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Culture War Zombies: the Latest Anti-Gay Campaign

Since the 1973 Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the Christian right has fought a fierce culture war on numerous fronts, including against a woman’s right to an abortion, homosexuality and youth sex education.  Remarkably, Roe – however much under attack — remains the law of the land; homosexuality and gay marriage have been “normalized” due to two major Supreme Court decisions, U.S. v. Windsor [2013] and Obergefell v. Hodges [2015]; and “abstinence” has been discredited as a meaningful form of sex ed.

Nevertheless, like a bad Hollywood movie or TV show, when you think that the culture wars were finally dead, rightwing Christian zombies slink out of their ideological caves and try yet again to inflict suffering on American people.

Most recently, culture-war zombies have begun to implement a deceitful strategy to deny discrimination protections to gay and trans Americans.  Conservative Republicans in Tenseness, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas have effectively used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (1993) and the Supreme Court’s Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision (2014) to conduct a new campaign in the culture wars, one permitting businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers on “religious” grounds.  Under this truly Orwellian mindset, in a secular democracy, one defined by capitalism and the Constitution, its remarkable that a person’s religion permits him/her to discriminate.  One can only wonder if the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is orchestrating the campaign.

The nation has “evolved” socially since Roe.  U.S. demographics have fundamentally changed and most Americans have adopted a more inclusive, tolerant moral value or belief system regarding personal and societal differences.  However, many Americans feel threatened by the restructuring of global capitalism and with it a new moral order.

Numerous state and local legislations are seeking to force Americans backwards to the “good old days” of Puritan intolerance.  One of the latest efforts is to limit the rights of gay and trans Americans through what are known as “bathroom bills.”  These bills seek to restrict a student’s access to a school’s bathroom based on his/her birth or biological gender rather than the person’s self-determined gender identity.

The Williams Institute, a UCLA research organization specializing in sexual orientation and gender identity issues, estimated in 2011 that there were 700,000 transgender people in the U.S.  Transsexual people continue to experience discrimination and social stigma with regard to employment, housing, health care, the juridical system (especially in prison) and simply using a public restroom.  Most troubling, over the last couple of years, there’s been a spike in the number of reported murders of transgender women.

* * *

The culture-war zombies are on the march.  Last November, Houston, TX, voters repealed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), a municipal nondiscrimination law that protected LGBT people.  On March 23rd, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law that barred the city of Charlotte from implementing a nondiscrimination ordinance, the bathroom bill.  On April 5th, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act” permitting government employees to refuse to issue marriage licenses or perform marriage ceremonies as well as permitting businesses and faith-based groups to deny housing, jobs and adoption and foster-care services to people based on their sexual orientation.  And On April 6th, Tennessee’s House of Representatives passed a bill allowing counselors and therapists to deny service to a patient if doing so were to conflict with the counselor’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

The U.S. Department of Education ruled that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits sexual discrimination based on gender indent.  Nevertheless, recent articles in Rolling Stone, Think Progress and other sources detail the various anti-transgender bills being considered in the following state legislatures:

 

Arizona – the “no loo for you” law undercuts Phoenix’s LGBT anti-discrimination law and would permit local residents and business owners to restrict access to gender-specific facilities based on a person’s gender identity.

Florida — has introduced a bill that would prohibit transgender people from using facilities that correspond to their gender identities.

Illinois —would require bathrooms, locker rooms and sleeping quarters be designated “for exclusive use of pupils of only one sex.”

Kentucky 
– a bill was introduced to overturn a decision made by Atherton High School to allow transgender students at the school to choose which facilities to use; it would require “students born male to use only those facilities designated to be used by males and students born female to use only those facilities designated to be used by females” and would “identify consequences for using facilities designated for the opposite biological sex.”

Minnesota— a bill was introduced to prohibit trans individuals from using a bathroom that matches their gender, thus overturning a proposal by the Minnesota State High School League and the state’s Human Rights Act.

