Being Public Enemy Number One

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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Transgender Rights (HBO) (youtube.,com)
What’s next for gay Americans after same-sex marriage ruling?
(cbsnews.com)
Mike Huckabee: I wish I pretended to be transgender to shower with girls (politico.com)

Last year I had to stop shopping at Kroger. At the store that I usually went to there was an employee who ran the self-checkouts (which I always use whenever possible so I don’t have to endure awkward small talk with cashiers) who apparently decided that she just didn’t like me and was going to make me miserable every time I shopped there. On more than one occasion she stopped my register from running for over ten minutes, leaving me to just stand there and wait for her to free up my checkout while she helped every other station. People who weren’t even in line behind me when I started checking out were already back to their cars while I was kept standing there, feeling increasingly humiliated as I was made to wait and wait and wait. Eventually I had to leave in the middle of one order because I had to get to another location and I wasn’t getting any service, forcing me to leave behind the tote bags I’d brought for my order that I’d already packed with the groceries I never got to take home. When I contracted Kroger’s national offices about what had happened to me, not only did they refuse to take serious action against this employee but they also refused to reimburse me for the lost bags (or even just mail them back to me). If they’re going to let that happen to me at that store then I assume that employees can do the same thing to other customers at any of their other stores, and so I boycott Kroger now because that’s not the kind of company I want to do business with.

I’d like to shop at locally-owned stores, but I just don’t make the kind of money to let me do that right now.  Since I still boycott Walmart like all good liberals do, that basically leaves me to shop at a regional big box store chain called Meijer, and at my local Meijer there is one greeter in particular who is friendly to literally everyone else who walks through the doors, striking up long conversations with them, but whenever I come in he looks at me like he wants me to kill myself. This is something I would like to push Meijer harder about, but at this point it feels like something I have to put up with just so I have somewhere where I can shop in relative peace.

The key word in that last sentence is “relative,” because every month I’m practically guaranteed of having some parent pull their kids away from me as I’m walking in a store, no matter how far away I am from them, because they assume that anyone who isn’t heterosexual and/or cisgender is a dangerous pedophile. This is something I’ve had to deal with in various degrees for the past fifteen years or so, but it used to be something that was fueled silently by the lingering transphobia (and homophobia, since so many people see no difference between sexual orientation and gender identity). Even in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, though, and even with a broader acceptance of transgender people in America than I can ever remember, open and overt transphobia is also stronger than I’ve ever seen.

A lot of what’s going on is simply a shift by the forces that have been opposing non-heterosexuals; with support for same-sex marriage nearly doubling in the past dozen years, and increasing non-heterosexual visibility making it harder for homophobes to portray non-heterosexuals as a dangerous “other,” transgender Americans are an obvious target for these people because despite the recent successes of Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner in increasing visibility and acceptance of transgender people, there isn’t the history of widely-reaching transgender advocacy that there is for the gay and lesbian community. This is, in part, due to the community pushing aside minorities within the community — not just transgender people, but bisexuals and pansexuals and others — to appear more “marketable” to the broader American public, something that is still going on to a lesser extent, but it’s a historical reality that we now need to make up for by working harder in the present to push for inclusion of all LGBT* people.

It’s one thing, however, for transgender Americans to have to deal with the lingering homophobia and transphobia in this country. When a national political figure like Mike Huckabee is making national news saying that you are a threat to America’s children, though, this is something that has an immediate effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of transgender Americans. (Don’t even get me started on the Duggar family.) When political groups air commercials that portray all transgender people as pedophiles trying to get into the “wrong” bathroom to molest little kids, that’s something that can turn a routine shopping trip into a dangerous, even terrifying, experience. With right-wing media pushing these stories harder than ever, it’s nearly impossible to go out in public as a transgender American and not be afraid for your life.

If the recent fight over same-sex marriage has taught us anything, it is that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was right when he said that the moral arc of the universe is long, but that it bends towards justice. The Onion got it right when they said that the Supreme Court justices who voted against same-sex marriage will eventually be the villains of an Academy Award-winning movie. For too many transgender Americans, who are already disproportionately the targets of assault and murder, this new tide of transphobic rhetoric, especially as it’s bolstered by increased right-wing paranoia about America and President Obama, is bone-chilling.

