Friday, May 13, 2016

Enemies opening the gate

The people who share my political views, more or less, have been puzzled by many things over the past year or so. Drumpf, of course, is the biggest one, but another is the sudden frenzy of laws to ban transgender people from using public toilets appropriate to the gender they are. Of the two, the second one should be no surprise at all: It’s just the latest battle in the radical right’s ongoing culture war.

We’ve seen a frenzy of rightwing legislators tripping over themselves in their rush to enact anti-trans legislation, the so-called “bathroom bills”, which would criminalise the use of a public toilet that doesn’t correspond to one’s gender assigned at birth, rather than the gender one lives and expresses.

Obviously, we’ve all probably peed in a stall next to a trans person and we didn’t even know it, since it’s not a good idea to ask to inspect the genitals of others in public toilets. Yet the far right has been whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing about trans people, declaring they’re a “threat” to girls and women (far-right radicals, who are also sexist and misogynistic, don’t treat transmen in a men’s room as a similar threat; funny that).

The thing is, we’ve seen all this before.

The radical right is relentlessly promoting the narrative that trans people are a “threat”, that men in dresses will invade women’s toilets to attack girls and women, but not that long ago, they were declaring that gay men were threats to boys in public toilets.

They’re relentlessly promoting the narrative that trans people are “confused”, which is nicer way of saying “mentally ill”, and that they need “help”. The radicals once said that about gay people, too.

The radicals are relentlessly promoting law changes as the only way to “protect” society from the “threat” from trans people. They did the same thing against gay people.

Despite doing all this to LGBT people, they still lost on marriage equality—or did they? They see it as a mere setback, though obviously a major one. They’ve re-grouped, and they’re targeting trans people because they know they can no longer get away with lying about and defaming gay people, so they’re targeting trans people with the same rhetoric, the same lies and defamation they once used against gay people.

In so doing, they’re promoting the notion that the LGBT community is “demanding more and more” when, just as with marriage equality, it was extreme-right religionists who are pushing for laws to ban it. In both cases, it was religionists who started the war, caught the LGBT community completely unprepared, and won victory after victory—for many years, in the case of marriage equality.

The exact same thing is happening now: The radical right is using “bathroom bills” to stir up fear and resentment, while making it seem that the LGBT community is demanding access to public toilets for trans people, and they’ve made otherwise rational people believe that this had never been allowed in the past.

So, the radical right is trying to ban trans people’s access to the correct toilets by stirring up fear and resentment, while also blaming LGBT people for starting it, complaining they have to make laws because we “demand more and more”. That’s exactly what they did with marriage equality.

Their endgame is to stir up hatred and resentment of gay people by blaming them for “forcing” the radical right to make laws to prevent trans people from using the correct public toilets. In doing so, they’re trying to increase public support for repealing marriage equality and protections for the civil and human rights of gay people.

The battle for marriage equality was won when more and more people began to see real gay people. For many, it was a well known person, such as an actor, a singer, or a journalist, and all of them helped mainstream Americans see gay people as people, not the cartoon villains the radical right portrayed them as. This, in turn, encouraged ordinary people to come out to their friends, family, and coworkers, thereby increasing the general public’s awareness of real gay people.

The majority of Americans just don’t see trans people the same way as gay people. Too many Americans see trans people as “confused” at best, but mostly as alien and strange. It’s not hard for the radical right to push that farther and make otherwise rational people fear and hate trans people, and, over time, gay people.

The radicals know that if they can weaken support for gay people, they have a chance of rolling back our civil and human rights, which is their ultimate goal—and they’ve been quite open about that goal.

All the Republican presidential candidates this time opposed marriage equality, and all the serious contenders promised to nominate to the Supreme Court only justices who would vote to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, among other rulings, so that not only could marriage equality be repealed, homosexuality itself can be re-criminalised (and some Republican presidential candidates were talking about that specifically).

This isn’t a “conspiracy” of any sort, not even almost. In fact, it can’t be one when the radical right anti-gay industry has been so open about wanting to roll back all the progress made so far. They’re doing their schemes out in plain sight, for all to see, so this is no “conspiracy”—it’s a political campaign.

The radical right is playing a long game, working steadily to demonise trans people as a way to undermine support for and acceptance of gay people so they can take away our human and civil rights. When corporations announce plans to boycott states, it doesn’t win over those who are worried about “the trans in the toilet”. When the federal government moves to fight these laws, it only helps opponents harden their hatred of President Obama personally, and helps rile up support for Drumpf, just as Karl Rove successfully used marriage equality as a wedge issue to help elect Republicans. There’s no coincidence we’re seeing more of this in an election year.

It’s important to remember that support for marriage equality in the USA remains barely a majority in many polls, and it’s even lost ground in some areas. Even Pew Research, long considered a major reliable resource on this and many other issues, has found that support for marriage equality is currently only 55%, and opposition is at 37%.

On the other hand, Pew’s findings are almost exactly the opposite of what they were when they began polling 15 years ago: In 2001, when marriage equality didn’t exist anywhere in the USA, Americans opposed marriage equality, 57% against and 35% who supported it. Also, back in January Gallup reported that 60% of Americans—including 54% of Republicans—were satisfied with “the acceptance of gays and lesbians” in the USA. This is all hopeful.

But homophobia, like racism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other bigotry, never really goes away: It lies in wait, like a snake waiting to strike and devour its prey—patient, determined, and very hungry. Economic or political turmoil can turn otherwise sensible and rational people into raging bigots, sure, but so can the slow, methodical efforts of determined and committed proponents of discrimination.

The radical right isn’t even trying to reach people who think clearly about social issues, it’s trying to reach—and exploit—perfectly ordinary and otherwise reasonable people who may be worried about their daughters being attacked in a public toilet by “a man in a dress”, and who can be persuaded that Big Gay (as the radical right calls it) is responsible for putting their daughters in danger.

From there, it’s not a big leap to hating gay people in general and supporting taking away our civil and human rights: The snake of bigotry is coiled and ready to strike.

It saddens me that the so many people have swallowed the bait of the radical right, hook, line and sinker, that so many people are so quick to adopt bigotry rather than look at those who are selling it. It disgusts me that some people are quite willing to retaliate against LGBT for something they didn’t even do, but even more so that the radical right is getting away with all this.

This post is a warning. The radical right is not defeated, it’s not sleeping, and it’s not even resting. Instead, the radicals are constantly working to undo all the progress made over the past 50 years, and they will not stop trying. Whether they succeed or not will depend on whether good people do nothing.

But, if I may, one bit of prophecy: What we’ve seen so far will become far worse if Drumpf is elected president. His crypto-fascist nature will compel him to attack already marginalised groups, especially ones he can actually go after.

Bigotry never really goes away: It lies in wait, like a snake waiting to strike and devour its prey—patient, determined, and very hungry. Will it be fed? Or, will goodness finally cut off its head and kill it? I honestly don’t know.

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