Our Real Enemies

The Washington Post ran an op-ed on July 13, An International War on LGBT People, by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, that recounts how “while 25 countries and territories now allow gay marriage, 75 nations treat homosexual behavior as a crime. In 10 countries, it is punishable by death—and even where it is not, just being gay is often fatal.”

It’s an old story, as:

authoritarian governments fan hatreds to distract people from their failures and keep themselves in power. The Islamic State kills and tortures gay people—but the virulently anti-Islamist military dictators in Egypt have been persecuting gay men and lesbians as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin… turned to homophobia and “traditional values” to safeguard his grip on the Kremlin. Like dictators from Uganda to Uzbekistan, Putin defends his bigotry as a rampart against permissive “Western values.”

The Wall Street Journal had a similar op-ed on June 26, Love Among the Ruins, by the paper’s associate book review editor Bari Weiss, who took aim at the “moral relativism [that] has become its own, perverse form of nativism among those who stake their identity on being universalist and progressive,” and asked:

How else to understand those who have dedicated their lives to creating safe spaces for transgender people, yet issue no news releases about gender apartheid in an entire region of the world? How else to justify that at the gay-pride celebrations this weekend in Manhattan there is unlikely to be much mention of the gay men recently thrown off buildings in Syria and Iraq, their still-warm bodies desecrated by mobs?

She concluded, “You can’t get married if you’re dead.”

More. Last year, David Boaz noted, in Authoritarian Governments Use Old Smears to Tear Down Their Opponents, that dictators use homophobia as they previously (and often still) used antisemitism, to attack free-market capitalism that is the foundation of classical liberalism (the language gets a bit confusing because he uses “liberal” in its original, limited-government sense, not the way it’s been co-opted by the American left). Boaz wrote:

All of these epithets—homosexual, Jewish, bourgeoisie, and more recently, “American”—have been staples of illiberal rhetoric for centuries. Liberals–advocates of democracy, free speech, religious freedom, and market freedoms—have been tarred as “cosmopolitan” and somehow alien to the people, the Volk, the faithful, the fatherland, the heartland.

Furthermore. Alexander McCobin writes The gay rights battle is not over for libertarians, explaining that “There is both a need and an opportunity to help end state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals across the globe. The US libertarians and LGBT rights movements should be involved in accomplishing such a worthy goal.”


16 Comments for “Our Real Enemies”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Our culture and government’s moral authority with respect to international LGBT rights has been (and continues in many respects to be) similar to our culture and government’s moral authority with respect to international racial/ethnic rights during segregation days. Just as it was difficult/impossible to hold ourselves out as a beacon of liberty when a significant percentage of our citizens were denied equal access to voting and subject to segregation laws, it is difficult to hold ourselves out as a moral authority on gay/lesbian equality when our country is just emerging from a decades-long binge of anti-gay suppression/oppression, and conservative Christians in our country hold sway over one of our two major political parties and active in support of authoritarian governments around the world that use many/most of the tactics that were used in our country, and, as Box Turtle Bulletin and many other sources have documented. Our country has the aura of a reformed smoker or reformed drunk, now claiming moral authority and insisting that eveyone else quit smoking and/or drinking.

    Authoritarian government, as the various writers point out, often props itselt up by exploiting fear and loathing of “out groups” (racial/ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, religious minorities) and government-sanctioned oppression of the “out groups”. It isn’t difficult to find examples, domestic and abroad.

    In our country, almost all of the tactics of authoritarian government have been used to oppress gays and lesbians. Sodomy was criminalized. Police raided our bars and private gatherings. Newspapers and media were used to shame and destroy gays and lesbians caught up in police raids. Gays and lesbians were denied immigration. Security clearances and government employment were denied. Gays and lesbians risked imprisonment by serving in the military. Gays and lesbians were committed to mental institutions. Human rights (free association, privacy, marriage, equal treatment under the lawand so on) were systematically denied and/or suppressed by federal, state and local governments, and special discrimination was sanctioned by government. Free speech was suppressed (ranging from the obscenity cases of the 1950’s and 1960’s) to the “don’t say gay” laws in force today.