As many have pointed out after the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, this is a dangerous time for complacency to set in within the LGBT* community. There are still too many battles to be fought, from employment and housing protections to defeating all the odious “bathroom bills” popping up in states across the country. Although working legislatively may be a necessity when it comes to effecting long-term change, there is still a lot that can be done, and needs to be done, in the here and now to make things better for transgender people. Crafting and proclaiming a strong counter-narrative to all the transphobic rhetoric being bandied about right now by right-wing America, and standing up when transgender people are attacked in ways both large and small, are just two small steps that need to be taken immediately, before this new wave of transphobia has the opportunity to take root in America. This is one of those times, much like when some of us fought for same-sex marriage when it was still wildly unpopular in America, when we have to push America faster along that moral arc, so more Americans can get true equality and justice before they become the victims of another American hate movement.

‘Hillary Unity’ My P****

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Bernie Sanders Is Already Making It More Likely Republicans Win The White House In 2016 (forwardprogressives.org)

I’ve never had a harder time dealing with the run-up to a presidential election than in 2004. Not only was I completely disgusted with how the Bush Administration had lied the country into war, to say nothing about the PATRIOT Act and socially conservative legislation that made my skin crawl, but I was also having a hard time dealing with my Democratic friends who constantly exerted pressure on me to vote for John Kerry, even though I could barely stand him more than I could Dubya. This was the first election after the 2000 “Ralph Nader spoiled Al Gore’s victory” fustercluck, and those voices in the Democratic party were never as loud as they were that year. It probably isn’t a wonder that I lost a lot of friends by the time 2005 rolled around (and, surprise surprise, we were stuck with Dubya for another four years anyway).

Although I’ve been a member of the Green Party since I first registered to vote, I do not always vote for Green Party candidates; I have always voted for whichever candidate I believe to be best qualified for the job they’re seeking. Sometimes this has meant voting for Socialists, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or even (admittedly not that often) Republicans. Looking at the field of 2004 Democratic presidential candidates, there were three I thought I might conceivably vote for over either the eventual Green Party candidate (David Cobb) or Ralph Nader’s independent campaign: Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Senator Carol Moseley-Braun, and the Reverend Al Sharpton. These were the three most liberal of the presidential candidates, and perhaps not surprisingly, they wound up being the three who got next to no coverage from mainstream media. Instead, we were force-fed the idea that Howard Dean, someone with a lifetime “A” rating from the NRA and a huge believer in balancing budgets no matter the human cost involved, was a liberal. (It didn’t help that this was the first presidential election after the tragic death of Paul Wellstone, arguably the most high-profile real liberal in Washington.)

Instead of acknowledging the thousand self-inflicted cuts that sunk what should have been a relatively easy victory for Al Gore in 2000 — not competing in New Hampshire, pulling out of Ohio far too soon, not hitting back on ridiculously absurd press characterizations — Democrats in 2004 instead decided that they needed to squash every vestige of liberalism from the party, as well as any alternatives said liberals might have, like the Green Party. (This after the Democratic Leadership Conference, the home of the “Democrats will only win if they act like Republicans” mindset that gave us the Clintons and the Gores and Andrew Cuomo and Anthony Weiner and Rahm Emmanuel and all their ilk, had completed the work of the first President Bush and Roger Ailes in making “liberal” a dirty word in America.) Things got so bad here in Ohio that after making sure Ralph Nader wouldn’t get a spot on the ballot here in 2004, Democrats actually waged a campaign (and succeeded) to make sure that Nader’s write-in votes wouldn’t even be tallied. If that energy had been spent converting just 60,000 of the 2.86 million Ohioans who voted for Dubya into Kerry voters, then John Kerry would have won Ohio and George W. Bush would have been a one-term president. Still, everything bad that has beset the Democratic party since 2000 has all been Ralph Nader’s fault, right?

To his credit, Barack Obama dialed down Democrats’ pathological opposition to the Green Party in his two elections, still managing to win both of them by fairly comfortable margins. In that first Obama election in 2008, though, after squeaking out a Democratic primary victory over Hillary Clinton, many Clinton supporters — the same people who were doing everything in their power to consolidate everyone to the left of Joe Lieberman into one unhappy and decidedly unliberal party — made quite a show of saying that they would not be similarly kowtowed into voting for Obama in November. They even came up with a nickname for themselves, PUMAs, with PUMA being an acronym for “Party Unity My Ass.” Although they were brazenly hypocritical, I have to give them credit for at least injecting some much-needed profanity into the normally staid and soporific political news coverage here in America.

