The Overreach of LGBTQ Activism

People participate in the 2019 World Pride NYC and Stonewall 50th LGBTQ Pride parade in New York City, June 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
In history, economics, and politics, LGBTQ activism has lost its way.

In his History of Sexuality, Foucault noted that it was only in the 19th century that we began to define people by their desires. That’s when “homosexual became a personage,” “a type of life,” a “morphology.” Foucault — yes, that Foucault — thought this reductive and distracting. What would he say now, I wonder?

Consider all the additional “personages” that have appeared in the last few decades. By no means an exhaustive list, these include transgender, pansexual, bisexual, asexual, demisexual, neutrois, agender, non-binary, polysexual, polyamorous, genderqueer, and genderfluid. Many have their own flags — an interesting trend in itself. And all identities, we are told, belong to non-geographical and quasi-mystical “communities.”

Many Americans, especially young ones, find such frenzied categorization troubling, as recent figures indicate: The annual GLAAD Accelerating Acceptance report shows a noticeable drop in the number of 18- to 34-year-olds who feel comfortable interacting with LGBTQ people, from 63 percent in 2016, to 53 percent in 2017, to 45 percent in 2018. But the genius of “LGBTQ” politics — and the principal reason for its speedy success — is that its branding has shielded it from criticism, mainly by convincing critics to stay silent. (Because who would want to die on that hill?) The idea is that challenging the ontological assumptions of LGBTQ etc., — even à la Foucault — is to deny the right of millions, not only to live and love as they please, but to exist.

The reality is quite different. As James Kirchick in The Atlantic explains, “starved of real enemies,” and “guided by a moral absolutism resembling the religious zeal of those they oppose, some gay activists and their progressive allies have taken a zero-sum approach to the issue of antidiscrimination.”

This is evident in three key areas.

LGBTQ history. Without a doubt, sexual minorities in the United States have, collectively, been ill-treated, stigmatized, discriminated against, and denied basic rights (especially during the AIDS crisis). This is shameful, but it does not justify the simplification and falsifying of historical accounts.

This year New York City hosted the WorldPride festival, and the 50th anniversary of the 1969 police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan was remembered. The revisionist accounts of this event have been telling. As Chadwick Moore at The Spectator wrote recently, “Stonewall is a legend, and the mythology keeps evolving.” He recalled that the clubs were owned by the Mafia and that employees trafficked prostitutes. “What is clear is that Stonewall was not targeted simply because gays hung out there,” he concluded.

Trans activists have been promoting their own revisionist history of the Stonewall riots. A monument honoring Marsah P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender activists, is to be built in New York City. The new thinking holds that they played a “vital role in the Stonewall riots and the gay rights movement it launched.” But this account is dubious. First, Johnson and Rivera were transvestites, not transgender (a term that appeared only later). In other words, they were cross-dressing men. In The Spectator, Moore explains another problem with this version of events: “Rivera was blacked out on heroin 30 blocks north in Bryant Park as the riots unfolded, and Johnson admitted in interviews he wasn’t there when it started.” These differing interpretations have caused major upset within the LGBTQ bracket. “Long-simmering tensions between transgender women of color and white gay men” came to a head last Saturday at Stonewall Inn, when a black trans woman “arrived unannounced and disrupted a drag show, drawing an unfriendly response,” Reuters reported.

LGBTQ economics. Writing for the New York Times about the general leftward lurch of the Democratic party, David Brooks noted:

American progressives have a story to tell, and they are not afraid to tell it. In this story global capitalism is a war zone. Free trade is a racket. Big business and Big Pharma are rapacious villains that crush the common man.

But how do progressives square this with LGBTQ activism? Big Pharma has a significant monetary interest in transgender transition treatments — especially for children — that make patients dependent on cross-sex hormones for life. In Buying Gay, the historian David K. Johnson makes a convincing case that the gay political movement was the direct result of consumer capitalism. As for big business, Pride month has seen a whole host of corporate sponsors from Wells Fargo to T-Mobile. Even Google maps and Uber joined in, having rainbow-colored pins and cars on their apps. Indeed, it is difficult to think of a political movement with comparable corporate investment.

There has been some resistance on the left to the increasingly corporate nature of the pride movement. For instance, the Queer Liberation March by Reclaim Pride was something of a small sideshow at this year’s Pride march. But, overall, the dissent has been minimal. Corporatization of gay rights is not just an American phenomenon, either. In the U.K., “the sponsorships are all corporate or governmental, there are huge amounts of money coming from banks, utilities, and governmental bodies as well as funding bodies right into LGBT organizations,” Miranda Yardley, a Marxist transsexual blogger, told me. “And as most of the L and G battle has been fought and won, money for LGBT generally means it goes to the T.” (Yardley takes a somewhat old-fashioned view of sex, that it cannot literally be changed.)

LGBTQ politics. In October, Democratic presidential candidates will participate in a special debate exclusively focused on LGBT issues. If candidates’ comments on LGBTQ issues at the primary debates are anything to go by, they will all be tripping over each other to bolster their woke credentials without any real knowledge or understanding of the complexity of the issues.

During the Democratic-primary debates, Tulsi Gabbard reiterated her apology to the “LGBTQ community,” stating that “maybe many people in this country can relate to the fact that I grew up in a socially conservative home, held views when I was very young that I no longer hold today.” But she is wrong to assume that this is a left–right issue. In fact, many on the left, especially lesbians and feminists, are concerned about the overreach of trans rights. And many more gay people do not place themselves under the LGBTQ umbrella at all.

Julian Castro said he believed in “reproductive justice” (i.e., abortion access) for not only women but also trans females (who are male). He is either biologically illiterate or, more likely, not quite au courant with LGBTQ terminology.

Kamala Harris went seamlessly from the legacy of civil rights into “that’s why we need to pass the Equality Act.” This suggests she either hasn’t read the bill she’s promoting, or she doesn’t care about women and girls. Among other things, the Equality Act would devastate women’s sports by allowing males to compete and displace them and remove their right to sex-segregated spaces, from prisons to locker rooms, across the country.

My prediction is that as LGBTQ overreach continues, it will backfire, and the culture will reorient. My hope, then, is that the obsession with identity will die down. And a day will come when people are finally judged by the content of their character — not by the object of their desires. I hope. But I don’t hold my breath.

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Madeleine Kearns is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute. She is from Glasgow, Scotland, and is a trained singer.

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