As an LGBTQIA+ person myself, the seemingly meteoric rise in anti-queer rhetoric over the last few years has been heartbreaking. But perhaps what’s even more heartbreaking is the fact that it’s nothing new, and frankly not unexpected. In this post-2016 era where the norms of civil discourse have all but vanished, outward hate of a shameless sort has seen a steady uptick against many groups that have been historically marginalized, including queer folks.
But why have we seen so much pushback against LGBTQIA+ rights lately, not just in the United States but abroad? It’s even more concerning given how much pushback is coming after two decades of consistent forward progress. In truth, there’s no single cause. Instead, we’re finding ourselves amidst what seems a perfect storm of several factors that are coming together in the worst possible way.
It should be no secret that America is facing a crisis of severe political polarization, where seemingly any issue is enough to land you as being branded far-left or far-right. Perhaps then it’s to be expected that the issue of LGBTQIA+ rights has become politically charged. Many right-aligned politicians, particularly extreme ones, demonize the issue amongst their base, whereas liberal politicians court the queer electorate in ways that are as likely to be sincere as they are to be performative. But the result on either side is that LGBTQIA+ rights have become a wedge issue that only serves to rile people up.
Opposition towards LGBTQIA+ rights often comes down to religious beliefs. As a millennial queer person, I remember all too well the phrase “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” shouted ad nauseam when same-sex marriage was slowly gaining legal status in the United States, with conservative religious organizations fiercely opposed. Don’t get me wrong: freedom of religion is rightfully one of the core principles enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. But it has become increasingly common over time for right-aligned religious groups to attempt to enshrine their religious views into law. This often comes at the expense of LGBTQIA+ persons just trying to live their lives.
Misinformation and Fearmongering
You only need to spend about ten minutes on social media or in online comment sections to see that misinformation and fearmongering around LGBTQIA+ issues run rampant. This is especially true for transgender rights. For example, consider transgender people trying to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. Transgender folks are drastically more likely to be the victim of assault in a public restroom than they are to assault someone. But don’t expect that reality to be acknowledged by far-right online rhetoric, which claims the opposite is true, and oftentimes openly advocates for assaulting trans people in turn.
Backlash to Progress
Perhaps one of the greatest factors at play is that LGBTQIA+ rights may be a victim of its own success. With all the visibility that queer folks have gained and all the rights we’ve attained to boot, it was almost a certainty that the pushback would eventually come to a head from people unable or unwilling to recognize our rights or our basic humanity. Nearly every civil rights movement has experienced a wave of opposition after notching some wins, so why would our struggle for our rights be any different?
Amidst all this doom and gloom, it’s important to remember that there remains significant support for LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States. In fact, a 2022 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 80% of Americans favor laws that protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination. So perhaps we can find solace in the fact that the fervent hatred shown against queer folks, while loud and crass, will likely continue its slow march toward irrelevance.
I suppose that doesn’t make things much easier at the moment though.
Lynn Freshour is a Research Director and reigning data nerd at GVC, an inclusion business strategy firm, as well as at Insight Squad, a DEI data analytics firm. To learn more, visit diversitystrategy.com