From the moment Hillary Clinton first officially announced she was running for president in 2016, though, I’ve been getting hit with blog post after blog post, and article after article, about how now everyone who doesn’t want the world to become a dystopic Republican hellhole needs to just shut up and vote for Hillary and not even entertain thoughts of anyone more liberal than Hillary running for president. We’re still more than seven months away from the first primary, let alone the general election, and I’m already getting deluged with this stuff. What was that you were saying about “party unity,” again?

It’s not a coincidence that the logo for Hillary Clinton’s current campaign prominently features an arrow pointing to the right, because she will almost certainly govern in a more conservative fashion than we’ve had to endure under Barack “talk like a liberal but govern like an impotent centrist” Obama. Hillary could easily lead us into more disastrous wars just as easily as whoever gets the Republican nomination, and just because she’s come around on same-sex marriage and the Iraq War doesn’t change the fact that she’s still a conservative southern Democrat in the same mold as her husband, under whom we got the banking deregulations that led to the 2008 financial collapse, dismantling of key parts of the social safety net, and the expansion of the laws responsible for the growing police state here in America. If I am going to continue living in this country — a prospect that becomes more and more untenable for me every day — then I need to see a massive leftward shift in our politics as quickly as possible, and that is simply not going to happen under Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I’m lucky enough to live in a state where the Green Party has a guaranteed ballot line for 2016, so barring the party going off the deep end sometime in the next year (and our rejection of Roseanne Barr’s campaign in 2012 shows that we have much more good sense than the two major parties), I’ll have at least one candidate I can vote for above Hillary. A lot of my fellow liberals and progressives don’t have that luxury, though, and I know a lot of my friends who will end up voting for Hillary in 2016 anyway would still prefer for a more liberal Democrat to get the nomination over her.

That is why, in the spirit of the PUMAs of 2008, I’m proposing those of us who will not be bowed by the pro-Hillary pressure in the Democratic party and mainstream media should unite to voice that our votes are not to be taken for granted. Just like the PUMAs, I’ve come up with a catchy acronym to identify us: HUMPs, with HUMP being short for “Hillary Unity My P****.” You’ll have to fill in the last word with your p-word of choice (You down with O.P.P.? Yeah, you know me!), or I suppose you could just use “posterior” if you’re that pusillanimous, although you’re likely already getting behind Hillary if you feel that way. Still, we will all benefit by voicing our displeasure for Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate now, and I encourage you to find your fellow HUMPs by going to the nearest public gathering right now and yelling out “WHERE MY HUMPS AT?” I’m sure it’ll catch on in no time at all.

Hillary Clinton is not the inevitable Democratic candidate, and she doesn’t automatically deserve anyone’s vote simply for being pro-choice or whatever. No one who cares deeply about liberal and progressive causes should have to suffer through four or eight more years of this country being pulled further to the right under either a Democratic or a Republican president. We deserve better than Hillary Clinton, America deserves better than Hillary Clinton, and the world deserves better than Hillary Clinton. It’s up to us to make that happen, and we can’t afford to be silenced now.

Is ‘Whatever’ Enough?

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Gay Marriage Arguments Divide Supreme Court Justices (New York Times)
9 questions about gender identity and being transgender you were too embarrassed to ask (vox.com)
‘We just need to pee’ transgender protest (bbc.com)
‘Killed myself. Sorry.': Transgender game developer jumps off bridge after online abuse (Washington Post)

Part of the problem of being such a loner is that I haven’t had much of a social support network when I’ve come to huge realizations about myself, including my sexual orientation and gender identity. Even when I’ve been around people who could help me, and who even offered their help, I haven’t always taken advantage of those opportunities, in part because of fear of being rejected (even by people I know would never reject me). As much as all non-cisgender and non-heterosexual people are often lumped under convenient labels or acronyms, there’s a wide panoply of people represented by those terms, and they haven’t always gotten along. In the 1990s, when there was an uptick in acceptance of gay and lesbian people among the American population, there was huge pressure within the community to not “look gay” or “act gay,” the idea that the only way to keep gaining acceptance was to appear and behave like “normal” straight Americans. That started to diminish in the 2000s, but transgender people were still treated like the red-headed stepchildren of the community by many, under the umbrella but not fully accepted because they weren’t photogenic enough and were so “weird” that many worried that pushing for the rights of transgender people would hinder the advancement of non-heterosexuals.