    But the “authoritarian government” coin, like all coins, has two sides.

    Authoritarian governments, while actively engaged in suppression/oppression, typically also actively engage in “hands off” policies, failing/refusing to use the power of government, and in particular the police power, to protect gays and lesbians. We see that starkly abroad (witness the many attacks on gays and lesbians during last month’s pride events) but we have seen it in our own country, too, and still, in many areas of the country, still do, because the police power is typically local. Police often do not respond to reports of crimes committed against gays and lesbians, do not make any serious attempt to investigate the crimes or apprehend the perpetrators, do not prosecute the crimes. It is better now than it was when I was young, but to deny that a double standard of providing the bare minimum of protection to gays and lesbians remains in many areas of the country is to deny reality.

    The two — authoritarian government using government power to suppress/oppress racial/ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, religious minorities, on the one hand, and authoritarian government failing/refusing to use government power to protect racial/ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, religious minorities, on the other — go hand in hand, two sides of the same coin.

    In our country, at present, the battle is not over providing basic police protection or basic government services. In theory, anyway, most Americans — including “libertarians” — seem to think that the police should respond to crimes committed against gays, follow up with even-handed investigation, and prosecute the crimes. That’s the “talk”, in any event, however flawed the “walk”. And most Americans — including “libertarians” — seem to think that government officials should provide government services to gays and lesbians, despite personal objection to laws granting those services to gays and lesbians.

    The battle is whether or not the government should go beyond providing basic police protection, that is, whether government power should be used to promote/ensure a level playing field for gays and lesbians — access to medical care, access to housing, employment and public accommodations, and so on.

    The polls suggest that a majority of Americans (about 60%) believe that the government should do so for gays and lesbians, just as the government has done over the last fifty years for racial/ethnic minorities, women and religious minorities.

    Christian conservatives strongly object to any and all such efforts by the government on behalf of gays and lesbians, and, indeed, push for laws that sanction special discrimination against gays and lesbians under the rubric/ruse of protecting “religious freedom”. The conservative Christian effort to promote sanctioned special discrimination is so thinly veiled that it is impossible to not understand it for what it is — having been denied the ability to use government power to discriminate by the courts and changes in the culture over the last fifty years, conservative Christians are now working to ensure that the government sanctions private, defacto discrimination in lieu of government discrmination.

    The “libertarians” seem to agree with conservative Christians on this score, arguing that non-discrimination laws are a misuse of government power, at least in the case of gays and lesbians, although few if any are making the arguement with respect to other protected classes or the citizenry at large. My guess — and it is only a guess — is that “libertarian” reluctance to press the case for repeal of anti-discrimination laws in the case of race/ethnicity, gender, religion and so on is a failure of will — moral cowardice and/or political expediency, if you will — rather than a product of libertarian theory.

    But, as Stephen has pointed out in other posts, “libertarians” and conservative Christians in support of government-sanctioned special discrimination vis as vis gays and lesbians in our country. Conservative Christians and “libertarians” are not joined hip and thigh, though, because “libertarians”, for the most part, are not participatiing with conservative Christians in encouraging/funding anti-gay suppression/oppression efforts in other countries. But the “libertarian” alliance with conservative Christians in this country does call into question the moral authority of “libertarians” to advance gay/lesbian rights in countries that actively suppress/oppress gays and lesbians.

    In that context, I think that it is appropriate to note, as many have of late, that gay/lesbian equality are not a done deal in this country. Significant segments of our culture remain virulently anti-gay, and are determined to continue to keep the culture as anti-gay as possible. Gay and lesbian teens are too often kicked out of conservative Christian homes, and end up homeless. The percentage of homeless gay/lesbian teens remains many times higher than the percentage of homeless straight kids. Suicide rates among gay/lesbian teens and young adults is, like homelessness, a multiple of suicide rates among straight teens and young adults. Gays and lesbians are not protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and other important arenas of life in a majority of states. And so on. We have a lot to do.

