-1960s, in reaction to social disruption caused by anti-war activism, feminism and the civil rights movement. Middle-class whites, especially but not exclusively in the South, resented the erosion of their social dominance and banded together to fight what they saw as the increasing secularization and liberalism of American society.

Paranoid fringe groups like the John Birch Society and similar “patriot” and  “Christian” groups gradually took over the national GOP. Political scientists tell us that Reagan’s election in 1980 solidified right-wing conservative efforts to transform the political landscape of America. Since 1980, the GOP has become less and less genuinely conservative—and more and more radically reactionary.

African-Americans understand the implications of this takeover (much more on that in tomorrow’s blog). I’m not so sure that LGBT folks do.

After all, although the racism at the heart of the backlash has become impossible to ignore,the  LGBT community is celebrating years of increasing acceptance. Same-sex marriages are widely if not universally recognized, and a majority of Americans support them. Popular culture is inclusive and affirming. Civil rights are being extended, albeit slowly.

As a recent post from The Daily Beast noted, “Today, unlike ever before, most Americans have openly gay friends, colleagues, and family members, and most approve of same-sex relationships. Young people are overwhelmingly gay-friendly, leaving little doubt which way the trends are going.”

So, as Alfred E. Neumann (Google it) used to say, “What—Me Worry?”

As the Daily Beast and other sources have reported, however, this rosy picture has plenty of thorns:

  • The Texas Republican Party has officially endorsed so-called “reparative therapy,” a quack regimen that reputable psychiatry roundly condemns. (How considerate! The Texas GOP wants to ensure the availability of “therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”)
  • In Oklahoma, a conservative candidate for the state House of Representatives, has quoted Biblical passages that (he says) prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals. On a Facebook post, he wrote “I think we would be totally in the right to do it.”
  • Mississippi just passed a measure being considered in several other states that would “protect religious liberty” by allowing people to act on their “sincere religious convictions” by refusing to do business with gay clients or customers.

More disturbing, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently broke what had been a string of pro-equality federal appellate rulings and upheld state bans on same-sex marriage, giving hope to those who want to roll back the clock on LGBT rights.

As I look out at our increasingly contentious, toxic political environment, I see a distressing number of frightened, old, furious, deeply threatened white heterosexual males. On my good days, I interpret their hysterical reaction to social change—their racism, their homophobia, their sexism—as the “last throes” of the old order of things. A backlash with unfortunate but ultimately temporary effects.

On my bad days, I worry that the vast amounts of money they are spending, the religious “authority” they are wielding/perverting, and their fanatic persistence will carry the day.

Progress is not a given.


  1. us LGBT folks definitely DO understand backlash as we see it happen with every stride forward. Even as we celebrate our victories, we can not ever just celebrate because we are steeling ourselves for the backlash. So as my wife and I enjoy the security and relief that comes with finally being married and having the marriage recognized, we are preparing to fight the “religious liberty” legislation that we know will be introduced in the next legislative session. Believe me–we know backlash. It’s the same backlash the GLBT rights movement saw after the early progress we won post Stonewall…the assassination of Harvey Milk, the rise of Anita Bryant… We definitely understand backlash!

  2. I have always believed that the backlash of “white flight” caused the destruction of many areas in this city and others. These are now areas of high crime and physically deteriorating sections containing the often referred to but little done to renovate abandoned buildings and homes. I must also include the backlash of the era of “creative financing” which put famiies into homes and neighborhoods they couldn’t financially maintain, resulting in deterioration. Those who do all they can to maintain their homes and their neighborhoods often live in fear and are victims of crime; this is where the few organized groups of ministers (primarily black) are concentrating their efforts to alleviate these conditions. Unless and until these small organized groups are joined by all races and religions, the backlash of “white flight” and “creative financing” will continue to be the source of much of the current high crime rate and continuing deterioration of neighborhoods. Can organization prevent the backlash of deterioration before complete restoration is necessary?

    My small neighborhood, located behind the Raytheon facility on the east side, has shown obvious improvement the past two years with numerous rental homes becoming occupied by families who maintain these homes. Almost without exception, these new families are African-American:) Will people remember and learn from the “white flight” in the 1960’s – 1980’s? Or will I see a repeat of that forgotten past?

  3. I saw an article on Facebook posted by my niece who spent a college year in Amsterdam, entitled 10 things that are different among the Dutch (or something to that effect).

    One of them was that some Dutch marry men and some women and they don’t see anything wrong with that.

    I, like them, have always assumed that I’m not either all that unique or special. Some others are sort of like me, still others are sort of different. Interesting to say the least. Of course the same is true of my dog compared to her friends.

    So I am somewhere between disinterested in and unable to be judgmental about others as long as they live their lives in a way that minimally doesn’t interfere, and maximally contributes to, my life and others.

    My life has been a splendid mix of luck, genes, good and bad choices, relationships, work and pleasure. It well could have turned out much differently with only slight differences in all of those ingredients. I suppose that I would have worked out other ways to be satisfied regardless of the mix.

