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Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 19, 2021:
The first time I ever heard an aggrieved white man assert that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” it was 1982, in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, where the city council was about to reject an ordinance protecting gay people from discrimination.
I’ve been listening to white people use Christianity to argue against civil rights ever since. I watched the supposed Moral Majority come to power while the Reagan administration refused to acknowledge the public health crisis that was killing gay men. For a while, I lived out in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I worked for a gay rights law firm that raised money through direct mail appeals. My job was to open the stack of envelopes that arrived every day, most of them containing checks but a few of them filled with profanity instead.
One contained cigarette butts and words scrawled in ballpoint pen: “My son died because of what he was.”
How tragic that this son died so far from his parent’s love.
Over the decades, I’ve noticed recurring themes. Not just over the fight for LGBTQ civil rights, but the civil rights of any group other than the straight white Christians who bolster their ruling claim to America by denigrating others.
One theme involves white people giving impassioned speeches about protecting their daughters.
What that really means is they’re trying to protect their own power.
This argument goes back much farther than the 1970s, when the Florida orange juice queen Anita Bryant stopped in Wichita as part of her “Save Our Children” campaign to make sure gay people couldn’t be public school teachers.
A century before white conservatives used this rhetoric to target transgender kids, “protecting women and children” was white people’s main justification for lynching Black men.
“If it requires lynching to protect women’s dearest possession from ravening, drunken human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand a week if necessary,” said the supposed feminist Rebecca Latimer Felton, the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate, in 1897.
You could hear Felton’s words echoing all the way to the floor of the Kansas Senate on Wednesday.
“Are we, American men, going to take a stand and defend our young ladies?” asked Virgil Peck, a Republican well remembered for his racist comments, in a “debate” about the heinous Senate Bill 208, which would prevent trans girls from participating on the sports teams that match their gender. Peck said he still believed in chivalry and “God’s special creation — females.”
Conservative women in the Kansas Senate, meanwhile, were suddenly branding themselves feminist champions of Title IX.
The carrier of SB208, Republican Renee Erickson, said she was “insulted” that anyone would suggest proponents would have blood on their hands for “trying to provide a level playing field for fair competition for girls. … Because there is no logical, factual scientific basis for being opposed to this bill.”
One factual basis for saying supporters will have blood on their hands is the 44 trans people murdered in the United States last year. Also, scientists say trans kids are less likely to kill themselves if they have supportive adults.
Saying trans people will “destroy women’s sports,” which supporters of SB208 have said, is just another way of saying trans people are a threat to our way of life. Which is inviting violence against them.
It’s an echo of the argument that allowing same-sex marriage will “destroy traditional marriage.” Which we knew wouldn’t happen, and it hasn’t happened.
I’ve spent 40 years watching politicians try to stay in power by making voters afraid of things they don’t understand. It became harder for them to demonize gay people because gay people kept telling our stories, and more parents, friends, neighbors, coworkers and just plain decent people have listened.
Now, politicians are doing the same thing to trans people that they did to gay people over the last few decades: They’re using most people’s lack of understanding about trans people to stir up fears. And those fears will serve as a distraction from what politicians are not doing, such as expanding Medicaid, funding public schools or making the state’s tax system more fair.
And if you’re a straight, white, cisgender man who disagrees with Virgil Peck’s version of manhood and is disgusted by what’s happening in the Kansas Statehouse, the time has come for you to confront your fellow men.
Don’t just complain about them on social media or in your comfortable networks. Run for office to replace them. And between now and the next election, confront them in person, in public, where others can see.
Some of you are already doing this, but more need to step up. If you need help finding the courage to do so, find your nearest LGBTQ person and ask them how to be brave.
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.