Even in defeat, anti-gay measures a wake-up call

The last week and half has been a tumultuous one for gay rights: California Attorney General Kamala Harris went to court over a recently proposed voter-initiative entitled “the Sodomite Suppression Act” Indiana Governor Mike Pence passed and was then forced to amend an anti-gay “religious freedom law.” and Arkansas’s Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a stripped-down version of a copycat religious freedom law that he feared would harm investment in his state. Sure enough, it is no small victory that both Indiana and Arkansas’ laws have been scaled back, for now.

But that they could have been put forth and passed thanks to Republicans’ control of state legislatures across the country just goes to show how the status of gay rights in this country remains a hostage to right-wing whims.

It is unusual then, that on either side of the aisle there are commentators asserting that this series of events represents not just a victory for gay people but even gay hegemony. Over at the Washington Post, Phillip Bump writes that “the political war over gay culture is over, and the gays won.” On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg hysterically remarks that the gay community was “shooting the wounded” by going after these laws, since it has already claimed “total victory” on gay marriage. Newt Gingrich, for his part, called the opposition to the law a “lynch mob.” and another Fox News guest called them a “wolf pack.

Sure enough, liberals always seem to be overestimating their own successes, and conservatives their own persecution. But why concede the premise that gay rights have already won, when our most fundamental civil right, our own lives, remain under constant threat?

Take one look at this proposed California law, and then try and convince yourself that the gay community has moved beyond the level of fighting for its own survival. It states – verbatim – “that any person who willingly touches another person of the same gender for purposes of sexual gratification be put to death by bullets to the head or by any other convenient method.” As long as this kind of incitement is taken remotely seriously in our society, queer people must always be on high alert.

Note as well that the proposal was submitted by a California attorney by the name of Matthew Gregory McLaughlin, apparently a graduate of UC Irvine and George Mason. Ostensibly, a “respectable” fellow.

This is not, as Russell Berman writes in the Altantic, just one among “plenty of other long-shot, kooky, and even offensive ballot measures over the years [in California]”; this is incitement to a pogrom. “Legal experts,” however, contend “that [Attorney General] Harris has no other choice but to process McLaughlin’s proposal.”

The Indiana law is a relatively subtler affair, but no less an incitement. Jon and others were correct to point out that it basically calls for a kind of segregation and – what a coincidence! – that “religious freedom” was precisely the phrasing segregationists used to defend themselves during Jim Crow. But there are some key differences at work here that need parsing, starting with scale.

Segregation in its heyday was all-encompassing and total; with this law, on the other hand, a likely outcome would have been that some wingnut Christians might refuse to serve gay people cake. But as an open invitation for all kinds of institutions to deny queer people help, from bakeries to hospitals, the threat was all too real to ignore.

So the gay community has been issued this polite threat – one which, it stands to note, black people were never given when whites started enforcing segregation in the post-Reconstruction South – that Republicans and whack jobs still control many of our destinies, and some are ready to more than just troll us. Many queer people, particularly queer and trans people of color, had already gotten the memo. They received it a long time ago, and it kills.

Anti-homophobia protest, via Creative Commons

Anti-homophobia protest, via Creative Commons

Unlike the Indiana or Arkansas law, California’s proposed voter initiative is not a polite reminder but a reminder that, at the end of the day, no matter how much respectability some gay people accumulate, others will still want us all dead.

Larry Kramer’s exhortation to gay men during the AIDS crisis comes to mind: “If [that] doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble.”

Inevitable or not, gay marriage won’t change the fact that they want us dead. For many queer people, by the way, gay marriage was never a priority to begin with – homelessness, lack of healthcare or deportation were, among others.

No doubt, with gay marriage on the cusp of becoming a reality, and many gay and lesbian people in positions of considerable economic and political power, the situation has changed in our favor. But that doesn’t mean that it’s time to throw in the towel. Quite the contrary.

Right now, there are burgeoning mass movements underway to build a more just society, from Black Lives Matter to the Fight for 15. At the core of each is resistance against forces that do not value life. Gay people – knowing that their lives too, in different ways and at different times, have not been valued – must stand with them. Right now, at this moment, there is a historic opportunity to build solidarity and support other struggles. As Shaun King, a leading chronicler of the protest movement writes, the rifts between issues like gay rights and civil rights are already eroding away.

So let’s not be like Patricia Arquette, who – though bless her heart – didn’t exactly endear herself to a lot of people by saying “we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. [Now] it’s our time…” That’s not how solidarity works.