    So, I find prejudice truly baffling. My gut reaction is get over yourself. Pay attention to your life not other’s.

    But I also have no doubt benefited from being male, white, straight and born of the middle class, none of which was my doing.

    There’s an old saying, “I’ll take luck over skill any day”. Some truth to that. But, it’s only natures dice rolling favorably for you and what the dice give they can also take away.

    I think that a current fad word is resilient. A great way to be for yourself and all around you. That way luck matters less.

  4. My cousin (age 58) who lives in the south went to one of those reparative therapy groups at his local baptist church when he was much younger hoping that what they told him was true; he could stop being gay. I asked what came of that, He said, “I gave it up because every morning I woke up gay.”

    I had a good laugh and love my cousin to death. He is the most honest, hard working man I have had the privilege of knowing. I love him just the way he is. He couldn’t come out until his father had passed though. I’m sure if his father had known, he would have taken my cousin out past the woodshed and put a bullet in him. That’s how they treat gays down there. Why do I say that? Because that’s what his brother told me. His brother is in complete denial about his brother’s gayness. He just can’t accept it. And sure enough, the cousin that said to me that has a lesbian daughter. I know she hasn’t come out to him yet either. Sadly.

  5. The homosexual trait can run in families; it is a genetic formation. My sister-in-law has two gay brothers, my daughter-in-law has two lesbian sisters, one lesbian niece and one gay nephew, my friend has a gay brother and lesbian sister. My aunt, who married and divorced thre times, to another aunt that at age 82 she was going to her grave a virgin. We always knew her “friends” were more than friends but it mattered not to any of us. These are the facts; no amount of denial or counseling or prayer can change anyone’s human nature. I do not believe, as I have heard and read, that there is more homosexuality today than ever before. It has always been with us; the LGBT “civil war” is in it’s early stages and getting stronger as more and more are “coming out” – and isn’t that a silly phrase. I’m proud to be among those doing what little I can to support their struggle for civil and human rights. My earlier comments regarding the flashback in neighborhoods due to “white flight” will not be a issue regarading LGBT neighbors. Only ugly gossip and large rumors from those with little minds and big mouths. I have more important concerns to concentrate on than other people’s sex lives.

  6. As a White Baby-Boomer I witnessed the “White Backlash” of the 1960’s. Segregated neighborhoods were the rule rather than the exception. The Union Steel Mill I worked in was segregated into Black, White and Hispanic Departments. White workers generally held the “Skilled” jobs, i.e., pipe fitters, electricians, welders, engineers, machinists, etc.

    The Republican Party was clever in it’s tapping into the back lash. The Federal Government became the demon source for social change by forcing Civil Rights on the nation. Later the EPA would be a part of this Demon Federal Government. True IKE had enforced desegregation in Little Rock, but beyond that the Republican Party as whole had little interest in Civil Rights. Goldwater found the backlash lurking in America. The Republican Party tapped into and found the NRA, some churches , and science especially environmental and evolution as hot buttons for their base.

    It is not surprising the Republican Party has been able to float ideas of privatizing Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and rolling back ACA. These are Federal Programs of the Demon Federal Government. The Republican base has been thoroughly educated into viewing the Federal Government as the enemy.

  7. This year we saw a continuation of the Republican use of FUD
    It works like magic for them
    Hate and fear the “other”
    Black, Gay, Brown, Women, just fill in the blank
    the program always works for them
    so simple

  8. Like Louie, I’m a white baby boomer, but unlike Louie, I came of age slightly below the Mason-Dixon Line in a border state, Kentucky, more precisely West Kentucky which is an entirely different area than East Kentucky. To this day, I can probably count the number of Republicans in my particular region on the fingers of both hands. For decades the demographics have remained basically the same with a population of 85% white and 15% black. In fact, the public schools in my particular county were totally and absolutely integrated within one school year, 1957, when I was a 5th grader. Perhaps the local small town mayor’s phone call to Governor, A.B.”Happy” Chandler’s office with a proactive request for National Guard presence during the first few weeks of the school year paved the way for integration without violence among the local residents, primarily farmers and coal miners. Amazingly, the farmers and the coal miners were and are both groups who place far more emphasis on working/producing than on looking for reasons to argue about personal lifestyles, religious tenets, ethnic backgrounds, or on any number of differences that have nothing to do with making a living. Moving to Indianapolis in 2004 was an eye opener where I witnessed far more racism, ageism, sexism than I’d ever observed living in the Tidewater Virginia area, in the Knoxville, TN area, and in West Kentucky. At least for those living south of the Mason-Dixon Line, racism and the other ‘isms’ are easily identified, they’re overt, it’s simple to identify the racists, the bigots. On the other hand, north of the Mason-Dixon Line, racism and their sibling ‘isms’ are covert, easily disguised by plastic smiles, slaps on the back. As I always say, the devil is in the details, and it’s always preferable to work with the devil who doesn’t hide his horns.

