If the last 10 years give any indication of how the next ten years will unfold, I predict there will be strong and brutal opposition to the advancement of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ people.
By Angelika Arutyunova*
Let’s make something straight from the start of this opinion piece: This will be a very queer perspective. Now that we have gotten the only straight thing out of the way, let’s dive in. I believe in the radical ideas that LGBTQIA+ people are people and deserve the right to life, acceptance, and existence without fear of hate and violence. I believe that all policies and agendas must include and not discriminate against anyone based on their gender, sex characteristics, or sexual identity. I believe that inclusion needs to be beyond ‘a place at the table or on a panel’ — a check box to ensure that queer, trans, gender nonconforming and intersex folk are represented. Inclusion without equity and true representation across all the power structures is tokenism.
Now, let’s talk about the implications of the LGBTQIA+ debates on the next decade. Let’s start from laying out key points from both sides of the debate.
There are multiple arguments, we should focus on four key points that separate the two sides. Anti-gender and anti-LGBTQIA+ ideology and positions believe that LGBTQIA+ are:
• Against traditional family values
• Damaging for and corrupting children’s development and lives
• Western import — against ‘our’ culture
Protecting traditional family values: Traditional family values in this context are defined by a family unit consisting of a man, a woman and the children that derive from that union. Such a definition of traditional family values is advocated by countries with different political, economic and religious backgrounds from the Vatican to Russia and from Saudi Arabia to Uganda. An argument of cultural relativity is presented to protect traditional family values in the countries that want to preserve these long-held traditions that are being attacked by modernity. Our societies have functioned and thrived for centuries with the traditional family structures and disturbing that by accepting or embracing LGBT people’s existence with their ‘lifestyles’ and family structures will damage the very core of what makes our societies whole.
Religion: All of the world’s religions in their original texts consider homosexuality a sin. Arguing against this fundamental baseline of all the world’s religions is going against history, traditions and moral values that holds our societies together. Countries that normally would not have anything in common have been coming together because of this religious grounding to protect the integrity and moral values of their citizens.
Damaging for and corrupting children’s development and lives: Given such a drastic departure from traditional family values and the world’s religions, raising children in LGBTQIA+ families without a unit of a mother and a father is deeply damaging for their development, will confuse them and not allow them to understand the different roles that women and men play in societies and how family units are a reflection of society at large. There are at least two often cited studies showing children of same-sex parents fare worse than children raised in heterosexual homes. Those studies found that kids with gay and lesbian parents had higher rates of emotional problems and attention deficit disorders. Furthermore, having LGBTQIA+ families and LGBTQIA+ lifestyles accepted in society at large will corrupt all children. There has long been an association of LGBTQIA+ people as sexual predators drawing on very deep-seated fears that have been rallying people around the idea of protecting vulnerable children from harm.
Western import — “against our culture”: The most common rejection of LGBTQIA+ communities and populations around the world has been attached to desire to dissociate and push back anything coming from the West. The rise of nationalist and populist movements around the world is a clear desire of nation states to be their own agents without the influence of the West. LGBTQIA+ and gender ideology were born in the West, in the US and Europe in particular, and are aggressively trying to infiltrate into other more traditional societies where these notions and ideas are not native. Pride Parades, marriage equality demands, adoption of children by LGBTQIA+ people are all Western exports — and so are LGBTQIA+ identities and expressions themselves.
Now, let’s give the floor to fabulously dressed proponents of LGBTQIA+ people rebutting the arguments from the anti-gay position and offering additional argumentations:
Traditional family values: With all due respect to traditions, they are not static — they change, they evolve. If we talk about traditional family values, the notion of the traditional family in the 21st century looks very different from a traditional family centuries before. In the US, for example, less than one-fifth of families fit the “nuclear family” model of two married parents of opposite sex and their minor children. The marriage rate is decreasing by the year. The rate of children living in single-parent households is increasing, as is the number of families living in multigenerational households. There are many traditions that have changed in the past 50 plus years — take the rise in girls’ education, the abolition of child labour and stoning, and so many others ‘traditional’ practices that no longer have a place in modern society. Why are certain traditions so precious to hold on to? Why does expanding our societies’ to include LGBTQIA+ people’s experiences invoke such a moral panic? When “traditional values” are invoked, it is through a very selective reading of histories and national mythologies, without the nuance, messiness and contradictions. And here is why we think that’s the case. LGBTQIA+ issues, along with gender and a few other issues, are used as a wedge for the conservative right to build political and economic power. It is not about morality, it is about power, which comes by creating an enemy — internal or external — and promising people that they will be protected from that enemy.