    One of the many questions confronting us at this point — and a focus of many posts on IGF — is how far our government, just recently coming off a long binge of authoritatian suppression of gays and lesbians, will now swing in the direction of “hands off”, turning a blind eye to de facto discrimination against gays and lesbians, and/or sanctioning special discrimination by law.

    It is an important question, in and of itself, and it will have significant impact on whether and to what extent this country can, with a straight face, criticize other countries for suppressing/oppressing gays and lesbians. President Obama is set to go to Kenya this month, and it looks like he will address Kenya’s anti-gay laws. Why should anyone in Kenya listen, given our country’s anti-gay history and the active role played by conservative Christians in fostering Kenya’s anti-gay laws?

    Our Real Enemies?” I’m reminded of the Pogo cartoon of years back — “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

    • posted by Jorge on

      Ouch, Tom!

      Fine. Gay activists should remain gay activists. I will happily prune the excesses of my fellows to the ends of the earth, when I think it’s a good idea (today I feel like letting someone else handle it). And those of the Republican party, too.

  2. posted by Wilberforce on

    So now, after Stephen has argued nonstop on behalf of our religious enemies in the US, we’re supposed to ignored their attacks and focus on problems in other countries.
    This is yet another attempt to give American fundamentalists more room to go after us. It’s called diversion and distraction, the same trick used by foreign dictators.
    It still works because the public don’t know history from a hole in the wall and are easily manipulated through their fears and hatreds.

  3. posted by Mark Peterson on

    It’s also worth noting that the Obama administration (however slow it was to embrace marriage) has been far more aggressive than any administration in the past in promoting gay rights as part of its diplomacy. It’s done so over the opposition of many of the anti-gay members of Congress whose religious beliefs in the need for discrimination Stephen consistently defends. See, for example, the comments of the “moderate” New Jersey congressman Chris Smith: http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/news/local/2015/02/04/nj-congressman-gay-rights-civil-rights/22868675/

    Surely a post arguing for a turn toward a foreign policy focus would need to provide some praise of Obama’s gay rights diplomacy, and some criticism of people like Congressman Smith, right?

  4. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    Point 1: This is (sadly) nothing new. The main difference is that the mainstream media is increasingly treating LGBT rights as a “serious” human rights issue worthy of coverage. Throughout much of the 1990s (and earlier) this was generally not the case.

    The anti-gay polices of Communist governments behind the Iron Curtain (during the Cold War) was rarely talked about as say, other human rights issues. Very little was said about the Nazis homophobia or the anti-gay policies of various right-wing regimes that claimed to be the defenders of “free markets”.

    Governments — regardless of what ideology they claim to subscribe to — have often pandered to homophobia/transphobia. Be they located in the Middle East or Latin America or behind the Iron Curtain. What has changed, is that (thankfully) LGBT rights are being looked at as serious human rights issue — at least by much of the mainstream media in developed, democratic nations.

    Point 2: David Boaz tries to make the case that his right-libertarian definition of “free markets” is somehow the answer to the problem. The reality is that much of the early support came from the libertarian left, and much of the post-war support came from (at least, in Europe) more moderately progressive and Social Democratic governments.

  5. posted by Mike in Houston on

    I do think that the LGBT equality movement has the capacity to both walk & chew gum — and as the post Obergefell mopping winds down, more attention can be paid.

    I will note that some of the various sources for Stephen’s other posts about so-called “religious freedom” are also busily engaged in exporting anti-LGBT hate into Eastern Europe, Russia, Africa and anywhere else where there is fertile ground… and the talking points about “Christian Persecution&tm;” seem to quite easily flow back and forth across the Atlantic from NOM, Liberty Counsel, ADF, FRC, to their partners in hate crimes. Franklin Graham has a larger megaphone than Scott Lively or Brian Brown through his church charities.

    Unfortunately when they’re called out on this, the first cry is about being persecuted for their beliefs and 1st Amendment rights — which are dutifully clucked about by homocon apologist bloggers.

