June is Pride Month. But May 17 was the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, and Joe Biden wasn’t going to cheat the nation out of some spellbinding oratory to mark the occasion. Speaking at the Capitol, he warned against “rising hate and violence targeting LGBTQI+ people in the United States.” The idea that [fill in the blank]ophobia is increasing is a regular trope of our public discourse.
Is such a rise occurring, though? If you accept the current standard that any criticism of pro-LGBT policy amounts to hatred, then yes, it probably is. People do seem to be growing bolder in offering such criticisms. Why?
According to Gallup, a majority of Americans disapproved of legalizing gay marriage until about 2011. Even in 2015, when the Obergefell decision legalized it nationwide, 40 percent of Americans still opposed gay marriage. In other words, the Supreme Court’s decision on that matter upended a centuries-old institution at a moment when the public was fairly evenly divided on this contentious topic. Of course, the divisiveness of the issue was not a reason for the Court to avoid ruling on it. I was among those who agreed that lesbians and gays had a legitimate grievance—legal benefits did accrue to married couples that were inaccessible to gay couples. In my non-expert opinion, this seemed a prima facie violation of equal protection.
Nevertheless, there were a number of ways the court could have addressed this issue. They could have ruled that marriage has no legal significance—that only civil unions confer the legal advantages that married couples have traditionally enjoyed. Whether gay or straight, if you want a marriage, go to a church. If you want the state to recognize you as a couple for legal purposes, go to the justice of the peace and get a civil union. Instead of the many other ways this issue could have been resolved, the Supreme Court opted for the most extreme option. After all, any other decision would have stopped short of a full moral vindication of LGBT culture, rather than a purely legal vindication.
There was relatively little outrage from the opponents of gay marriage when the decision was announced. No riots, no organized attacks on LGBT-owned business, no major protests. Most people opposed to the decision assumed that the actual changes to American life would be minor. Advocates of legal gay marriage routinely insisted that “what two consenting adults do behind closed doors is a private matter.” Framing it as a private issue reassured people with reservations about the ruling. Other proponents reassured those with misgivings about where gay marriage might lead that it really was just marriage at issue. They didn’t give any indication that legal marriage would only be the first in a long series of successively unveiled LGBT grievances that would require judicial redress or policy adjustments. These assurances were always nonsense. But opponents of gay marriage took them in good faith.
Nevertheless, as the sun fell on the day Obergefell was announced, Barack Obama—who only seven years earlier had campaigned on the idea that marriage was between a man and a woman—approved that the White House be lit in the colors of the LGBT Pride flag.
Shortly after that, LGBT activists were suing a Christian baker who refused to bake them a wedding cake due to his sincerely held religious beliefs. Then, as the media began hyping transgender individuals as the newest aggrieved class, progressives began pushing legislation that would give transgender people access to sex-segregated spaces based on their subjective perception of their “gender identity.” Then, the Pride flag started being flown at U.S. embassies abroad and the State Department at home. Then, it became clear that the public schools were giving detailed instruction about sexuality and gender identity to elementary-school students. Then, various intellectuals started to call for “normalizing” use of the term “minor-attracted persons” (read: pedophiles) on the grounds that this is just another sexual orientation.
As the lists of made-up pronouns to indicate “non-binary” gender identity expanded, so did the insistence that regular people were obligated to master and use these invented words. Drag queen story hours for children multiplied at libraries and schools. Disney and other major corporations admitted to having a “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” for children. And now, we find ourselves at a point where we are actually having a debate on whether it is good for prepubescent children to witness “kink” and public nudity at Pride parades. In short, it turned out that LGBT advocates were not at all satisfied with their victory in Obergefell.
Much of the opposition to gay marriage was not due to a objection to “marriage equality” itself. Rather, it was based on an intuition that gay marriage would lead to further changes in public culture. At the time, LGBT activists either politely ensured this wouldn’t be the case, or openly derided people who had these concerns as delusional and ignorant. “Slippery slope” arguments are often dismissed as a logical fallacy. But the many examples above provide irrefutable evidence that, in this case anyway, the slope was quite slippery indeed.
Our rapid slide down this slope is the reason for the recent increase in speech that is critical of the LGBT agenda. People are beginning to feel that they were sold a false bill of goods. In hindsight, the promise that this was just a minor private matter seems to have been purposely deceptive, given the zeal with which LGBT advocacy has since been inserted into virtually every aspect of public life. With each further expansion of the LGBTQIAA2S+ acronym, it seems as though new grievances emerge, bringing with them more public advocacy for redress through policy adjustment or legal action.
