When people talk about “backlash,” they are generally referring to a reaction to something–an effort to undo or reverse a previous change.
Backlash is thus the proper term to apply to the movement that began in the mid-1960s, in reaction to social disruption caused by anti-war activism, feminism and the civil rights movement. Middle-class whites, especially but not exclusively in the South, resented the erosion of their social dominance and banded together to fight what they saw as the increasing secularization and liberalism of American society.
Paranoid fringe groups like the John Birch Society and similar “patriot” and “Christian” groups gradually took over the national GOP. Political scientists tell us that Reagan’s election in 1980 solidified right-wing conservative efforts to transform the political landscape of America. Since 1980, the GOP has become less and less genuinely conservative—and more and more radically reactionary.
African-Americans understand the implications of this takeover (much more on that in tomorrow’s blog). I’m not so sure that LGBT folks do.
After all, although the racism at the heart of the backlash has become impossible to ignore,the LGBT community is celebrating years of increasing acceptance. Same-sex marriages are widely if not universally 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 ever 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.”
So, 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. (How considerate! The Texas GOP wants to ensure the availability of “therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.”)
- In Oklahoma, a conservative candidate for the state House of Representatives, has quoted Biblical passages that (he says) prescribe the death penalty for homosexuals. On 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.
More disturbing, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently broke what had been a string of pro-equality federal appellate rulings and upheld state bans on same-sex marriage, giving hope to those who want to roll back the clock on LGBT rights.
As I look out at our increasingly contentious, toxic political environment, I see a distressing number of frightened, old, furious, deeply 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 vast amounts of money they are spending, the religious “authority” they are wielding/perverting, and their fanatic persistence will carry the day.
Progress is not a given.