Even today, a lot of misconceptions about non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people still persist, from the notion that all gay people want sex change operations (because penis-and-vagina sex is apparently the only “real” sex), to the idea that anyone who violates gender and/or sexuality norms in any way must want to violate them in every way, and therefore they are all dangerous, predatory pedophiles. Some of these still persist within the community itself, such as the idea that bisexuals who are dating someone of the opposite sex somehow magically become heterosexual, or that bisexuality doesn’t even exist. Things have gotten even more complicated in recent years with the increased visibility of groups previously unknown to even many people within the community; it can be difficult even for those of us who inhabit those spaces to keep up with it all.

Looking back at the past few decades, it’s easy to find pivotal moments in the growing acceptance of non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people: Celebrities “coming out of the closet” in the 1980s, Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, television shows like Will and Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, the rise of Laverne Cox. It’s also easy to find broader societal trends, such as increased acceptability leading to more people coming out, and their friends and family members realizing that these people, regardless of their orientations and identities, are still just that: People.

What’s not so easy to explain is how American support for same-sex marriage went from around 30% a generation ago to 61% today. Huge shifts in public opinion like that are extremely rare, and they’re hard to pinpoint because they don’t occur in a vacuum free from other issues and concerns. Yes, increased recognition of the humanity of non-heterosexual people has a lot to do with it — basic arguments like hospital visitation rights and wills — but I’m not so sure that the “battle for people’s hearts” was necessarily won so much as it was forfeited.

Having been a part of the community for so long, a community leader at times, and an advocate for these issues since my first realizations so long ago, it can be difficult for me to gain a proper sense of perspective of the world as a whole. It probably hasn’t helped that I’ve been deeply entrenched in higher education in some form or another for nearly fourteen years now, and while I’ve seen wide cross-sections of people in that time, and seen how attitudes have changed over the years among people of the same age group, academia is a far different beast from the American population as a whole. Still, having listened to so many students’ feelings on these issues, and looking at broader societal trends, I do have a hypothesis to put out.

The sea change appears to have started a couple of years after the huge uproar against Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage. The Republican Party was able to mobilize that outrage in the 2004 election, using state ballot initiatives to put anti-same-sex marriage in their state constitutions to drive their voters to the polls, not just to pass these initiatives but also to keep both the presidency and both houses of Congress in Republican hands. Although Democrats took back control of both the House and the Senate in the 2006 midterm elections, that was less about Democratic momentum and popular support than it was a rising backlash against President Bush and the Republican Party, for a host of issues ranging from Terry Schiavo to the botched Hurricane Katrina response to the war in Iraq. It wasn’t really until 2008, when things got even worse for Republicans and the Democratic Party was mobilized for a historic presidential campaign with an inspirational leader, that there was really a pro-Democratic Party atmosphere in America.

Maybe that campaign cycle had something to do with it, but it was still relatively rare for Democrats to publicly avow support for same-sex marriage back in 2008; President Obama himself campaigned on civil unions, and had previously voiced opposition to same-sex marriage (although he’d supported it before he became a nationally-known figure, but you can read David Axelrod telling that story on your own). In between those two elections, though, there was another huge event: The near-collapse of the world economy that triggered a long recession. Despite all the numbers and news stories coming out of Washington, a lot of people live in neighbourhoods that feel like they haven’t really recovered from the 2008 collapse, if they’d even recovered from the 2001 recession before then. With so many people having to work fifty or sixty hours a week just to keep roofs over their heads, any issues that don’t directly affect their ability to provide for themselves, from environmental concerns to what their neighbours  do in the privacy of their own homes. It’s hard to care about a rainforest thousands of miles away, or whether or not your neighbour is gay, when you’re worried about getting an eviction notice.

