12 April 2016

Transformation and victory

The change in attitudes toward homosexuality in the Western world may be the most rapid and dramatic such cultural change in history.  Just 13 years ago, homosexuality itself was still illegal in much of the US, and gays were widely despised and ostracized.  Today, gay marriage -- something that seemed unattainable and barely imaginable two decades ago -- is legal in most of North and South America and in western Europe.  Bigotry persists in some backward regions of these nations, but by and large today's rising generation of young gay people is the freest since Classical times, and younger people in general are accepting and open-minded to a startling degree.

The last couple of weeks have offered a powerful affirmation of just how normative the acceptance of homosexuality has become even in the US.  The legislatures of three states -- Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina -- passed "religious freedom" laws protecting the "right" of Christian-owned businesses to discriminate against gay customers.  Perhaps they had forgotten the massive business backlash that forced Indiana Republicans to back down after passing a similar law a year ago.  If so, they were swiftly reminded.

Georgia was hit from both ends of the cultural spectrum.  Disney, which had filmed movies there before, warned that it would no longer do so if Governor Nathan Deal signed the legislation into law -- and the NFL threatened to boycott the state.  Deal vetoed the bill.

Mississippi's bill has already become law, but a broad coalition of major companies has already demanded its repeal (found via Progressive Eruptions), and it will be difficult for even Republican leaders in the country's poorest and least-developed state to hold out against such pressure.

North Carolina, whose law is the most draconian of all (it even prohibits local governments from protecting gays against discrimination) is facing the possible loss of various federal funds as well as a corporate backlash and bans on official travel from several other jurisdictions.  Bruce Springsteen canceled a planned concert there (and got this snotbubble all honked off at him).  PayPal has abandoned plans for a new operations center in the state, which would have created 400 jobs.

(Bigots have whinged that PayPal continues to do business with some foreign countries which treat gays far worse than North Carolina does, and this does superficially seem like a legitimate claim of inconsistency.  However, the goal here is not just to make some meaningless "statement" of pro-gay moral purity, but to actually do some good.  It's vanishingly unlikely that PayPal pulling out of Saudi Arabia would force any change in that regime's murderous anti-gay policies, whereas boycotting North Carolina might actually accomplish something.  The day will soon come, though, when we need to start looking at sustained boycotts as a tool to force change in theocratic countries where gays and women are oppressed.  It worked in South Africa -- eventually.)

The striking thing about this backlash is how major corporations have taken a leading role in it.  Some companies, like Disney and PayPal, have an established gay-friendly track record.  But for many, it's about the bottom line.  Defending gay rights is popular; appearing to endorse the bigots is bad for business.  And this is what shows most clearly how massive this cultural transformation has been.  For most major companies, being linked with anti-gay prejudice is bad for business -- only because most people are now repulsed by such bigotry.

For centuries, the Christian taboo on homosexuality meant that gays were ostracized and rejected (and often much worse).  Now, that very same taboo means that the religious hard-liners who try to uphold it are the ones being ostracized and rejected.  They've lost the culture war and are reduced to pleading for a few scraps and crumbs of bigotry to be preserved in their defeat -- and as the experience of these three states and Indiana last year shows, we are strong enough now to deny them even that.

I'm declaring victory, not in the whole war, but in a very decisive battle.

11 Comments:

Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...


Wonderful essay. We all know that history is on our side. The bigots will eventually die out (but not every one of them, sadly) and the coming generations will be the antidote to the human wreckage they caused.

I linked to this on today's blog at P.E.

14 April, 2016 10:12  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Thanks -- and thanks for the link!

14 April, 2016 17:58  
Anonymous Sam240 said...

"but by and large today's rising generation of young gay people is the freest since Classical times"

One minor quibble - you're ignoring non-European cultures. In many traditional Native American societies, people we might classify as gay/lesbian were accepted, and sometimes regarded as having special spiritual insights. There have also been reports from fa'afafine from American Samoa that they fit in perfectly at home, and didn't experience discrimination until they reached the United States.

There are also records of same-sex relationships in pre-colonial Africa.

I think we have a way to go before we reach the level of acceptance some of those societies had. (If you're limiting yourself to "western" cultures, I think I'd accept your statement. Even Classical Greece and Rome were problematic, since only "dominant" gay men, or what we call "tops," were generally accepted.)

14 April, 2016 18:46  
Anonymous NickM said...

Infidel,
Have you been channeling me? I am sure I posted somewhere something very similar about the amazing rapidity of changes in viewpoints on homosexuality and how it hit pretty much the entire Western World. Either that or we just noticed the same thing ;-) I am 42 and not on of 1200 kids at my 11-18 secondary school was openly gay. How times change. I suspect a big change was the re-boot of Dr Who. I mean we have come a very long way from "Are You Being Served?" Mr Humphries to Captain Jack. Now whether having a bisexual action hero is the cause or the result is debatable it is the case and nobody pulled out the smelling salts. Nobody's Great Aunt fainted. You are absolutely right. The rapidity and the seeming completeness of this is stunning.