    And I can only imagine the “conservative” response to expansion of refugee eligibility for LGBT people (similar to Canada’s policy).

    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      I do think that the LGBT equality movement has the capacity to both walk & chew gum — and as the post Obergefell mopping winds down, more attention can be paid.

      I do, too, but I caution that we are looking forward to at least a decade of resistance to “equal means equal”, and that we have many legislative battles yet to fight. We’ve got to fight off legislative attempts to sanction special discrimination under the rubric/ruse of “religious freedom” and we need to move to include sexual orientation in existing state and federal non-discrimination laws.

      I would like to think that NOM, Liberty Counsel, ADF, FRC, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins, et. al, would fade into the woodwork, but all seem determined to fight on and fight hard, throwing as many roadblocks a possible into the path toward “equal means equal”.

      The good news, if it be that, is that the anti-gay focus of conservative Christians seems to be heading international, following up on their successes in Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Russia, Uganda and other countries in which the have been active, funding and helping promulgate anti-gay legislation.

      But an international focus — holding up countries like Russia as exemplars for the United States — doesn’t translate to dropping the fight in the United States. Quite the contrary.

  6. posted by Lori Heine on

    At this point, homocons (and some libertarians) are serving as dupes and useful idiots. Anti-LGBT animus is indeed being whipped up in other parts of the world, much of it by the same people who are screaming about “religious freedom” here at home.

    The fact is that there are some really cruddy people in this world. Plenty of them right here in the U.S. If they see people making money (crowdfunding, “Christian” book sales, speaking tours, etc) off of the grand crusade for “religious freedom,” then the gold rush is on.

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I would like to know if the “Sweet Cakes” people instigated harassment against that lesbian couple by releasing their personal info publicly. We’ve been informed that they were not FINED for this. That tells us nothing about whether they DID it.

    My personal experience with homophobes, very frankly, is that they are almost without exception nasty, crappy excuses for human beings. I don’t care if it wins me any friends here, with the let’s-bend-over-backwards-to-be-nice folks. That experience has been borne out time after time.

    Enlarging the scope of the religious freedom debate is crucial not simply because it opens a can of worms that makes things more difficult for homophobes, but because people of faith in LGBT-inclusive churches ARE running into a hell of a lot of government-imposed obstacles to practicing our faith. This would indeed be an excellent time–while attention is focused on the subject of religious freedom–for this matter to be addressed.

    Now let’s hear more about Noam Chomsky and “workers’ councils.” Look–another shiny object!

    • posted by Mike in Houston on

      I’ve always viewed (and maybe I’m wrong) snide remarks about Chomsky to be equally anti-leftist and anti-Semitic dog whistles.

      And it is humorous that Stephen lectures folks about what “liberal” really means n the same paragraph warning about authoritarian regimes using words like “bourgeois” which his sockpuppet Craig123 consistently throw around… not to mention Stephen’s own posts that use the same language (boxcars, etc.) as the dictators he decries in this one.

  7. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    It is good that LGBT rights are gaining greater recognition as a serious human rights concern. However, that was not the case until fairly recently (outside of the LGBT press and some NGOs/international organizations)

    Example: The U.S. government and mainstream press did really care much about LGBT Iraqis when Saddam was our friend against Iran. They did care much during and after the first gulf war, and it took quite a while after the second Persian Gulf war BEFORE it was given notice as a human right issue.

  8. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    —NOM, Liberty Counsel, ADF, FRC, Franklin Graham, Tony Perkins,

    Well, NOM may find itself short on resources, but the other interest groups, law firms and personalities mentioned will probably never face a shortage of political and financial resources at their disposal.

    In terms of marriage equality, the focus may change to I favor,”Religious Freedom, But Only For My Religion”.

  9. posted by Jorge on

    Surely a post arguing for a turn toward a foreign policy focus would need to provide some praise of Obama’s gay rights diplomacy, and some criticism of people like Congressman Smith, right?

