Beyond Visibility: Surviving the storm of a gay-bashing election season

Beyond Visibility is a column that explores the intersection of sexuality, politics, pop culture, faith and whatever else is on Heather Hogan’s mind every 30 days.

In September, my nephew will start kindergarten; a new world full of new friends and new books and new toys and new games and, for the first time in his life, new opinions that haven’t been filtered through or interpreted by his socially progressive parents. He had his first run-in with this reality at the public playground last week when a boy his age told him that wearing fingernail polish — especially pink fingernail polish — was “girl stuff.”

When September rolls around, it won’t be one kid talking about gender normative behavior on the playground; it will be 100 kids talking about gender normative behavior on the playground. And you know what else they’ll be talking about? The impending presidential election.

You’d think five year olds would have better things to do than rehash the political opinions they hear their parents chatting about with each other, or shouting at the TV — but the only thing children do more than soak up information is regurgitate it to anyone who will listen. My best friend teaches first grade and the kids in her class are more passionate about Obamacare than they are about Justin Bieber. (And those little guys love Justin Bieber.)

“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? QueerBob GayPants.”

So, in addition to reading and writing and calendar time, my nephew is going to do a lot of learning about what kids in rural Georgia think about gay people. Because thanks to folks like Pat Robertson and James Dobson, right-wing homophobia has been a staple of America’s political discourse since the 1980s.

HOW WE GOT TO WHERE WE ARE

In 1979, a group of right-wing wonks decided to make a power play by convincing the evangelical community to hitch their wagon to the GOP. They recruited little known Baptist televenagelist Jerry Falwell to start sharing the message that Republicans were the party of social traditionalism. The idea spread like a win-win wildfire. If evangelical leaders would deliver their followers into the hands of the GOP, the GOP would deliver political power into the hands of evangelical leaders. It created a feedback loop not unlike hurricanes that suck up tornadoes and send them spiraling willy-nilly into innocent communities, with politicians pulling in more Christian leaders and Christian leaders pulling in more laypeople willing to vote Republican and more laypeople willing to vote Republican pulling in more politicians, until no one knew who was driving the typhoon.

Every movement needs an enemy, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, right-wingers turned their attention to America’s citizenry, looking for a group of people “other” enough to become a foil. Much of the evangelical community’s rhetoric revolves around “traditional family values,” by which they mean: a husband exerting his power over his wife and children until his sons are old enough to assume similar power and his daughters are old enough to submit to their own husbands. The gay community, by its very nature, doesn’t adhere to such a patriarchal view of society; it was a perfect target.

“And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle,
so that Man could fight the dinosaurs. And the homosexuals.”

So evangelical leaders did what they’ve been doing for thousands of years: They created a propaganda campaign based around a couple of Biblical quotes taken out of context and convinced their followers that their very way of life was under seige by gay people. They exploited fear of the unknown, manipulated that fear into hatred (like taking candy from Joseph Goebbels), and continued to trade votes for power and power for votes until every Baptist kid under the sun was using the word “gay” like they used the words “small pox,” and wishing they could get vaccianted for both. 

With a new enemy acquired, the right-wing could keep could keep fighting their war.

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