Donald Trump is in most ways a bigot, including, in private if reports are to be believed, toward gay and lesbian people. But one paradox of his political career has been that even at the same time he campaigned on racism and restricted transgender rights, he tended to dial back the LGBTQ-bashing that had been such a staple of GOP rhetoric for the previous generation. By shifting the GOP ahead and closer to the country’s more accepting current consensus, Trump managed to convince a critical mass of northern working-class whites that he was not a holy roller, and this distinction from previous Republicans helped him harvest thousands of votes.
If some of the changes he made to party dogma appear to be permanent, a more welcoming tone toward the gay community is not among them. Since Trump left office, Republican politicians across the country have brought back anti-LGBTQ politics with brazen force. More often than anywhere else this animus has surfaced in education, but right-wing anti-LGBTQ sentiment is visible in policy areas stretching across the gamut of all that government does. Republicans are using this cynical tactic to exploit their base’s hatred of LGBTQ people and to attempt to land a blow with squeamish moderates (though I doubt that that part of the strategy will work).
The first volley against LGBTQ acceptance blasted out of the North Carolina Lieutenant Governor’s office. In a speech to a conservative church, Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson viciously referred to “homosexuality, transgenderism [sic]” as “filth.” The comment was repugnant but could have been a one-off spasm of hate if it did not capture what millions of social conservatives across the country feel about LGBTQ people. In other words, bigotry was out in the open. Whether or not Robinson himself specifically inspired the flurry of anti-LGBTQ legislation, his hateful rhetoric opened the way for Republicans to reembrace the politics of gay-bashing.
Republican leaders in states across the country followed Robinson’s lead. Most famously, crypto-fascist Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill prohibiting the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the early grades, even though some students will come to school from households led by same-sex couples. Numerous states have passed bills prohibiting trans girls and women from competing in sporting events held for females. What all these bills have in common is an effort to drive a wedge between LGBTQ people and the straight, cis voters who had become more tolerant of the community. In essence, Republicans are trying to revitalize a wedge issue that worked for them for years, because wedge politics are indispensable for a party whose policy agenda is unpopular.
These bills will terrorize many in the LGBTQ community, particularly the young people who are particularly vulnerable to bigotry. Little is more degrading than seeing yourself demeaned by your government. And climates of hate generated from the top down have often resulted in the outbreaking of physical violence against vulnerable communities. What Republicans are doing by bringing back the politics of anti-LGBTQ hate is to reenact scores of pogroms, both physical and psychological, that majorities have inflicted upon minority groups around the world and throughout history. I earnestly hope and trust that the LGBTQ community will outlast this round of hatred.
Alexander Jones is an original contributor to PoliticsNC.