    Hmm, I think the President does good things when gay activists tell him it’s not enough. It’s enough that half the truth is already known.

    My sense of the issue of international LGBT human rights is that it is an issue that forces on the American right care about more (perhaps that’s my Catholic bias speaking but I’m pretty sure Bush Republicans fall into the same category) but that will only be led effectively by the American left. Remember, among the right the more pro-gay people are in the neoconservative and libertarian camps, so they apply their beliefs on foreign intervention or suspicion of government toward the welfare of gays. But the fatal weaknesses of such beliefs are, respectively, that the welfare of gays is secondary to the welfare of the United States, and that the welfare of foreign individuals is secondary to the principle of self-determination.

    Not a very good situation.

    (I trust I need not prove that the American left would lead such a cause more effectively.)

    There’s also, obviously, the matter that the right will probably be unified in opposing the use of antidiscrimination laws to punish people who act in opposition to gay marriage for religious reasons.

    Thus the sniping at the left. It probably is intended to get the gay rights movement to change its course. The forces of the right do not currently have the power to split the gay rights movement and command a dissident activist faction. It’s been tried, but the opportunity is not with us at this time. Among other things, very few people on the right have the political power to cooperate with the Obama administration for the purposes of advancing gay rights. Even though much of the public has a lukewarm attitude toward the President, in the media, in political circles, in all the corridors of power, he is either a savior or the devil, and it is difficult to do business if you do not accept either assumption. Gay rights as an issue is one that does not conform well to either assumption. Not a very good situation.

  10. posted by Houndentenor on

    Are homocons really interested in advocating for gay rights around the world? Or, as seems too often to be the case, is this just a tool to beat up on “the left”?

  11. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Furthermore. Alexander McCobin writes The gay rights battle is not over for libertarians, explaining that “There is both a need and an opportunity to help end state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals across the globe. The US libertarians and LGBT rights movements should be involved in accomplishing such a worthy goal.”

    I hope that this comment is not too cynical, but I hope that whoever may be listening to McCobin’s call to action doesn’t follow the past example of “libertarian” GOProud and similar right-leaning “libertarians” aligned with the Republican Party, who called for action abroad while ignoring “state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals” at home.

    I suspect that thoughtful right-leaning “libertarians” aligned with the Republican Party are in for a period of cognitive dissonance, joining anti-gay conservative Christians at home in a push to enact so-called “religious freedom” laws, while condemning anti-gay conservative Christians for pushing “state-sponsored discrimination against homosexuals” abroad.

  12. posted by Tom Jefferson III on

    Hmm. Shall we look at how a popular international libertarian movement has dealt with LGBT rights?

    The “Libertarian Movement” was a libertarian party in Costa Rica (founded in 1994) and was quite popular example as a model for other libertarian parties. It had a marginal level of success, more so then other libertarian parties.

    Well, the libertarian party was almost too happy to help eliminate the safety net, and speak on the greatness of allowing businesses to do whatever they want. However, its record on LGBT rights was….curious.

    They ditched the libertarian view on LGBT rights (and other social issues, like abortion)
    One of the elected libertarians sought to ban gays from adopting/having custody of kids. More recently the party has come out against marriage equality.

    • posted by Lori Heine on

      There is an undercurrent here that needs to be pointed out. It’s so common that it’s becoming a theme.

      We seem to be forgetting that people who want power will say ANYTHING to get it. They will make any claim, call themselves whatever they have to, etc. That is an indictment not of the philosophy they claim, but of themselves and their own duplicity.

      In our society right now, there is widespread confusion about this. Somebody will claim to be something, then behave totally counter to what they’ve claimed. But then, people will jump all over the philosophy the poseur has abused–rather than holding that person accountable for how he or she has lived up to the claim.

      That is illogical, to say the least. Regardless of which philosophy is being abused. The politically ambitious know that libertarian ideas are “polling well.” Any understanding of human nature should provide us with a natural skepticism about how power-hungry people use language.

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