15 April, 2016 03:13  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Sam240: I should probably have specified that I meant within the context of the history of our own civilization (and it's not a matter of "European", since much of the Classical world was outside "Europe", a geographical concept that hardly existed at the time). And frankly I'm a little suspicious of claims about pre-literate societies which by definition could leave no documentation of their own cultures, and which, during the period before massive Western influence set in, were observed only by people (conquistadors, priests, etc.) with no real training in the study of alien societies. It's too easy to shoehorn reports about such cultures into modern agendas of one kind or another.

Even Classical Greece and Rome were problematic, since only "dominant" gay men, or what we call "tops," were generally accepted.

Again, imposing modern categories on cultures where they don't really fit (and not universally true even on its own terms).

15 April, 2016 03:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Nick: It is certainly highly noticeable, and I imagine that's even more the case in the UK where religion, by all accounts, has pretty much collapsed as a social force over the last few decades. The US is still catching up with western Europe, but even here the change has been dramatic.

I used to watch Doctor Who, mostly shows from the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker eras, but got out of touch with it. Apparently I missed something of some import?

I'm still digesting the implications of the rapid turnaround in attitudes about homosexuality. Reversion to an underlying norm that reasserts itself as soon as Abrahamic taboos weaken? Evidence that some degree of bisexuality is more common than we think? Or just the ultimate manifestation of the mind-your-own-business ethos? I don't really know what to think, but it needs more study -- including as a model for future liberation movements.

15 April, 2016 03:44  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

WE have had gay marriage now for awhile, not a damn thing has changes except the usual small cult jumping up saying it's the end of the world ... even in Dallas TEXAS ... there hasnt been any problemo ... and this is considered the south at that! so what has changed or fell apart? ... not a damn thing ... and most folks dont give a shit if gayz get married or not ... it doesnt change their lives.

15 April, 2016 04:41  
Anonymous NickM said...

Infidel,
The odd thing is over here it isn't noticeable unless you step back and think. It is much as Ranch Chimp puts it. I mean according to Ivan Jellical all Hell would follow with two people of the same sex walking down the aisle and the living would envy the dead and nothing happened. Well, a lot of folk were made happy but the sky didn't fall. I think I could have predicted this. The really odd thing is my mother who was the usual casual homophobe but counts gay couples amongst her best friends these days. And that is a switcheroo in her '60s. Within a few short years she went from vague hostility of the form you must know of to, "I had Gavin and his husband round for dinner last night and they are really fun!"

As to your point about reversion to pre-Abrahamic norms... Thanks for that. It is giving me something to think of other than the impending relegation of NUFC. I had never considered it but if you are right then it shows how thin the veneer of Christianity etc actually is seeing as the example of my mother suggests.

As to Western Europe being ahead of the USA in these terms... I dunno. Last time I was in the USA I was on Key West for "Fantasy Fest" and it was perfectly OK to walk hand-in-hand with your gay partner wearing nothing but body-paint. Really friendly atmosphere. Perhaps that has to happen in specific times and spaces because I can't imagine it in dear ol' Miss - you know where they play both types of music - "Country" and "Western".

I am not gay. I was there on honerymoon with my female wife. Still married nigh-on ten years hence.

Odd thing is (and this surprised me) if (like me) you have a UK civil ceremony God is illegal. God is not in the building. Seriously. Surprised me because a lot of our stuff pays some sort of lip-service to God one way or another. An example I was given was about songs that can be played. Robbie Williams tune "Angels" was banned because it is deemed religious. Not that I was thinking of it because it's also dreadful. We had Ben E King's "Stand by Me".

The celebrant for my marriage was an extremely good, friendly, efficient and caring black woman. I was married to a woman I had lived with in sin with by a black woman in Manchester! She did a very good job. As I said, have only ever married once and that is creeping up to it's decade. Better than a certain candidate to be POTUS! But then I also own my own hair and haven't changed my policy on abortion five times in three days.

16 April, 2016 09:19  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: But God is ticked off and he's gonna smite something any minute now, just wait.....

Nick: I can easily believe that would be the case in Key West. But remember the US is very large, and huge areas are still pretty backward. Probably not many foreign visitors go to those areas, though.

I think that issue of reversion (real or perceived) to pre-Abrahamic norms is the unacknowledged key to the whole situation.

17 April, 2016 04:21  
Anonymous Marc Goldbach said...

Gay marriage has a long way to go before recognized on our society. Discrimination is a big problems, we should stop this. We are all humans that created equals in front of the God. If it's not legal in your area, go find some place where you can legalize your marriage.

05 May, 2016 06:07  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It is, at least, legally recognized throughout the US now (and in most other major Western countries), even if some yahoos like Kim Davis are still fighting for a lost cause. That's a huge step forward in itself.

05 May, 2016 09:14  

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