Hillary Clinton said in September 2016, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
She got into considerable trouble for that. In hindsight, she was being kind by saying it was only half.
But let’s not be cute. We are dealing with fascists. They are crowding the headlines. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened Disney Corp. for criticizing his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Sen. Lindsey Graham doubled down on his smears against Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. Ginni Thomas, wife of a Supreme Court justice, was exposed as having conspired to overthrow the government. Trump asked Vladimir Putin for political help again.
“Grooming,” a term related to child sexual abuse, is being weaponized against sexual minorities and their supporters. Increasingly, Trumpists refuse to consider our lives outside the context of pathology, long after the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” was revised to remove the old, false stigmas. Perhaps they are fixated on grooming because they themselves can’t maintain supporter interest without getting their marks drunk on Russian disinformation.
I never needed grooming. I’ve known I was gay since I was five, long before sex had anything to do with it. The future Muhammad Ali was not thinking of me when he said on TV in 1964, before defeating Sonny Liston, “The world’s champ should be pretty like me.” But watching with my father, I was electrified. Ali WAS pretty, and said so boldly.
I met my partner in Cape Town in August 2001. The night our eyes first met across a crowded church fellowship hall, we needed no lessons on what to do. I knew if I didn’t cross that room, I would miss my chance. It was the most joyous night of my life. We are partners still.
DeSantis wants to criminalize our joy. I am old enough to remember what that was like, and I’m not going back.
For years I have sponsored a young gay man living in Nigeria. He reached out to me via social media, not vice versa. He was an orphan. I helped him finish school. He is now in his upper twenties, and cannot live his life openly without risking a long prison sentence. How is that just? How can his government persecute gay and trans people while failing to fight terrorism?
Here’s a question: Do bigoted, bullying politicians and clergy consider their proselytizing to be grooming? Or are there two different standards at work? I’ll let you guess.
Right-wing demagogues want to reverse all the gains of the LGBTQ movement and bring back ignorance, persecution, loneliness, and smothered lives. Who benefits? What devil would promote it? The answer: someone who would do anything for power.
We have, of course, been here before. The generations that preceded this one showed the value of coming out in changing hearts and minds. Knowledge is power. The know-nothings are eager to ban books because they cannot control people who have learned to think for themselves. But those enlightened minds must be translated into votes.
What is it about self-professed champions of liberty who insist that only people who agree with them should be allowed to govern? Conformity is not liberty. Humans are not sheep. Smearing human feces on the walls of the US Capitol is not a tourist visit.
The new civil war is already here. It started not with the firing of a gun but with the firing of synapses in human brains. We are all armed in that respect. The battlefield is all around us. We fight for our rights most effectively by exercising them with purpose, in common cause.
My Nigerian friend has never known the joy of holding a man in his arms. He may have to leave his country before he can love in freedom. That is the cruelty to which people like Gov. DeSantis would condemn future American generations. If we fail to take the looming threat seriously, those generations may not condemn us in the same way they do him, but they will surely mourn our blind, complacent folly.
One could say we are the canaries in the coal mine. But we are not birds in cages. We have the ability to act. We need only the will and the resolve to fight.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist at [email protected]