They hoped the long battle was nearing an end. Then came the Parental Rights in Education bill and ‘groomer’ rhetoric.
Vic Basile remembers the time a reporter asked him if, as the first executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, he would push for same-sex marriage to be legalized.
“Oh, no, we’re not interested,” he remembers telling the journalist, back in the mid-1980s.
The idea that Americans would broadly accept same-sex marriage seemed inconceivable to him at the time, and demanding equality on that front seemed strategically unwise. “I wanted to deflect the whole issue, because I thought that would really set us back,”Basile says now. But then Ellen DeGeneres came out on national television, pride parades went mainstream, and the Supreme Court affirmed the right of same-sex couples to marry. Basile was stunned by the progress.
Lately, Basile — who is 76 and, per his LinkedIn page, “Retired!!!”— has been stunned by something else: the constant news headlines about conservative political attacks on the LGBTQ community. Books featuring LGBTQ characters have been banned from libraries. In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) issued a directive ordering child protective services agencies to investigate parents who provide gender-affirming medical treatments to their transgender children. Two months later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, known to opponents as the “don’t say gay” bill, whichattempts to limit discussion of LGBTQ topics in schools. Lawmakers in a dozen other states proposed copycat laws. Those who oppose such bills have found themselves being characterized as being in favor of “grooming” children, a term associated with child sexual predators.
It wasn’t long ago that overtly homophobic politics seemed to be fading, at least in the mainstream. In 2021, a Gallup poll found that 70 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage — including 55 percent of Republicans. However, as conservatives have regrouped after losing control of Washington, there has been a resurgence in rhetoric suggesting that talking about gay- and transgender-related topics is a threat to children.