Right-wing politicians so far this year have proposed more than 325 anti-LGBTQ+ bills around the country, exceeding the previous record of 268 set last year. That’s no coincidence, as if these proposals have just arisen spontaneously from the grassroots.
This is a well-funded national, top-down strategy promoting fear-tested methods aiming not only to destroy any gains LGBTQ+ people have made in the larger public consciousness, but also to end the threat of an open, historical and evidence-based public educational system. Florida is just the most widely talked about model because its governor is positioning himself to capture the cult-like allegiance of those who fall for it in order to become the next Republican messiah.
But it’s played out all over the country, even with Republican women representatives actually following transgender people into men’s bathrooms to gain political points as brazenly and cruelly as possible.
Right-wing strategists intentionally followed their quite successful fabrication of a “CRT”1 panic that was meant to scare White people away from the support of public education by strategies that scare people with the frightening word “grooming,” as if books or teachers are going to willy-nilly convince children that they should all have gender-reassignment surgery. The Florida so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill was thereby dutifully rebranded by the Florida governor’s press secretary as an “Anti-Grooming Bill.”
They’ve conspired to make transgender people the convenient lightning rods again while the privatizers who want to make money off it have made the disenfranchisement of public education a larger goal.
Right-wing religionists have long feared public education as a liberalizing enemy and right-wing politicos have eyed it as a money-making opportunity as well as a good way to maintain political power by scaring people with the trope that something nefarious is happening to their children.
All of this is an intentional and even predictable continuation of the fear-based rhetoric we’ve seen over the years with the power of much mainstream media behind it even more forcefully. It plays upon long-standing and systematic confusion, misinformation, stereotypes, and insecurities especially about gender while the science of gender has long since moved on from those stereotypes.
And the danger is that those of us who oppose this can take little for granted. So many of our institutions are not only unprepared to address these attempts to win the country for permanent regressive power but, like the Supreme Court, are captured by the those who propose to do so.
Preparing to respond
So, we should be prepared to respond. And here are some ideas, none of them new to me.
We cannot focus on changing the minds of those who are caught up in these ideas by using long, complicated, and nuanced discussions, or reciting statistical studies no matter how true and logical they are. And we need to recognize that our arguments aren’t working.
People remember two things about what we do:
- Some human being was there in front of them who not only disagrees but is willing to stand up confidently and say so.
- A phrase, soundbite, quick response that confronts their assertions, captures their attention, and sticks even if they disagree.
Never, ever repeat their phraseology or labels even to say “so-called.” This means never use the word “grooming” or call them “anti-grooming bills,” or “parents’ rights” bills even when talking to the media. Get the media to say, “what people call the Don’t Say Trans Bill,” the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” the “Forced Birth Bill” or the “Ban Books that I Don’t Like Bill.” There’s a reason why the right-wing won’t use this framing — because they realize it works for us.
Develop and use repeatedly words, phrases, soundbites, and very brief arguments in response — be creative. Remember how “Hate Is Not a Family Value” was effective until we let the other side talk us out of it?
You’ve heard some of these examples already, I hope, but what’s important is that you use “I” language as if you are sharing something from your values and story.
- “I studied amphibians in school, but it never made me want to be a frog.” (You can probably think of other examples.)
- “You make it sound as if your heterosexuality is so fragile that it could be changed at any moment. Mine isn’t.”
- “Everything I heard about marriage and relationships from my teachers in school was about straight people. We were even forced to read books with straight characters. But that didn’t turn me heterosexual.”
- “The only people who ever tried to recruit me were right-wing Christians — and no matter how hard they tried it didn’t take.”
- “The idea of transgender people around doesn’t bother me. I just can’t understand why it scares anyone.”
- “What I notice isn’t trans people but how many right-wing political and religious leaders I’ve read about who are guilty of sexual abuse (and in bathrooms even). You must have too. It seems there’s a lot of projection in one party that’s full of sexual sickness. It’s like they’re obsessed, isn’t it?”2
- “You’re talking about my child as if she isn’t a real human being.”
- “These laws are scary examples of government control, aren’t they?”
- “You understand, don’t you, that I disagree with all of this? Well, I do.”
The personal is political
Do everything you can to get those who agree with you out to vote in every election. This is more important than trying to change the minds of those who don’t agree with you.
We will lose if we refuse to realize what feminists have long warned: “The personal is political.” We cannot hide behind our religiosity or say we aren’t political. That guarantees that the right wing will win this fight.
Remember, the right wing is a minority in our country, but it’s a loud one and has spent decades capturing the means of power and manipulating them to maintain that power. They try to convince everyone that our values in contrast are radical when polls consistently show them centrist and mainstream.
We owe no one apologies for where we stand against these extremists. Instead, we must model for, and appeal to and empower, the majority who agree with us to respond believably to these vicious right-wing attacks. Sincerity and conviction matter now more than ever.
1 Critical race theory
2 Here’s one list, by the way; here’s a more recent one, and a still more recent one. You’ll need to pick your favorites as examples if you want, such as former Republican House Speaker Denny Hastert, Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, Donald “grab ‘em by the pussy” Trump, or Republican Senate hopeful Roy Moore, but I’m not sure it’s worth listing any.
Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas where he taught for 33 years and was department chair for six years, Robert N. Minor (he/him), M.A., Ph.D is the author of 8 books as well as numerous articles and contributions to edited volumes. He is an historian of religion with specialties in Biblical studies, Asian religions, religion and gender and religion and sexuality. His writing has been published in Whosoever since 2005 and he continues to speak and lead workshops around the country. In 1999 GLAAD awarded him its Leadership Award for Education, in 2012 the University of Kansas named him one of the University’s Men of Merit, in 2015 the American Men’s Studies Association gave him the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2018 Missouri Jobs with Justice presented him with the Worker’s Rights Board Leadership Award. He resides in Kansas City, Missouri and is founder of The Fairness Project.