It was around that time that there appeared to be a huge increase in the percentage of people who were okay with non-heterosexual people in general (although perhaps limiting the definition to homosexuals and bisexuals may be more accurate here), and same-sex marriage in particular. Unlike before, though, this wasn’t what I would call an active acceptance, where people consciously affirmed, “Yes, you may ‘love differently’ or express yourself differently, but I still recognize you as being as much of a human being as anyone else, entitled to the same rights I have.” Instead, it felt more like this new wave of acceptance took the form of, “Eh, whatever, do what you want as long as you don’t come on to me.”

Is that really victory, though? On a purely functional level I suppose it is, as can be measured through polls and such. That kind of acceptance doesn’t touch on the underlying problems non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people face, though, from structural oppression (in 29 states you can be fired by private employers for not being heterosexual and/or cisgender) to societal pressures (leading to higher suicide rates by non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people, especially among youth). The struggles of African-Americans are embedded in our collective conscious and unconscious through a well-documented and well-discussed history, from slavery to the Civil War, to Jim Crow and the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, to the protests against police killings being broadcast on my television as I type this very sentence. The struggles of American women are similarly documented and discussed. That history just isn’t there for non-heterosexual and non-cisgender Americans; remember that homosexuality was considered a mental illness here until the 1970s, and same-sex sexual activity was still illegal in some states as late as 2003.

As we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on whether or not same-sex marriage will be made legal nationwide, the distinction between passive and active acceptance becomes even more important. As welcome as a ruling making same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states will be, you can’t change people’s hearts through law. You can change people’s actions through law, and this is very important, especially as attacks by intolerant people diversify, from the “religious freedom” bills of recent vintage, to the fearmongering over trans people using public restrooms, to backlash against non-traditional pronouns, to even organized campaigns to push trans people into committing suicide, to say nothing of the physical violence that continues just as it always has. Having same-sex marriage legalized across America will be a laudable milestone, but it will do little, if anything, to address any of those issues.

Battling for people’s hearts is incredibly more difficult than trying to win legal protections, and there will always be a substantial portion of the American public that will flat-out hate non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people regardless of what anyone says or does. Without people’s hearts, though, the societal and moral framework backing up these legal victories is nowhere near as substantial as it could be. If more was being done to turn people’s passive acceptance of non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people into active acceptance, if more was being done to contextualize our present-day struggles in the same way that the struggles of African-Americans and women and other minorities have a widely-known history to frame them in, then maybe we will see appreciable drops in things like violence and suicide rates, and politicians who would try to make their constituents afraid of “the gay” will think twice about using such despicable tactics. It may be a much harder fight, but it’s one that could yield rewards even bigger than marriage equality. Even if it stops just one hate crime or prevents one suicide, it will be a worthwhile struggle. It’s something to think about as we wait for that Supreme Court ruling, anyway.

Legalizing Discrimination

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Backlash builds over Indiana’s religious freedom law (cbsnews.com)
Religious Freedom Firestorm: Arkansas House Approves Bill Similar to Indiana’s (nbcnews.com)

Ever since the first major fight over a “religious liberty” bill in Arizona just over a year ago, I’ve been keeping a very close eye on this topic. (Ohio was considering a similar measure to Arizona’s at around the same time, but pulled it when Arizona’s bill triggered a national firestorm.) I had hoped that last year’s controversy would stop all similar ideas dead in their tracks, but after Republicans had such a strong performance in the 2014 midterms, there really was no telling what crazy things Republicans from coast to coast would do, from suggesting a law that all Americans be required to attend church weekly (“the church of their choice” but it has to be on Sunday, natch) to blocking a bill by fourth graders to name an official state raptor in New Hampshire because of abortion. Perhaps, like the post-2010 Republican fuckery that has left Wisconsin and Michigan all but dead, we should have expected “religious liberty” bills to be back on the docket.

Although this issue has been going on for a while now, particularly in pharmacies (where some pharmacists over the years have refused to fill prescriptions for birth control pills and the like because of their religious beliefs), it’s picked up in recent years as more and more states have legalized same-sex marriages. It’s usually companies that handle weddings — photographers, bakers and the like — that are at the forefront of these debates, because of the owners’ beliefs about same-sex marriage and how those should be allowed to affect how they conduct their business. In a vacuum, this could lead to a very interesting debate about the interaction between markets and governments.

