When in 2015 Michelangelo Signorile published his warning It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Wining True Equality, no matter how accurate his analysis was, he had little idea that even worse would be the election of a sociopathic egomaniac as president and a Vice President who is the poster boy for everything that is anti-LGBTQ.
Back then I said that it was the must-read of the year. The way forward, he pointed out, was no longer to be wishy-washy liberals who thought that cookies and milk and the singing of Kumbaya would make everyone like us.
“In fact,” Signorile wrote, “it’s time for us to be intolerant – intolerant of all forms of homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry against LGBT people. People often use the phrase ‘let’s agree to disagree’ when they respect but do not share the different positions of their friends or colleagues. But it’s time that all of us who support LGBT equality no longer agree to disagree on full civil rights or LGBT people. Anything less than full acceptance and full civil rights must be defined as an expression of bias, whether implicit or explicit. And it has to be called out….”
Almost seven months into the Trump presidency and the Republican domination of all federal and most other governmental entities, nothing that we think is in keeping with the American constitution, its amendments, and values is safe especially LGBTQ rights. The Constitution means in practice what the Supreme Court says it means, not that to which our lofty ideals and our rational arguments cling.
The appointment of Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court moved the Court further to the right than when it was dominated by the late Anthony Scalia. Nothing about Gorsuch’s courtroom activity indicates anything other than the fact that he’d like to turn back the rights of most now-protected groups in favor of the new right-wing trope of “religious liberty.”
Instead, even though he was a new appointee, Gorsuch had no hesitation establishing himself as the head of the Courts extreme right-wing. And since it looks as if the Trump administration will be appointing at least one more justice, the odds are that this will secure an anti-LGBTQ Court for the foreseeable future.
This all suits the long-term plan of the political-religious-legal right-wing. Even without the new Court appointees, they calculated that they couldn’t get the Court on their side by openly talking of rolling back the rights of a group such as LGBTQ communities. Instead their goal became to chip away at them through a new form of bigotry called “religious liberty laws.”
Their strategy – and Gorsuch is crucial to it – is that if they can argue for the freedom of religious institutions and private businesses to discriminate, they’ll get more of the public and the Court on their side. Even Justice Kennedy, who supported marriage equality, might go for the religious liberty argument.
States dominated by Republicans afraid of being primaried from the right will then pass draconian laws under the guise of religious liberty that will eventually end up in a Supreme Court that will on that basis declare that the laws uphold the First Amendment’s protection of religion. That’s what we are watching happen right now.
The current Court has thus agreed finally to take up Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission to decide whether private parties can refuse to do business with LGBTQ clients based on their religious objections. Even marriage equality is now up for grabs.
Our response to all of this must be calculated, forceful, and realistic. And we can’t spend time trying to convince the inconvincible who make up a personality cult of this president who plays on bigotry.
First, let’s reflect again on the fact that the loud people who run this country because their supporters show up to the polls and keep the pressure on, are a minority. In terms of marriage equality, for example, the majority of Americans support it. So we are in a majority that for various reasons is not showing up, standing up, and being out in the open wherever it finds itself.
Second, as a result, spend your valuable time working with the majority of Americans who don’t psychologically need to be anti-LGBTQ, or anti-women, or anti-immigrant, but will discuss, not argue, and make progress. These are the people who might now think all is well and things will happen without them doing something, who think that it can’t be as bad as you’re painting it, who don’t vote in every election they can, who want to argue among fellow progressives.
The fact is, we have not been good about rallying our natural bases, and the opposition knows that doing so is what works for them. Elections are most often lost by the Democratic Party, for example, because they do not spend time rallying their base but trying to move to a postulated, nonexistent center.
Speaking to “the choir” is one of the most important things we can do now because all the choir members aren’t actually singing.
Third, it is unlikely that you can change a true believer in the personality cult of the current president or those others who are willing to argue obsessively against LGBTQ rights. So, think of what you are doing as more of an intervention and decide how much time and energy you really want to use up trying to get them to just understand you as opposed to rallying those who agree.
As an intervention, this means standing firm, not caving, not moving an inch from your position as if it people’s human rights are debatable.
A recent defeat of a mean anti-transgender amendment in the House of Representative is an example of the bold offensive Signorile argues is needed, one that draws a line in the sand. “In the face of the danger of a rollback not just on rights for queer people but for all minorities under attack in the Trump era, this showed that standing firm, energizing activists in the base and resisting ― rather than pandering and caving in ― is the way to win.”
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org.