Religion: LGBTQIA+ rights being anti-religion is becoming a harder and harder argument to hold. A number of denominations currently bless same-sex relationships, including Reform Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the United Church of Christ, and the Metropolitan Community Churches. Some congregations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), some Episcopal churches, and some Baptist churches also bless these unions. Even Pope Francis, who once strongly opposed same-sex marriage and the same-sex marriage bill that Argentina senate debated in 2010, has evolved his position in the last decade to now calling the Catholic Church to welcome and love all people regardless of sexual orientation. The most recent evolution of Pope Francis is in his support for same-sex civil unions, “homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family… They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.” If this is not an evolution of old religion and traditions, then we don’t know what is and if that evolution could have happened in 10 years what the next ten can bring?
Damaging for and corrupting children’s development and lives: The previously mentioned research on how growing up in the same-sex families is damaging for children have been debunked. For the most part, though, the bulk of the scientific studies on this topic have shown that the sexual orientation of parents makes no difference in their children’s wellbeing. More importantly, anecdotally let’s highlight several very successful prominent figures in the world who have been raised by same sex parents and show absolutely no psychological or emotional distress, and have been contributing beautifully to our societies. Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Jay-Z, Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, among many others, are part of this group of people. As far as corrupting children in general by exposing them to LGBTQIA+ people, that argument does not hold either. It’s quite the opposite — villainising, ostracising, and criminalising LGBTQIA+ people is damaging for children of any identity. Growing up with hate and othering is damaging for children’s development. It is especially damaging for gender diverse children who are not able to see normalisation and acceptance of people like them. The society that embraces and celebrates — and not ‘other’ — LGBTQIA+ experiences will not turn all children gay. It will show children who are gay and gender diverse that it is okay to be who they are and taht their humanity matters. It will also show straight children that diversity is not scary, that their peers are not their enemies.
Western import — “against our culture”: Being a LGBTQIA+ person is not a Western idea. If anything, decriminalising homosexuality around the world is probably one of the most anti-western, anti-imperialistic, and anti-colonial gestures a country can make. Go no further than India’s 2018 decision to strike down a colonial-era law criminalising homosexuality. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code introduced in 1861 didn’t conform with India’s attitude toward homosexuality, which was tolerant. The same goes for Botswana’s Section 164 of the country’s penal code that banned “unnatural” acts since the late 1800s when the territory was ruled by Britain and called Bechuanaland. It was unanimously overturned in the High Court in 2019. Angola decriminalised homosexuality in 2019 — 133 years after the passage banning same-sex relations was included in the country’s penal code when it was under Portuguese rule. This is repeated across other communities across the African continent. All of these codes and rules were not African, they were all introduced by European colonisers. It was more to do with Christian, white supremacist and colonial belief systems. A new wonderful book Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities reviews materials from 1732 to the present and effectively demolishes the myth of the foreign origins of homosexuality in Africa and instead highlights how much more accepting it was historically.
And here is a conclusion for this debate, from a biased judge. At the core of this debate is a powerful divide in which the world is split between decadent modernity and wholesome tradition. If the last 10 years give any indication of how the next ten years will unfold, I predict there will be strong and brutal opposition to the advancement of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ people.
The rise of the conservative populist governments, ever-increasing economic inequality, more funding flowing into the anti-gender and anti-homosexuality movements in comparison to pro-rights movements are all an indication of strong opposition. At the same time, the gains towards universal rights of all people and overall shifts in societies towards acceptance have been unprecedented in the last 10 years and they will only continue given the strength and dedication of powerful organising and movements. Just take a look at The Global Acceptance Index that ranked 141 countries on their relative level of social acceptance of LGBT people and rights. It reveals that 80 countries (57 percent) experienced increases in acceptance; forty-six countries (33 percent) experienced a decline in acceptance and 15 countries (11 percent) were unchanged.
Instead of arguing which one has the future — modernity or selected tradition — we hope that the next 10 years will bring the convergence of these opposite viewpoints to ensure that all of our societies are rooted in the notion of abundance and not scarcity, because rights are not a zero-sum game. The rights of LGBTQIA+ people do not mean less rights for straight people. LGBTQIA+ people are not a threat to society but are rather an expansion of the fabricated notion of what societies consist of and who they include. As with many other debates, the hope is the focus will be on conversion towards what we as a society want to move towards and away from. It is also understanding that LGBTQIA+ ‘issues’ are not separated from other issues confronting our societies and these issues might be played as a wedge and a smoking gun when there are really bigger interests at play. That brings us to an important question: Who will be the people who are driving these conversations and are leading us towards change? That is for another debate and at the very core of the fear of those who are holding power right now. But for now, I invite all of us who are told to fear and hate ‘the other’ to question if we and our selected notion of morality are being used for the gains of those who are scared to lose their power if we are not oppressed.
Special appreciation to Sarah Gunther for review and invaluable comments to the article.