Unfortunately we don’t live in a vacuum, but in a country that is rapidly being driven to the depths of stupidity by the most despicable of right-wing misanthropes. Last year’s Supreme Court ruling that corporations could line-item veto laws that conflicted with the corporations’ “religious beliefs” advanced the ludicrous idea of “corporate personhood” even further. Allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns, under the grotesquely insane ideas that “corporations are people” and “money is speech,” may well lead to the effectual eradication of American democracy within a generation. Saying that companies can now have religious beliefs, and act on them, defies reason, and so I believe it’s in the government’s best interest to proactively assert the rights of individual citizens against discrimination at the hands of corporations, particularly in an age where corporations are granted more and more powers (and yet simultaneously relieved of more and more responsibilities).

When it comes down to it, all these “religious freedom” or “religious liberty” bills are designed to do is throw cover on people discriminating against those they don’t like under the guise of corporate rights. As usual when talking about these things, the only religion these people want to receive “freedom” or “liberty” is their perverted notion of Christianity; if a Muslim-run business were, for whatever reason, to use one of these laws to refuse service to Christian customers, right-wing media would be in breathless coverage of this “domestic terrorism” for weeks. (Remember, if you’re white and you crash a plane and kill 150 people, you’re just a person with mental issues who committed suicide.) Let’s not kid ourselves that this is anything more than an attempt to legalize abhorrent behaviours by a cadre of religious right-wingers.

Those of us on the left all too often get mislabeled by our opponents as “thought police” or some similar term. To be clear, what goes on in your head, and in your heart, is your business and yours alone. If you want to hate someone because of their sexual orientation, or their gender identity, or the colour of the skin, or their religion, or just what sports teams they like, that is up to you. Personally, I don’t think that’s a very good or constructive way to go about your life, but that’s just my opinion and you’re perfectly entitled to think I’m completely full of crap. If you don’t want to respect anyone, for whatever reason, that is entirely up to you.

Here’s the thing, though: There is a world of difference between respecting someone on one hand, and treating them with respect on the other. You may not like someone walking down the street opposite you for any reason, but that’s doesn’t entitle you to go and punch them in the face. If we were to allow something like that, society as we know it would almost instantaneously disappear, replaced with a kill-or-be-killed anarchy that might make for a good premise for a dystopian young adult novel, but in reality would be hell on earth. People you don’t like still have the same right to live in as much safety and security as you do, and without that bedrock concept underlying the most basic of social interactions, there would be no society. Period.

This is why our governments have laws enforcing these most basic of human interactions, and why we generally don’t try to repeal these laws through our legislative avenues. (Not that some don’t try, though, like that guy in California who’s trying to make it legal for Californians to kill homosexuals just for being homosexual.) As fewer and fewer Americans ascribe to the old tropes of non-heterosexuals and non-cisgender people being dangerous sexual predators and what have you, it’s clear that attempts to use the government to discriminate against those people are bound to fail. With the Supreme Court apparently likely to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide later this year, cultural conservatives are already trying to stir up new fights that they think they have a better chance of winning, whether it’s working to legislate against homosexuality in other countries or trying to pass discriminatory laws about transgender people’s bathroom use.

The other tactic conservatives are trying to use to this end is a familiar one of theirs: Building up corporate “rights” to the point to render elected government essentially ineffectual. It’s no surprise that when Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence was grilled by George Stephanopoulos on This Week about the real purpose of the legislation, the results were almost identical to Rachel Maddow’s legendary skewering of Rand Paul on his opposition to the Civil Rights Act. Both Pence and Paul knew they’d sound like complete assholes if they actually tried to defend their positions, so they went to such tortured lengths to dodge basic questions that they came off as both assholes and fools. In both cases, the conservatives fell back on the tired defence of how they, personally, would not patronize any business that discriminated against people, but that they don’t think it’s the government’s role to tell business what to do. This goes back on that old “humanitarian libertarianism” idea that discrimination in the market creates opportunities for other businesses to serve those being discriminated against, but that assumes that there isn’t a strong cultural and governmental effort to create and maintain a permanent underclass of people, and everything from laws to prevent private citizens from feeding homeless people to the raft of legislation coast-to-coast to stop minorities from voting shows that conservatives are actively maintaining this underclass, even if it hurts the market by removing actors from it, just because they can make more money by maintaining their old bogeymen (African-Americans, homosexuals and so on) to scare people with through their media networks.