The bottom line is this: no one can be truly free until every last one of us is.


James Neimeister is a freelance writer from Ohio. His interests include: Russia, Ukraine, education, technology, and "cyberspace."

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  • Bill_Perdue

    You’re correct on all counts.

  • johnbales

    For years I’ve been saying that just getting the civil right to marry does not mean the battle is won. I tried people that the more marriage rights we won, the more the fundamentalists and others with animus for LGBT people would ramp up their efforts to slow our progress or even to retract protective legislation that has already been passed. So what are we seeing now? A backlash under the disguise of “Religious Freedom” and “Protecting the business climate in our state”. Don’t think that a SCOTUS ruling in our favor will stop it; it will simply ramp things up even further. We cannot rest on our victories and think that we’re accepted. What good is the right to be married if we still can’t appear safely in public or we’re rejected in public accommodations, restaurants, businesses, etc. that are otherwise open to the public at large. We have a long way to go; SSM is only a milestone in the greater race for true equality and acceptance.

  • johnbales

    An Huckabee is pretty typical of that mean-spirited, fundamentalist (in his case, Southern Baptist) “christian” who claims to “have gay friends” but then turns around and condones discriminatory laws, refusal of civil matrimonial rights, and whatever other bigoted things come to his little mind to retain the status quo of white male fundamentalist protestants to maintain social and economic power over those they disagree with. We may both be from Arkansas but I have no use for this bigot in ‘christian’ clothing. Simply a grifter.

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    I wonder how many Americans secretly give a smug smile when they hear about ISIS throwing gay people off apartment roofs?

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  • Indigo

    They were beyond defensive, they were nuts.

  • Indigo

    As wedge issues go, Equal Rights are easier to address directly than the ubiquitous and irrational cry of “Bengazi!” so popular on the floor of the House of Representatives. We can confront foolish expressions like “homosexual takeover” and “gay marriage” with the clearest statement of all, “Equal Rights!”

  • Robert Manders

    I just don’t understand why Christians feel that their righteous and that their Bible and belief system is the source for morality. If I literally lived by what their Bible commands I would be a very evil person, they would call me a terrorist and I would be in prison for murder. I would say 90% of Christians don’t have a clue on what their Bible actually says, only what they want to use to justify their bigotry. They used their Bible during the days of slavery and segregation to justify they bigotry. Times will change and as always, they will be on the wrong side of history.

  • nicho

    Come on, folks, All this stuff is just a lead up to wedge issues for the 2016 election. Church members will be urged to vote GOP to prevent the “homosexual takeover.” Just yesterday, Huckabee said that the goal of the homosexuals was to shut down all the churches. It’s a wedge issue. It’s vital to the GOP plan for the election, and it’s not going to go away.

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  • Don Chandler

    But I am agnostic.

  • No, pro-science religious people like you need to speak up to the anti-science religious folks and not blame everyone else for your own spinelessness.

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  • Don Chandler

    I’ve visited a lot of conservative sites and they are certainly organized and vitriolic. As are the anti-gay pseudo religious Klans. I think people need to be less anti-religious and more anti-klan. If a person is both religious and pro-science, I’m cool with that because it means you can reason with that person within the area of human knowledge and afford them the comfort and respect they deserve for looking beyond. Anti-gay orgs like FRC and the American’s Defending Freedom group reach out to these people. Of course, these discrimination bills are anti-american or anti-business or anti-people. That’s why they keep failing.

  • Bill_Perdue

    The victories in Indiana,North Carolina and Arkansas were defensive in nature. Rather than being an an expansion of our rights, they lessened the contraction of our rights but are hardly a signal that our fight is over.

    We need an clean version of ENDA or a robust federal Civil Rights Amendment covering ourselves, people of color, women, trade unionists and immigrant and imported workers. We aren’t going to get either from Democrats or Republicans. We will get that and more from the creation of a mass movement and political independence from the Democrats and/or Republicans. They’re hustlers on the make and except for trawling for votes and money they don’t give a rats ass about us.

    As for the growing power of the left wing in communities of color and among workers, they are two key movements not just for change but for revolutionary change.

    http://www.ibtimes.com/mcdonalds-workers-strike-2015-employees-plan-us-protests-after-publicity-stunt-wage-1867746

    http://blackfridayprotests.org/

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILTufJ2V3Kw

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