Missouri – bills have been introduced to (i) require school districts “to designate bathrooms and other facilities as for the exclusive use of individuals of one sex and to prohibit individuals from accessing facilities that do not correspond to their sex”; and (ii) require “all school restrooms, locker rooms, and shower rooms accessible for use by multiple students shall be designated for and used by male or female students only.”

Oklahoma
– bills were introduce (i) to require any person applying for a marriage license “to report if they have undergone sex reassignment surgery; directing marriage license to show which party has undergone the surgery”; (ii) to require schools to “adopt a student physical privacy policy… regarding student use of restrooms, locker rooms, showers and other school facilities,” among other things; and (iii) make it “unlawful for a person to use a gender-specific restroom when that person’s biological gender is contrary to that of the gender-specific restroom.”

South Dakota
– Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed a bill that would require every restroom, locker room and shower room in any public school be “designated for and used only by students of the same biological sex.” The language leaves no room for transgender students, defining biological sex as “the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person’s chromosomes and anatomy as identified at birth.”

Tennessee
– bills would require “students in public schools and public institutions of higher education to use restrooms and locker rooms that are assigned to persons of the same sex as that shown on the student’s’ birth certificates.”

Texas – defines gender as follows: “A male is an individual with at least one X chromosome and at least one Y chromosome, and a female is an individual with at least one X chromosome and no Y chromosomes.”

Washington
– bills would (i) make it legal to limit access “to a private facility segregated by gender, such as a bathroom, restroom, toilet, shower, locker room, or sauna, to a person if the person is preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise has genitalia of a different gender from that for which the facility is segregated” and (ii) denies “the right to any person who possesses male anatomy or male deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to enter into or use a public or private facility that is open to the public and is or has been segregated by gender for the private use of those who possess female anatomy or female deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) including, but not limited to, a bathroom, restroom, toilet, shower, locker room, or sauna.”

Wisconsin
 a bill “requires a school board to designate each pupil restroom and changing room (together, changing room) located in a public school building and accessible by multiple pupils as for the exclusive use of pupils of only one sex” and “defines ‘sex’ as the physical condition of being male or female, as determined by an individual’s chromosomes and identified at birth by that individual’s anatomy.”

* * *

The 2016 Republican presidential campaign has added fuel to the culture wars.  A summary review of the final three candidates follows:

Donald Trump appears to have not addressed the “bathroom” issue. In a January interview on Fox News, Chris Wallace asked him: “But — but just to button this up very quickly, sir, are you saying that if you become president, you might try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same-sex marriage?”  And Trump answered: “I would strongly consider that, yes.”  Maintaining the low journalist standards that distinguishes Fox, Wallace failed to remind Trump that in 2012, as owner of the Miss Universe pageant, he change the organizations’ official rules so that a 23 year-old transgender woman, Jenna Talackova, could compete.

Ted Cruz is an evangelical Christian who staunchly opposes gay rights and has spoken out in support of bathroom bills.  At a campaign stop in January in Spirit Lake, IA, he came out against a local trans girl possible use of a faculty restroom, saying, “I don’t know the facts of that, but I’ll say that inflicting him on the teachers is probably better than sticking him in the shower with the teenage girls.”  He insisted the bathroom issue was the result of actions by the U.S. Department of Education.

John Kasich does not appear to have taken a position with regard to the bathroom bills. The Human Rights Campaign reports that he does not “support the LGBT ‘lifestyle”; when in Congress he voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); and he supported Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage.  It notes that as Ohio governor, he signed a very weak executive order banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for state employees but without protections for gender identity.

It must be noted that 17 states, the District of Columbia and some 200 municipalities ban sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, especially with employment, housing and public accommodations.

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David Rosen is the author of Sex, Sin & Subversion:  The Transformation of 1950s New York’s Forbidden into America’s New Normal (Skyhorse, 2015).  He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net; check out www.DavidRosenWrites.com.

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