This right-wing pablum that businesses will do what is best for everyone “out of the goodness of their hearts” is a flat-out lie because companies are not people. They don’t have hearts, or consciences, or anything else that human beings have. In an atmosphere as morally toxic as America’s, where thirty-five years of Reaganism has inculcated this idea that one person’s ability to make a profit on something overrules any other ideas of fairness or equality or basic human decency, this means that a shocking percentage of Americans will defend any company’s right to do whatever they want, no matter how it hurts, or even kills, other Americans, to say nothing of the environment or other concerns. Without a correcting force to stop the excesses of the capitalist market, we’re going to wind up in a scenario little better than the anarchy described above.

Government is supposed to be that correcting force, the people who make sure that bad companies, like bad people, don’t hurt other people. You don’t even have to choose between a strong business sector and a strong government, because it can be possible for both to exist. Where the ideal balance between the two is can be a tricky idea to figure out, but if corporations are already allowed to spend limitless amounts of money to elect politicians into office who will let them run roughshod over the country (and the world), then doesn’t the government need a corresponding power to reign in corporations and make sure they don’t effectively supplant democratic government?

Unless these “religious freedom” bills get flushed down the toilet, we’re destined to regress back to the years of “Whites Only” signs in business windows, except now they’ll say “Straights Only.” Sixty years ago we knew that wasn’t right, and we know it’s not right today. The only people looking to pass these laws are people who want the government to wink and turn a blind eye to their own discrimination and other abhorrent behaviours. If we’re going to turn back the clock on that basic idea, how much further will conservatives try to go to undo civil rights or even more?

I’m Afraid of Americans

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Obama takes fire for Crusades comparison (CNN.com)
Reaction to ISIS mirrors the run up to Iraq war (All In with Chris Hayes)
Scott Walker loses his mind: What’s behind his delusional ISIS-unions comparison (Salon.com)

A few weeks ago I came down with a horrible, horrible stomach flu, making me as sick as I can recall being in at least seven years. I passed one night in utter and complete pain, lying on my bed and trying not to move for fear of making things worse, even as I felt like I might throw up at any minute. It’s only now, that I’m really feeling like myself again and getting back to my normal eating habits (which aren’t that great to begin with, I grant you). I can’t remember if I’d ever had stomach flu before in my life, but if I have, I’ve certainly never had it as bad as I did earlier this month.

It was right at the start of that stomach flu that I passed a mostly sleepless night, in too much pain and too feverish to do much of anything. In the hope of distracting myself, I turned my television on at a low volume, to give my mind something to focus on besides the pain I was feeling while I tried to catch at least a little sleep. I happened to be on MSNBC at the time, and I wound up waking up in the middle of Morning Joe. I’m a night owl, so even if I had any interest in catching that wretched show (Mika Brzezinski still owes the furry community an apology for laughing in the face of the chlorine attack at Midwest FurFest last December), it’s not exactly something that’s easy to fit in my schedule.

This was right after the annual National Prayer Breakfast, which is still generating headlines because of President Obama’s speech in which he spoke of the Crusades and other past atrocities that have been carried out in the name of Christianity, pointing out that those actions are no more representative of Christianity than the recent atrocities committed by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are representative of Islam. Conservative media has been hammering on this comparison for weeks now, regurgitating it through their outrage machine to use as “proof” that Obama “hates America” or “hates Christianity” or isn’t taking the threat posed by the Islamic State seriously. That morning, as I was half-asleep and still feverish, I heard Joe Scarborough and his sycophants trot out one of the common lines of arguments conservatives have been using, that it’s absurd to compare the centuries-old Crusades to the modern acts of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Even in my barely-conscious state, though, I was able to remember Obama pointing out how Christianity had been used to justify more recent atrocities in America like slavery and Jim Crow laws. I probably would have been upset if I weren’t so desperately trying not to do anything that might make me throw up.

