Republicans are waging a culture war on Black people; queer people; and Black, queer people.
In more recent attacks, Republican state officials are trying to ban anti-racist tenets in schools and legalize discrimination against transgender people, namely trans children. These ploys are designed with a single purpose: to stifle racial justice initiatives and LGBTQ+ equality while mobilizing a demoralized Republican base still reeling from the 2020 election.
As Republican elected officials perpetuate this cynical power grab, their efforts only show a party desperately and opportunistically looking to capitalize on white supremacy and ignorance—again.
With 2021 on track to be the deadliest year ever for transgender people (again), specifically Black trans women, and as the nation continues to reckon with the racial implications of police violence, economic discrimination, and Covid-19 (in addition to the enduring effects of HIV/AIDS), this Republican culture war has continued to attack facts, logic, and reason in ways that negatively impact Black people, LGBTQ+ people, and those with intersectional stigmatized, minoritized identities.
Let’s start with critical race theory.
Over the last few months, Republican lawmakers in 24 states have introduced, and in six states enacted, legislation banning public schools from teaching critical race theory. A foundational argument anchoring critical race theory is that race is a social construct created by white settler colonialists and perpetuated by democratic institutions, including our nation’s legal system. Moreover, (as an intentionally engineered social construct-read tool) racism is not merely a product of individual bias and prejudice.
The ongoing debate about whether educators should be allowed to teach critical race theory speaks to the enduring power and privilege of whiteness. Among other things, critical race theory emphasizes how the concept of race was invented to suppress Black people and our access to equal rights while creating divisions between white and non-white people in the labor market.
Let’s be clear, a few people in extreme positions of power are trying to sweep historical facts about white privilege, slavery, and our nation’s troubling indoctrination of race into the law under the rug. As James Baldwin has reminded us, “who and what we have become as individuals in this country, tethered to a past filled with “niggers” and the white people who so desperately needed them, shapes the substance of our living together as well as the self-understanding of the nation, which in turn shapes our individual identities.” These are immutable facts that will not simply disappear by attempts to legislate white supremacy or to otherwise normalize myths about our virtue or who we believe deserves the promises made by myths surrounding American democracy.
The aforementioned harms aren’t limited to conversations about racial justice and racial equality. These attempts to whitewash history put everyone at a disadvantage — white people, people of color, and queer people alike.
Our history began far before 1619, far before the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the United States. This history includes free, poor, Black, indigenous, and white people working side by side as indentured servants. It also includes homeless Europeans who now call themselves Americans without meaningful resolution with the continent they fled or the country they are still attempting to conquer. The concept of race was created to separate low-income and working-class poor people into categories. Today, low-income white people often think of themselves as white first and marginalized second, if at all. These myths inform recycled stories, shared throughout generations while oversimplifying America’s complex history with racism and white supremacy, leaving the hands of those who continue to perpetuate terrorism and legislate hate feeling absolved of their misdeeds.
By banning critical race theory in schools, Republicans are continuing to tear the fabric of our society apart by promulgating myths designed to divide us all further in the process. From police violence to the impact of COVID-19 on diverse Black communities, and disproportionate rates of economic insecurity and poverty, no one benefits more from our division than those fighting to silence our collective history of oppression.
But the Republican party’s cynical attacks on critical race theory are just one part of an all-encompassing agenda. As we speak, and as the nation begins to recover from the pandemic, wholescale attacks on the LGBTQ+ community are taking place. When examined together, it is clear that Black LBGTQ+/SGL people suffer the most.
At the same time, the Republicans that believe in banning critical race theory have also introduced and supported more than 250 bills in state legislatures targeting LGBTQ+ people. The overwhelming majority of these bills target trans children.
Recently, states have passed bills blocking trans youth from playing on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity and from receiving gender-affirming medical care.
In Montana, Governor Gianforte signed a bill banning updates to birth certificates that align with people’s gender identity. In Tennessee, the legislature passed a series of anti-trans bills that require businesses with public restrooms to post signs that trans people may be using the restroom and other restrictions that disallow trans people from accessing restrooms consistent with their gender identity in schools. We’ve even seen bills that would allow businesses to turn people away if they have any moral or religious objections to someone else’s identity.
Manipulating the law to target trans school children and teens, in particular, is an unconstitutional act of animus. Studies show that 90% of LGBTQ+ youth say that anti-trans political discussions have a negative impact on their mental health, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, and 42% of all LGBTQ+ youth seriously considering attempting suicide in the past year alone.
These harms are amplified in communities of color. Almost one-third, or 31 percent, of Indigenous LGBTQ+ youth reported attempting suicide, followed by 21 percent each of Black and multiracial LGBTQ+/SGL youth, 18 percent of Latino LGBTQ+ youth — all greater than the 12 percent of white, Asian American, and Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ youth.
While supportive laws, family, and peers lower the risk of poor health outcomes for LGBTQ+ people of color, anti-LGBTQ+ state laws inflict tangible harm on sexual and gender minority populations. For example, states with “denial of service” laws that give license to discriminate against LGBTQ+ residents between 2014 and 2016 were linked with a 46% increase in LGBTQ+ mental distress. Black LGBTQ+/SGL youth who reported high levels of support from at least one person, or who had access to an LGBTQ+ affirming space, reported attempting suicide at lower rates than those who lacked such support (16% vs. 24%). These painful figures highlight an indisputable link between discrimination, economic security, mental and physical health.
As pride month comes to a close, we cannot afford to turn back the clock when it comes to discussions about racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, and the importance of intersectionality. This sentiment is critical whether you are at the family dinner table, a queer-friendly bar, in the state legislature, or an elected official in Congress.
Teachers deserve to teach their students about the impacts of racism on this country throughout history and today. Transgender children deserve to play sports with their friends.
While our fight here is just beginning, the irony that discrimination of this caliber is legal in a country that was supposedly formed to escape religious persecution is not lost on anyone. That’s why passing legislation like the Equality Act while overturning and stopping anti-Black and anti LGBTQ+/SGL legislation across states is more important to the supposed mission of the United States than Republicans will ever admit.
David J. Johns is the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, America’s leading national civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer+, and same gender loving (LGBTQ+/SGL) people.