Watch Out for the Backlash! When we talk about “backlash,” we are generally referring to efforts that began in the mid-1960s, in reaction to the social disruption caused by anti-war activism, feminism and the civil rights movement. Middle-class whites — finding their social dominance increasingly challenged — banded together to counteract what they saw as the increasing secularization and liberalism of American society.
In the process, they transformed conservatism from a preoccupation with Communism into a national political movement. Paranoid fringe groups like the John Birch Society emerged and slowly took over the national GOP. Political scientists tell us that Reagans election in 1980 solidified conservative efforts to transform the political landscape of America. Since 1980, the GOP has become less and less conservative —and more and more radically reactionary.
You might wonder what this has to do with lesbian, gay, bi & trans rights. After all, although the racism at the heart of the backlash has become impossible to ignore, lesbian, gay, bi & trans folks are celebrating several years of increasing acceptance. Same-sex marriages are increasingly recognized, and a majority of Americans support them. Popular culture is inclusive and affirming. Civil rights are being extended, albeit slowly.
As a recent post from The Daily Beast noted, “Today, unlike never before, most Americans have openly gay friends, colleagues and family members, and most approve of same-sex relationships. Young people are overwhelmingly gay-friendly, leaving little doubt which way the trends are going.”
As Alfred E. Neumann (Google it) used to say, “What — Me Worry?”
As The Daily Beast and other sources have reported, however, this rosy picture has plenty of thorns:
The Texas Republican Party has officially endorsed so-called “reparative therapy,” a quack regimen that reputable psychiatry roundly condemns. Very considerately, the Texas GOP wants to ensure the availability of “therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”
Oklahoma, a conservative candidate for the state House of Representatives has quoted Biblical passages that (he says) prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals. In a Facebook post he wrote, “I think we would be totally in the right to do it.”
Mississippi just passed a measure being considered in several other states that would “protect religious liberty” by allowing people to act on their “sincere religious convictions” by refusing to do business with gay clients or customers.
Add in the insulting rhetoric routinely emanating from the Right — Rush Limbaugh, the Duck Dynasty guy and many others. And just last May, Salon ran a disturbing report after several incidents of anti-gay violence in New York, asking “Is the Anti-Gay Backlash On?”
More recently, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals broke what had been a string of federal appellate rulings and upheld state bans on same-sex marriage.
I look out at our increasingly contentious, toxic political environment and I see an enormous number of old, furious, threatened white heterosexual males.
On my good days, I interpret their hysterical reaction to social change — their racism, their homophobia, their sexism — as the “last throes” of the old order of things. A backlash with unfortunate but ultimately temporary effects.
On my bad days, I worry that the money they are spending and religious “authority” they are perverting and their fanatic persistence will carry the day.
Jefferson was right. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.