Opposition to the act shows that homophobia and transphobia are alive and well in political discourse. Liam Glen writes on the lingering anti-LGBT movement.
2019’s Pride Month will not only see the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, but also the fourth anniversary of Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.
It was a cultural landmark as well as a legal one. At that point, it became clear that homophobia was no longer in the American mainstream.
National politics followed suit. The legality of same-sex marriage was largely accepted in the 2016 presidential election. Donald Trump has given lip service to LGBT rights on several occasions, recently sending an unexpected Pride Month tweet.
But gay marriage was not the be-all and end-all of LGBT rights in the US.
In May, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act to ban discrimination on the basis sexual orientation and gender identity. While similar laws exist on a statewide level, there are still no federal protections.
In a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, majorities in every state supported the measure.
However, anyone who follows conservative media knows that this agreement is not universal. The vast majority of Republican legislators and commentators stand opposed.
In the unlikely event that is passes the Senate, President Trump is expected to veto the Equality Act.
Wedding Cake Woes
Knowing that gay rights are popular, opponents of the Equality Act insist that they are not homophobic. They simply care about religious liberty.
They point to cases such as conservative Christian bakers who refuse to make cakes for same-sex weddings. Surely, they argue, anti-discrimination law cannot be used to violate freedom of conscience.
While it is possible to oppose anti-discrimination laws without being homophobic, it does raise some questionable implications.
Someone could easily have deeply-held personal convictions that lead them to discriminate based on sex or race. But they are not granted an exception from the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Doctrinaire libertarians argue that all anti-discrimination laws are an affront to personal liberty. But few elected officials take this stance.
Instead, the mainstream conservative position is that there is something about LGBT people that makes them less worthy of protection than other groups. Or maybe there is something about homophobes that makes their prejudice more valid than that of racists and sexists.
With cases such as wedding cakes, proponents of religious liberty argue that same-sex couples can simply go to a different baker. But the issue goes far beyond that.
In most of the country, employment, housing, and basic services can be arbitrarily taken away on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Equality Act would add much-needed certainty to allow people to live their day-to-day lives without fear of discrimination.
Don’t Expect the President to Say “Trans Rights”
Meanwhile, it is very likely that when Trump mentions LGBT rights, he has no idea what the T stands for. His administration has banned transgender military members, while his Health and Human Services Department tried to define gender solely based on sex assigned at birth.
In socially conservative circles, there are no dog whistles about religious liberty. They make a point of referring to trans women “biological men.” Using preferred pronouns is an attack on Western Civilization.
Having long been derided as religious fundamentalists, they see this as a chance to turn the tables. They can rant about biology and then pat themselves on the back for being noble defenders of reason and logic against the onslaught of politically correct gender ideology.
The one thing getting in the way is actual biology. Gender identity is an incredibly complex issue with many points of contention, but some facts are undeniable.
Psychologists have long recognized gender dysphoria as a condition for which transitioning is the most common course of treatment. And scientists are increasingly finding that biological sex is more complex than X and Y chromosomes.
But the issue’s complexity makes it difficult to explain and easy to exploit. While Americans overwhelmingly support gay rights, but they are less sure on issues of gender identity.
One would think that transphobic policies would be politically expedient. Yet, in practice they have a tendency to backfire.
In 2016, House Bill 2 segregated public facilities in North Carolina by biological sex. Republicans should have had a political slam dunk with their prepared remarks about the “common sense” measure to protect against “men in women’s bathrooms.”
But it did not stick. Companies boycotted the state. Anecdotes like Michael Hughes, a trans man who photographed himself in women’s bathrooms, showed the absurdity of focusing on “biological sex.” Even though Trump won the state in November, the Republican governor who signed House Bill 2 was booted out.
A more amusing incident of transphobia backfiring occurred in Britain when an unholy alliance of concerned mothers, radical feminists, and comedian Graham Linehan attempted to block a grant to the trans charity Mermaids.
Ultimately, they failed. But before they did, they inspired a 57-hour YouTube livestream of Donkey Kong 64 that raised $340,00 for Mermaids.
The Moral Majority’s Last Stand
Anti-LGBT policies are unpopular. They do not reflect the American people. They are not a huge priority for the party base. They certainly do not appeal to the next generation of conservatives and swing voters.
Yet, Republican politicians will not let go. They have made a concession on same-sex marriage, but refuse to surrender in the larger cultural war.
President Trump clearly does not care about the issue – when his administration announced a global effort to decriminalize same-sex relations, but he admitted to reporters he was unaware of it – so lower-level officials have battled for influence.
The administration has appointed openly gay judges. It has also appointed a judge with ties to an anti-LGBT hate group. While the president may make remarks in favor of LGBT rights, his administration’s concrete actions stand in stark contrast.
Generational trends mean that a more tolerant strain of conservatism will eventually win. But that does not offer security in the short term.
Homophobia and transphobia are still deeply rooted in many parts of the country. Recently, the mayor of Carbon Hill, Alabama advocated for the extermination of gay people.
It will be a long time before human dignity can be guaranteed through the US. Until then, civil rights protections will be most necessary in the states that are least likely to enact them, and the lack of federal action will have real consequences.