Analysis: How old homophobic language is being used to miseducate voters


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Legislatures in dozens of predominantly Republican states have passed or introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills this year, according to a CNN analysis of data compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, and the legislative onslaught has been about political discourse. the right that denigrates LGBTQ people.

In June, for example, members of the extreme group Proud Boys entered the San Lorenzo library in California and disrupted the Drag Queen Story Hour. One of the insults they reportedly voted for: “goomer” — a term that vilifies LGBTQ people as child predators.

A few days later, Christopher Rufo, the activist who inspired the panic of “critical race theory,” he invited his fellow conservatives “starting to use the phrase ‘trans stripper’ instead of ‘drag queen'” because the former “has a more whimsical set of connotations and leads the discussion to sexualization”, and “anchors the unstoppable argument of ‘trans strippers in schools’.”

The following month, Florida Republican state representative Anthony Sabatini he declared menacingly, “Florida Groomers: Your Days Are Numbered.” This perversion of the term “grooming” can draw attention away from the real evil of child abuse enabled by predatory adults who groom child victims. Notable, Sabatini also said in the summer wants to propose legislation aimed at parents who take their children to drag shows.

Together, these examples focus on the prevalence of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric today. As the midterm elections approach and political leaders test their mettle, it’s worth looking into the issue a little more:

Last week, Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana introduced a measure backed by dozens of other Republicans that some describe as a national version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as critics call it.

“The Democrat Party (sic) and their cultural allies are on a misguided crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology,” Johnson said in a statement about the bill, which links sexual orientation and gender identity to pornography and nudity. . “It seeks to prohibit the use of federal funds to develop, implement, facilitate, or finance any sexually oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10.”

Gender ideology: It’s a decade-old term that many Republican leaders have embraced in recent months that mischaracterizes gender — the social construct of norms and behaviors that don’t necessarily match the sex someone was assigned at birth — as an attack on “traditional” domestic dynamics. . Gender anxieties also rose in 2016, when so-called bathroom bills sought to block transgender and gender non-conforming people from accessing public accommodations. And this year, the Republican candidate for governor of Minnesota claimed that schools are telling students they can choose to identify as anthropomorphic cats and use litter boxes.

According to UC Berkeley philosopher Judith Butler, what the anti-gender ideology movement calls gender is a fiction, a phantom.

“It’s not really what people mean by gender in gender studies,” they said. “(The movement) is imagining something that will destroy civilization as we know it or man or family or society. Therefore, gender is given an enormous power that it does not have.’

As Butler, author of the 1990 book “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” explained, most people who work on ways of thinking about gender or biology, culture, or society hold to a more interactive model of the world.

“Society affects our biology, our physiology and the environments we grow up in. And what we absorb or don’t absorb from those environments affects who we are,” they said. “When we are talking about gender identity, it has a psychic and social dimension that is not determined by biology.”

Madison Moore, a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California, expressed similar sentiments earlier this year, as anti-drag attacks — which challenge rigid notions of gender and target measures — appeared to be on the rise in cities across the country.

“If you’re more conservative, you probably have a specific idea of ​​what it’s like to be in your body and how to live your life,” he told CNN. “Some conservatives see drag as ‘indoctrination.’ I would say it just goes to show that there are more options. The truth is, you don’t have to limit yourself to the little box you were assigned at birth.’

Butler worries about the dangers the anti-gender ideology movement poses to children who are seeking a more fulfilling life.

“When we think about states that deny the rights of transgender or gender non-conforming youth to health care, including mental health care, that hurts children,” they said. “Children are hurting, children trying to move on from the despair of being subject to a set of social expectations that are not acceptable to them. Those children are suffering.”

Or so Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas, bluntly told NPR in February, after Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called state agencies “child abuse” to conduct research on gender expression for transgender youth. “State leadership has said, ‘We’d rather see dead kids… than happy, loved, supported, thriving trans kids who are alive and well.'”

Johnson’s bill highlights another example of anti-LGBTQ language.

“Parents and legal guardians have the right and responsibility to determine where, when, when and how their children are exposed to sexually explicit material,” the text reads.

The measure is couched in the noble, seemingly innocuous language of parental rights. But the bill appears to be aimed at guaranteeing the rights of parents and suppressing discussions on more sensitive topics, including sexual orientation and gender identity. It’s a strategy many Republican politicians use to hide their deeper intentions, according to Pepperdine University law professor and historian Edward Larson.

Florida, to take one example, “enacted a new statute banning teaching about sexual orientation beginning in the third grade. Dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay Law,” the statute officially bears a Bryan-esque title, the “Parental Rights in Education Act,” Larson wrote. September for The Washington Post to return “parents’ rights” at the turn of the century politician William Jennings Bryan “crusade against the teaching of evolution in schools.”

(Interestingly, claims of “parental rights” were also common in the 1990s: “Among conservatives who disagree with public school policies on troubling issues like sex education, condom distribution, and school prayer, the buzzword today is ‘parental rights.'” By Mark Walsh He stated for Education Week in 1996.)

Butler emphasized the dangers of this type of parental control, and particularly the value of supporting education as open research and debate.

“I think the truth of the matter is that people who teach sex education or people in gender studies who want to teach about feminism, transgender rights, and the queer movement, these are efforts to open up a conversation that has been closed for so long,” they said. we are spreading questions, and they are not ready to live with that disturbance. But this disturbance is necessary for education.”

In March, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ then-press secretary, Christina Pushaw, made a statement that shocked and horrified many LGBTQ people and their allies.

“If you’re against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you’re probably a groomer, or at least you’re not reporting the grooming of 4-8 year olds,” Pushaw, who is now Florida’s governor’s rapid response director. he tweetedreferring to opponents of the state’s “Don’t say gay” bill.

The use of “Gomer” is part of a resurgence of longstanding homophobic language, particularly the false notion that LGBTQ people are corrupting children.

“Historically, sexual minorities have not necessarily conformed to typical gender stereotypes, and gay men have been seriously accused of that,” Georgia State law professor Anthony Michael Kreis told CNN. “The idea is: This is not normal, natural behavior. And in order to maintain the population of gay communities, gay men in particular need to recruit children.

Perhaps most infamously, former beauty queen and Florida orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant weaponized this child-thinking rhetoric in the 1970s when she led the “Save Our Children” coalition to repeal gay rights legislation in Miami and when it was. a broader conservative movement to keep gay and lesbian teachers out of classrooms.

It’s hard to overstate the dangers of the “groomer” claim. More precisely, Kreis said, it can foster various types of discrimination.

“’Groomer’ establishes a label that marks someone as a predator. We criminalize people who are predators and would take advantage of children, and rightly so,” he said. “But when you get a group of people together and you suggest, All of you are naturally prone to criminal activitiesyou are not only opening the door to legal discrimination, you are increasing the opportunities for people to commit violent acts and hate crimes”.

Author Melissa Gira Grant summed up the dangers of the “Gomer” accusation when she wrote in The New Republic in March: “If your ‘enemies’ are ill-defined but widespread threats to children, why wouldn’t stopping them be justified?”

Kreis worries about the possibility of discrimination leading up to the country’s elections.

“I’m afraid the rhetoric will take hold and people who believe it will gain power and try to legislate about it,” he said. “That’s the real danger, I think, that people who believe in animus-based ideologies will have power and try to use it to harm LGBTQ communities.”