The Right’s Attack on LGBTQ People is an Attack on America

They really aren’t hiding it

Greg Abbott by J Dimas, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

It seems like the old times have come back again. In a display of politically motivated panic, right-wing activists have dredged out old talking points that play on age-old prejudices, putting everyday Americans at risk. Using a vast array of old propagandists, the right has motivated its base to engage in what can only be described as a prejudiced onslaught against LGBTQ people.

It would be easier to believe that someone cast a spell and resurrected prejudiced spirits from a past long thought gone, but the reality is that the architects of prejudice and ignorance were never truly gone. Instead, they have been waiting in the dark, looking for an opportunity to strike and reinstitute restrictions on LGBTQ history and people whose story deserves to be told. While many Americans continue to support LGBTQ rights, Republican efforts to restrict or otherwise undermine those rights have come out in full swing.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order that requires the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate any parent who provides gender-affirming care to their kids, referring to said care as “child abuse.” The accusation of abuse is in spite of studies showing that gender-affirming care is associated with decreased rates of depression and suicide. The basis for the executive order was Gov. Abbott’s own Attorney General, Ken Paxton, who released a legal opinion arguing that such treatment constituted abuse, despite no statute defining it as such.

In response, several scientists and legal scholars wrote a letter condemning Texas’ interpretation of the state code and lambasted the multitude of errors in the original opinion by Attorney General Paxton, describing the opinion as being “not grounded in reputable science” and “full of errors.” The report further noted that despite claims by Texas’ attorney general that trans youth were being subjected to surgery, current practice requires that said surgeries be performed during adulthood. A federal judge has since blocked the directive and the case could find its way to the Texas Supreme Court if Paxton’s appeal goes through. In the meantime, many families are left in the lurch.

Texas is not alone in its attempt to wipe LGBTQ people from public life. In Florida, Republican governor Ron DeSantis supported and signed House Bill 1557, more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” into law. Under this bill, teachers are prohibited from encouraging conversations about “sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” The wording of this act is intentionally vague, but the intention was made crystal clear in a tweet by Gov. DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, who said the act was supposed to protect children from “grooming.”

Republicans have long spread the idea that LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-friendly teaching is grooming, and similar themes have been used to push nearly 150 anti-LGTBQ bills, including orders like the ones in Florida and Texas. Nor are these attacks new. In the 1970s, anti-gay activists such as Anita Bryant used similar propaganda to encourage Miami voters to repeal a local ordinance that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation, establishing the “Save Our Children” movement. Her efforts were supported by conservative activist and religious leader Jerry Falwell Sr, who was infamous for his own bigotry against LGBTQ people.

These attacks do not come naturally or without prompting by Republican activists. Many of these same activists were contributing to a similar panic about Critical Race Theory (CRT) earlier this year and have been using frustrations over COVID-19 and school policy surrounding it to oppose a variety of subjects they deem inappropriate.

Christopher Rufo, an anti-CRT activist, and writer for the Manhattan Institute is one such man. Rufo has attempted to ban the so-called Critical Race Theory from public schools throughout his career and writing. Working with others such as James Lindsay and the Heritage Foundation, Rufo helped to create a backlash against the 2020 Summer protests of Black Lives Matter by restricting discussions of race in school. In one tweet thread, Rufo explained his objective with the CRT panic, saying: “The goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory…”

And now, he has applied that same approach to LGBTQ rights. Earlier this year, Rufo stood with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as he signed another bill intended to restrict discussions about privilege in the workplace. He has also repeatedly used grooming as a weapon against LGBTQ people, particularly when it comes to educational materials about LGBTQ rights.

Using the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal as his weapon, Rufo has ramped up a panic about LGBTQ groomers and rapists that is reminiscent of the 1970s, with familiar allies like James Lindsay doing his part as well.

In a brief article attempting to defend his claims of grooming, Rufo pointed to a 2004 Department of Education report, which examined a 2000 survey of 2,065 children from grades 8 through 11. Using this data, the report claimed that nearly 10% of the children were victims of abuse. Rufo took that rate and then claimed that as many as 4.5 million children were suffering abuse at the hands of public officials. To Rufo, this puts the so-called “grooming” problem at a rate nearly “100 times greater than the physical abuse committed by Catholic priests, who, at the time the report was published, were undergoing a reckoning for the crimes within their ranks.”

The problem with this report, aside from its incredibly small sample size, is that it is not representative of the population and assumes a constant rate of abuse. It also does not mention LGBTQ people at all. Rufo may have also misquoted Charol Shakeshaft, the Hofstra University professor who wrote the report.

Rufo has also extended this panic to Disney, accusing it of being full of groomers after it criticized the Don’t Say Gay bill, which Rufo supported. Rufo, along with DeSantis and other supporters of the bill, have latched onto this claim and used it to justify pulling Disney’s special tax status when its employees criticized the company’s initial hesitance to oppose DeSantis’ agenda. Even private businesses are not able to speak their minds, no matter how tepid their opposition is.

This panic may seem odd at first. Public support for LGBTQ people continues to rise, but it makes sense when you consider who Rufo associates with and what they seek to do with the public school system. In a speech at Hillsdale College, Rufo was recorded saying: “in order to achieve universal school choice, it’s necessary to create an atmosphere of universal public-school distrust.”

It is this distrust, this historically grounded prejudice, and a desire for austerity that appears to be the central focus of GOP operations. To operatives like Rufo and leaders like DeSantis and Abbott, the opportunity to destroy public institutions via prejudicial propaganda is too much to ignore. If this is allowed to continue, Republicans will almost certainly use what power they gain in the midterms to attack public education, protections for LGBTQ youth and employees, and much more.

Nobody should be surprised by the cacophony of nonsense that comes from these activists; they have it in their best interest to lie. It does not matter who gets hurt or whose kids are taken from them, the only thing these Republicans care about is power. And unless something is done, they will get it.

Originally published May 13th, 2022 at https://uisobserver.com.

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