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We Saw the Backlash Coming, But Have You Really Noticed All of It?

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Before the marriage equality ruling from the Supreme Court last year, The Advocate ran a series of eight stories. We called it “Necessary But Dangerous.” We need marriage equality, the thinking went, but not every effect of the ruling will be positive for LGBT people.

What’s happening now in North Carolina and Mississippi — and being shot down in Georgia — is partly a fulfillment of those warnings. In other words, the whole movement could see this coming. 

President Obama's spokesman, Josh Earnest, told reporters on Tuesday that his boss also saw this coming. 

“The president never was under the impression — and I don't think anybody was — that that would be the end of the struggle for equality and for justice and for fairness,” he said of the Supreme Court ruling. “That struggle goes on.”

Legislation like in North Carolina — where Republicans banned antidiscrimination ordinances from including sexual orientation and gender identity, and effectively required trans people to use the bathroom that does not match their gender identity — is a direct backlash to marriage equality. 

I worry, though, that we haven’t fully appreciated the complete set of problems being exacerbated by marriage equality. 

Consider homelessness. If you can believe it, some 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBT. We asked, “Will Marriage Equality Cause a Spike in Homeless LGBT Youth?” So many activists told us that marriage equality and broader cultural acceptance has led to youth coming out at younger ages. Not all of these teens are welcomed by families, and some end up on the street.

Centers keep shouting that they don’t have enough beds. But even when national outcry is triggered over North Carolina or Georgia or Indiana, there are only so many consequences to which the world seems able to lend its attention. Activists say religious-based shelters suddenly get free rein to turn away people who are LGBT.

A lot of those people being turned away will be transgender. Our story back in June came across an increasing number of trans youth facing homelessness, and we profiled two people remaking their lives.

Stated another way, perhaps too harshly, perhaps not: Marriage equality has made life worse for some transgender people. One headline from our series asked, “With Marriage Off the Table, Is Trans Community the New Target?” 

The answer to that question has been a resounding yes. Houston was the clearest example of the demonization of transgender people that’s now so in vogue among the right wing. And really, what’s happening in North Carolina strikes me as more transphobia than homophobia. The governor, Pat McCrory, seems to be taking a page from the fight over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, claiming to have signed its law "to stop the breach of basic privacy and etiquette, ensure privacy in bathrooms and locker rooms."

In Houston, the right wing successfully gave its new trans scapegoating a whirl. It paraded the notion that “men” would be in the bathroom with your wives and daughters. And “men” in women’s bathrooms can only end in disaster, the commercials implied. Never mind that transgender women aren’t men. Never mind that no transgender person of any gender has ever been involved in an attack in a bathroom — except on the receiving end of violence

The right wing’s increasing focus on transgender people is partly because same-sex marriage is no longer an effective bogeyman. People are getting married. The end times have not come. Faced with that reality, bigots need another scary story to tell.

The “Necessary But Dangerous” stories outlined a number of insidious problems. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether they’re also coming to fruition.

Marriage Equality Could Worsen Bisexual Erasure,” we theorized. The explosion of people getting married would surely be covered, with any two women getting hitched being called lesbians. Men are just called gay. As a result, I’ve personally seen an uptick in folks complaining that the mainstream phrase “gay marriage” is leaving out a lot of people.

Maybe that all sounds trivial to you, and if so, odds are you’re not bisexual. Erasure comes with real consequences, especially for mental health. If you don’t see yourself in the world, you start to wonder whether it knows you’re there.

With businesses wanting to join in on all the celebrating of marriage equality, there’s been an uptick in inclusive advertising. But how much of that has included people of color? We asked that question in advance: “Why Is the Face of Marriage Equality So White?” 

The most straightforward kind of backlash — antigay violence — happened in France after it passed marriage equality. So we asked, “Could Antigay Violence Like France's Happen Here?” 

What happened overseas included rallies, but most astonishing were violent crimes. Here in the U.S., a frightening number of transgender people, especially women of color, were murdered last year. Maybe no one can say it’s a response to the new demonization of trans people, but that surely hasn’t helped.

In Dallas alone, there were 14 victims of antigay assaults last year. I guess we can’t say for sure that the spree is a backlash to marriage equality. But please peruse the regular stories filling our Crime section, and you’ll start to wonder. 

Backlash was predictable. But it’s more than the single big idea you’re hearing most about: “religious freedom.” That concept got embraced this election cycle by every major Republican candidate — and a bunch of the minor ones too. It’s a phrase that papers over everything we warned about. 

What these politicians are arguing for is, in part, the right to fire a person for being married. That’s what has happened at a number of religious organizations — churches, schools, and more — that had ignored their employees being gay, lesbian, or bisexual until they married a same-sex partner. Then, I guess, it was just too much to bear. “More of You Could Be Fired for Getting Married,” we warned in April.

All of this is part of the larger idea that marriage equality could set back overall progress for the LGBT movement. With the Supreme Court in the balance this election, that warning ought to be underlined and highlighted. We asked, “Is Ruth Bader Ginsburg Right?

The justice had warned that the aftermath of Roe v. Wade demonstrates the potential for a ruling to spark backlash that drags out a fight instead of resolving it. The court is even now considering whether sly tricks of law passed by Republican legislatures are unconstitutionally limiting access to abortion. 

Meanwhile, Republicans running for president have talked openly about their plot to overturn marriage equality. The plan is to replace liberal Supreme Court justices with conservatives, then get the court to consider new, antigay laws passed by a Republican-controlled Congress.

“Religious freedom” is just the banner under which all of this marches — well, inches forward. The new court would be the real prize. Justices would not only overturn marriage equality, they could sign on to unpredictable tricks of law that are actually unpredictable.

LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. Follow him on Twitter @lucasgrindley.

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