Back in 2015, as LGBTQ+ activists celebrated the victories of marriage equality and other progress, Michelangelo Signorile warned that given the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ+ religious strategies they were already setting in motion, It’s Not Over. Just as they were far into implementing a carefully planned process of chipping away slowly at a woman’s right of choice over her body, they were planning a similar backlash against LGBTQ+ people.
Progressives were, Signorile wrote then, in danger of a “victory blindness” that would ignore what the right-wing was already preparing to do to LGBTQ+ rights in that similar manner that it had been using to slowly but surely gut Roe v. Wade.
And now we see that all coming to fruition.
Not only have the years since his warning seen regressive sectarian religious groups work at local and state levels to place their kind in office, but they’ve recently seen right wing use of the previous administration and a Party leadership that is now beholden to them and the previous president to pack the Supreme Court with their ideologues.
Their agenda is broader, of course, than just LGBTQ+ issues because it’s blatantly entwined with the kind of White Nationalism that now dominates that Party thanks to the constant use of dog whistles and open bigotry by a former president who remains the dominant Republican leader.
Each year since then has seen more and more anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced and passed in state legislatures. And already in 2022, the number of bills is staggeringly greater than ever – in the hundreds.
Three key elements of this strategy are worth emphasizing.
The first is that it’s centered in religious justifications.
No matter what the courts might disagree over, the right-wing has filled them all the way up to the Supreme Court with people who would say amen to their “Religious Liberty” argument. Religion (as they define it), then, would do their dirty work.
They wouldn’t have to appeal merely to their prejudices and bigotry. They could blame their god for their positions. And they could say that it was for religious reasons that they were asserting their sectarian, straight, White, patriarchal stands against others.
So, it’s no surprise to hear of a mayor demanding a purge of LGBTQ+ books from his local library system with religion as his excuse for doing so: “He explained his opposition to what he called ‘homosexual materials’ in the library, that it went against his Christian beliefs, and that he would not release the money as the long as the materials were there,” the library director said.
This use of religion applies to more than just LGBTQ+ issues. They would use “religious freedom” intersectionally against people of color, all women, immigrants, the poor, those of religions other than how they defined their own, and any other group that they are told threatens them — and the pocketbooks of their rich funders.
From town councils, to school boards, to state legislatures, “God” is blamed to cover them and justify what they’re doing. This, of course is more of the well-worn use of religion as an addiction that will require different strategies to counter.
They know their strategy will work with this Supreme Court — as it already has.
The second key to the strategy is right-wing use of the old trope that their intention is the “protection of our children.” In this they’ve joined those down through the ages who have hidden behind that excuse, some legitimately and some because they know it tugs at heartstrings – those innocents will be scarred for life!
Hence the attack on schools, school boards, and public education.
There’s fear that children will start to feel bad because of something called “Critical Race Theory,” which, found in no schools outside graduate law courses, they can’t define but use as a frightening stand-in for any historical reality the parents fear facing.
There’s fear that they will feel bad if they learn the truth about the history of the Holocaust as well.
Then if happy LGBTQ+ relationships are mentioned or read about, they’re afraid that that will convert their children away from heterosexuality. LGBTQ+ people should not be portrayed as healthy, happy, or anything like psychologically normal.
For kids who are LGBTQ, the personal threat of these calls for censorship is to remove from any public forum the chances of those who are trying to understand how and why they feel different from so many others of learning:
- that there are others of their own age in the same boat,
- that there is a scientific and even religious community of people who embrace and affirm the very thing that makes them feel different, and
- that no matter how things might feel now, there are others who know that feeling and, because of their own life experiences, can affirm that: “it gets better.”
The third key to this is that it is applied through bullying.
This is, we’ve seen, the method by which the right-wing takes over school board and other public forums with threats, shouting, and claims that their rights as parents are being taken away. They are the same ones who find mask mandates a destruction of their “freedoms” and insist on the right to be armed everywhere.
The censorship by government entities (“cancelling”?) that they’re calling for of what anyone can read or say has as a major goal the installing of a broader fear in teachers, students, administrators, organizations, and others of what could happen if anyone in anyway attempts to challenge these real threats to “freedom of speech.” Some of the proposed bills are new versions of old “Don’t Say Gay” bills.
To make matters worse, the right-wing has worked hard to embed itself in the legal enforcement community so that law enforcement at many local levels will be on their side if others protest. Any meekness or weakness in a federal Justice Department at this time, will keep this in place at many levels.
We are, then, at a crucial time. Back in 2015, Signorile had already told us throughout his book how to counteract this. Others have as well down through these past decades.
But it’s certainly not by burying our heads in the sand or expecting that there is something we can do to gain love from those engineering this war.
And it will require progressive Christians to take stands for their own religious freedom to practice and proclaim what they believe about equality as if they really believe in it.
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.