If the examples Obama gave still aren’t recent enough, how about 2009? That was the year Kansas doctor George Tiller was assassinated for performing abortions by Scott Roeder, who claimed he was obeying “God’s law” when he killed Tiller, following a barrage of right-wing media attacks on the doctor they repeatedly called “Tiller the baby killer.” (Let’s not forget the religiously-fueled physical attacks on abortion providers in America throughout the 1990s.) That’s also the same year that just an hour north of my house, at Henry Ford Community College, student Anthony Powell shot and killed fellow student Asia McGowan, before turning the gun on himself, evidently because he believed himself to be a “true Christian” and he felt he needed to cleanse the world of atheists and other people who weren’t up to his religious standards. If that’s still not recent enough, how about last October? It completely failed to make national news, but Isaiah Marin murdered and nearly decapitated an acquaintance he believed was practicing witchcraft. (Maybe it would have made news if he’d filmed the decapitation and posted the video online.)

In none of these cases were there national rallies against “radicalized Christianity” or politicians tripping over themselves to scare us silly about the dangers posed to America by “fundamentalist Christian zealots,” and there’s a very good reason for this: No reasonable person would ever consider any of those horrors to be representative of Christians or Christianity. Somehow, though, when the fraction of a percent of the 1.6 billion Muslims on this planet start killing people and doing other horrible things, we’re expected to believe that they are emblematic of all Muslims, and that “extreme Islam” is the greatest threat to the world since Hitler or Stalin or Janet Jackson’s nipple.

The use of fear in right-wing media is hardly new, and they’ve made no bones about running it on constant overdrive since 2001. What doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should is that creating fear — especially when production is maintained at a fever pitch for years, against deliberately broad and often nebulous targets — is that the fear too often spills over into violent reactions. It’s not like we don’t have immediate and current evidence of this, given the rash of violence against Muslims and mosques in France after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Even though Muslim leaders vehemently condemned the attacks immediately after they occurred, they and their followers still became targets of the fear-fueled mobs that always spring up when these attacks happen.

Hardly any news networks (at least in the United States) bothered to even mention the anti-Muslim violence that spread across France after the Charlie Hebdo attack, though, and too often attacks both small and large are just ignored by the media (unless right-wing media decides to celebrate them). The chlorine attack at a furry convention I mentioned earlier just fell out of the news the days after it happened, except to use as a punch line. If someone tried a similar attack at this weekend’s conservative CPAC conference, it would be in the news for weeks easily, maybe months, and right-wing media would be breathless trying to connect any and all kind of liberalism with terrorism. (Given Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently said his experience fighting unions makes him qualified to fight the Islamic State, we may already be there.)

When attacks against GLBT people happen in this country — remember, another transwoman here in Toledo was just brutally attacked a couple of months ago, and then earlier this month a transwoman in Akron was murdered by her father who claimed she was “in a cult” — no one says anything about the violent rhetoric of homophobes and transphobes who try to claim that anyone who deviates from heterosexuality and cisgenderism is not just morally repugnant but also a threat to society as a whole. Hardly anyone calls this “terrorist rhetoric,” even as it claims more and more victims. If the goal of terrorism is to make people you don’t like fearful, you know what? I, and a lot of other GLBT people, and liberals, and non-Christians, are afraid.

The reality is, for me and for millions of other Americans, that we are far more likely to be persecuted, or assaulted, or murdered, because of the words of right-wing ideologues than we are by anything the Islamic State will do any time soon. The Islamic State poses a genuine security risk to America and the rest of the world, and it should be taken with the utmost seriousness, but for too many of us we’re more likely to be attacked by someone acting in what they believe is the name of Christ than by someone acting in what they believe is the name of Mohammed. We may be safer in Middle America than we’d be in Mosul, but we are still in very serious danger, a danger that gets worse as right-wing media continues to stoke life-or-death fears in its audience of anyone who isn’t Christian enough, or conservative enough, or white enough, or straight enough.

The problem is not someone believing in “the wrong God” or anything like that; the problem is extremism, and extremism knows no boundaries of religion, or politics, or race, or gender, or sexuality, or gender identity. As long as we continue to soothe ourselves with the lie that extremism is just a problem of “the other people,” as long as we remain willingly blind to the reprehensible violence committed by people who, even if only in their own delusions, claim any kind of kinship with us, then extremism will just keep fueling more extremism. If you cannot condemn attacks against GLBT people as readily and vociferously as you condemn attacks against Christians, then you are only adding to the ignorance and hate that underlies all these attacks. All of them.