Most readers of this blog are old enough to remember Anita Bryant, and her campaign to “Save Our Children” from those wicked gay people. Over the years, she’s become something of a punch line, at least in the gay community. To appropriate a line from the movie Jaws, however, “she’s back!” Not in the flesh, of course, but in the antics of state-level GOP political figures like Ron DeSantis.
The return of Republican focus on–and antipathy to–equal rights for LGBTQ+ Americans was highlighted in a recent roundtable discussion among New York Times opinion writers.
That discussion included a number of penetrating observations, and I will be posting about a couple of them in future posts. But today, I want to share what I believe are well-founded concerns about what appears to be a foundational issue for Republican culture warriors.
One of the participants in the Roundtable, Jane Coaston, addressed that issue–return of the GOP’s assault on LGBTQ rights.
I went back to some old Times pieces talking about the Southern Baptist Convention’s boycott of Disney, because Disney started offering same-sex health care benefits in 1995. I think that for anyone who is L.G.B.T. and over the age of 30, this all seems very repetitive.
Ezra Klein, another Roundtable participant, identified a “challenge” to the strategists of the G.O.P.– he pointed out that the party has “this wave of people” who have begun screaming, “OK, groomer,” at literally any L.G.B.T. person on the internet. Despite the fact that traditional conservative outlets like National Review are warning politicians not to say things like that, “no one’s listening.”
He’s right. Bloomberg reports that Republican legislators have proposed at least 325 anti-gay bills this year, with about 130 targeting transgender rights. Twenty-seven became law in 2021; so far this year, seven have passed.
As Coaston noted,
These issues have to do, one, with a conceit of what L.G.B.T. people are and how L.G.B.T. people become L.G.B.T. I think we’ve seen over the last couple of days, some social conservatives who essentially argue that bills like in Florida, which keep being posited as being about sex ed — they aren’t about sex ed. There’s no mention of sex education or sexual activity in that bill. It mentions sexual orientation and gender identity. But the idea is that if you simply do not ever let people know that there is such thing as gay or trans people, then people will not be gay or trans.
Rod Dreher, the conservative writer said that, oh, no, no, when we’re talking about grooming, we’re not talking about pedophiles — which is ridiculous. But he essentially said that, oh, it means that an adult who wants to separate children from a normative sexual and gender identity to inspire confusion in them, which just reminds me of Anita Bryant in 1978, essentially arguing that homosexuals must recruit, and that all children are cisgender and heterosexual until something happens.
Coaston made another important point about this particular part of the GOP’s culture war: the attacks on trans children aren’t separate and distinct from attitudes about gay rights generally. These “warriors” are still mad about Bostock. They’re still mad about Obergefell.
That’s something that we keep needing to relearn: that there is no part of the L.G.B.T. community that’s OK for some social conservatives. It’s not as if like, “Trans rights went too far, but we’re totally fine with gay couples. We’re totally fine with everything like that.” That might have been how it was parlayed, but that was never true.
In this blog, I frequently note the ways in which today’s GOP is dramatically different–and far, far more radical–than the party most of us once knew. An exchange between Coaston and Klein highlighted that difference…and was chilling. Coaston characterized today’s GOP as a “secular fundamentalist religion– “QAnon, but an areligious QAnon.”
Well, it’s both, right? Because on the one hand, you have a Rod Dreher version of it, which is very, very Christian, “We’re trying to protect traditional gender roles.” It’s why he’s out there tweeting that Viktor Orban in Hungary is now the leader of the entire West. And on the other side you have this groomer thing, which is an attempt to take QAnon’s view — which is one reason it’s resonating on the far right — that all of politics is an effort by Democrats to protect pedophiles and then find some way to sort of wink, wink that you’re on board with that view of politics while saying it’s actually a little bit about something else…
As Klein also observed, countries live or fall on how well they police the fringes–the crazies– in their political parties.
Republicans not only haven’t done that policing, they’ve become their fringe. And LGBTQ people aren’t the only ones they endanger.