It took only seven years since Obergefell to start celebrating transgenderism in public elementary schools. Where will we be in seven more if this march continues unchecked? The encroachment of LGBTism into every institution, with no clear end in sight, has alarmed some people enough that they are finally willing to risk being viewed as impolite—perhaps even hateful—for voicing their misgivings about the sudden transformation of public life. Many see this as the only way to slow the “queering” of everything.
The good faith in which opponents of gay marriage responded to the Obergefell ruling has been thrown back in their faces. People don’t like being duped, and roughly half of Americans must feel that they were. The increase of public criticism of the LGBT agenda (which LGBT “allies” cynically call “homophobia”) is because the public is becoming aware that the reforms our society has enacted were (and are) achieved in bad faith. Ten years ago, opponents of that agenda believed that they could trust the word of their opponents, even if they disagreed with them. Much of that trust is now gone.
A large part of the distrust can be traced to a contradiction in the public presentation of LGBT identity—a contradiction that is becoming more pronounced as acceptance of sexual minorities grows. It is true that, only a few decades ago, those who identify as LGBT were sometimes treated with open disrespect and faced very real discrimination in everyday situations: going to school, renting an apartment, or seeking a job might expose them to indignities and hardship. Gay-pride parades emerged as an ironic way to embrace gay identity, an attempt to build a community apart from the mistreatment that sexual minorities faced in public contexts. The decadent, kinky, campy elements were an expression of defiance and self-confidence, as if to say “You all think we’re freaks? Well, fine. We’ll be freaks.” Over the years, these performances ensured that transgression of social norms became central to gay culture—particularly the way that transgression was signified in public spaces.
These rituals and displays helped to normalize being gay in everyday life. When it had been normalized to the extent that it allowed mainstream advocacy for the legalization of gay marriage, the people driving the movement pressed further in the direction of normalization. The message became “We’re not freaks. We’re just like you. We’re your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, and your family.” This assurance was central to achieving legal gay marriage. But many in the LGBT community didn’t want to abandon the transgressive elements of gay culture. Seven years after Obergefell, regular-old-vanilla lesbian or gay identity can no longer be transgressive in the way it used to be: It has become too normalized.
Get weekly emails in your inbox
But for many, what being a sexual minority in public meant was defying social convention. The problem is that, as our culture becomes ever more accepting of sexual minorities, it gets harder and harder to find boundaries that haven’t yet been transgressed. This means that in order to enact the transgressions that signify authentic LGBT identity, those few remaining boundaries must also be negated. Unfortunately, the norms that do remain also happen to be those that nearly everyone still agrees on, which is why transgressing them tends to elicit antipathy from your typical American.
This expansion—the expanding normalization that requires the discovery and advocacy of new sexual identities that still have the capacity to shock—is the cause of increasing boldness in opposition to the LGBT agenda. This isn’t “homophobia” or “transphobia.” In fact, the casual way that such damning terms are thrown around is one more example of how LGBT supporters operate in bad faith. The “phobia” suffix attributes irrationality or mental illness to the “phobic” person. When someone is mentally ill or irrational, we generally refuse to engage with them in dialogue. We feel justified in ignoring what they say. Labelling mere disagreement and principled opposition as “homophobia” is just a means to allow yourself to write off your opponents. It is a means to stop the dialogue, a way to relieve yourself of the obligation to persuade. Gallup now shows that over 70 percent of people support “marriage equality.” What percentage of those respondents were bullied into that support for fear that doing otherwise might cause them to be viewed as “homophobic”?
If LGBT advocates want to lower the volume of the public objections now being raised, they will need to make a tough choice between normalization and transgression. If LGBT identity really is normal, then advocates will need to stop deliberately violating ever more extreme boundaries to evoke the transgression that was at the heart of gay culture in an earlier time. But if transgression of societal norms really is the defining characteristic of what it means to be gay, then advocates have no right to expect normalization or de-stigmatization of their behavior. If a choice isn’t made, the LGBT community is effectively asking society to normalize transgression while still recognizing transgression as transgressive, and that’s impossible. Transgression can’t occur without norms. And violating norms will always be “abnormal” by definition. The increasingly open criticism of the LGBT movement is a direct effect of this refusal to choose. Acknowledging the irrational and contradictory character of their demands would go a long way to restore the trust of their critics. It would not stop them from voicing their opposition. But it would give a reason to reopen a dialogue in good faith.