  9. Barbara; thank you for your insights. It is easier for someone with your living experiences to come here and to see and feel the realities of this city. I have always felt and seen it but was never more aware of the “isms” as you so aptly called them as when I moved back here from Las Vegas. People have argued with my views over the years; I am now more aware it hasn’t been my imagination.

  10. As an addendum to my post from yesterday, I stand corrected about devils who hide their horns. A bit of background info is provided first. My husband and I enjoy Colts football, Pacers basketball, and ISO events, enjoy having a central Downtown place where we can hang our hats, have dinner, spend a Sunday or weekday night occasionally following a late night Downtown event preceding my husband’s next morning return to his job as a Clinical Director at the IU School of Dentistry. With that said, we had dinner, boarded a shuttle bus for Lucas Oil Stadium, were dropped off at a particular location, and were told by the shuttle bus driver that he’d be at the same location for pick-up at 11:30pm following the game. Yes, it was cold, the weather was nasty, and the shuttle bus driver was late in arriving. Of course, all were anxious, a bit frustrated at the late arrival time; however, one very proper looking gentleman, loosely used term, wearing a scarf bearing the Indiana state seal and tied in a fashionable European knot revealed his devil horns to all who were awaiting the arrival of the shuttle, even his young grandson. This fine specimen of Hoosier manhood attired in all the right preppie gear boarded the shuttle bus and unleashed a disgusting amount of demeaning verbiage to the long-time driver, an older black man who’s driven the shuttle bus for years. He threatened that he’d have the man’s job removed, that the driver was providing the poorest excuse for service he’d ever encountered, that his excuse for heavy traffic and barricaded streets were nothing but bull shit. Mind you, the shuttle was filled to capacity and not one other person on the shuttle joined in with this man’s spontaneous rant. Basically, we all dropped our heads in utter embarrassment and stared at our belly buttons during the ride back to Monument Circle. My husband and I were appalled as were the other riders. We double tipped the driver and left telling him we’d see him next week. I do not know the devil who revealed his horns, but he’s likely at home today managing his trust fund via an Online account and is totally oblivious to his behavior, as my southern mother would say, “He showed his ass.”

    My vent is over.

  11. After reading your above vent, Barbara, I fumed. Sitting in my living room trying to concentrate on minding my own business pertaining to this issue – which is no business at all – but my conscience refused to let me keep my dog out of this fight. The man wearing the scarf bearing the seal of Indiana, said scarf being fashionably knotted in European style, was an ass hole. Here I will add another “ism” which you referred to in an earlier comment; his reaming out the shuttle bus driver was a display of snobbery known as “ilitism”. His tirade was totally uncalled for and the bus driver was totally unprotected being in a servile position (and probably because he is black), probably needs the income from his job driving the shuttle bus for the Colts fans who are in a higher income bracket. None of the other people on the shuttle joined the ass hole in his tirade even though they had stood in the cold waiting for the bus with him. This inaction gave tacit approval to the ass hole; let’s call this inaction “tacitsim”. Let’s also hope the ass hole did not contact the bus company and cause the older man to lose his income. I feel better having spoken out; sorry I can’t speak to the driver personally to apologize for his being bullied while doing his job.

  12. @JoAnn, fear not, I’m a mouthy woman of the South who had no problems putting in a good word for the shuttle bus driver before my checking out of the Club this morning. I’m a relative newcomer to Indy and along with my rookie position as a Hoosier citizen, I bring a sharp tongue with an endless supply of ammo, aka words. Going back to my late mother who shared this bit of wisdom, “You can tell a lot about a person’s character from the manner they treat those waiting on them.” This man was an a-hole on steroids. I’m leaving you a link below to Kentucky’s Oral History Project which, to me, is priceless because I personally know the Rev. David Pettie and James Howard. I graduated from high school with Rev David Pettie’s son, and I knew James Howard’s family. James was older than I by a few years. By the way, a couple of months ago I located David Pettie, the younger David Pettie, in Ft Wayne, called him, got past his gate-keeper wife Mae after sharing my relationship with David from high school. Such a nice connection with a classmate from the past who’s now retired from years with UPS and involved with youth work in Ft Wayne. Here’s the link:

  13. Barbara; thank you for responding but…someone on that shuttle bus should have had the guts and the human decency to speak up. Not only in defense of the driver but to show the fool with the state seal on his European knotted scarf that he did not have the right to treat another human in that manner. He has now been encouraged and will continue what is his normal habit of belittling and berating people he believes to be below his lofty status – whatever that may be (in his mind) and whoever he was or believes himself to be. After-the-fact is Monday morning quarterbacking.

  14. I’m one of those loud mouthy people that would have spoken up and interrupted that a$$hole berating the driver and made sure that my voice was louder than his. “Hey hey hey…what are you doing picking on the driver? It’s not his fault it’s cold outside and traffic is backed up! Get a grip man!”
    Thanks for the chuckle ladies.

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