Why Pride lost the public

‘Gays and women are bearing the brunt of the gender ideology nonsense’

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably witnessed the backlash to Pride. There have been mass boycotts of Bud Light after the beer company partnered with trans woman and TikTok influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, sending her a custom can to celebrate her first year of “girlhood.” Target was next to come under fire for its Pride display targeting children and their “tuck-friendly” bathing suits for women. 

This set the stage for the most divisive Pride month in some time. First, the boycotts. Then videos of angry parents at school boards went viral. Conservative radio hosts…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably witnessed the backlash to Pride. There have been mass boycotts of Bud Light after the beer company partnered with trans woman and TikTok influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, sending her a custom can to celebrate her first year of “girlhood.” Target was next to come under fire for its Pride display targeting children and their “tuck-friendly” bathing suits for women. 

This set the stage for the most divisive Pride month in some time. First, the boycotts. Then videos of angry parents at school boards went viral. Conservative radio hosts and commentators vowed to make Pride “toxic” to brands. But it’s not just conservatives who are pushing back; according to a recent Gallup poll, even Democrats have seen a drop in the acceptance of same-sex relations.

Which begs the question: what happened to Pride? After decades of progress for gay rights, growing acceptance of gay marriage and the normalization of same-sex relationships, Pride is unexpectedly political again. Why?

In search of an answer, I spoke to prominent LGBT thinkers and writers, many of them dissenting voices when judged against the views of many LGBT advocacy groups. Their answers surprised me. Across the board they all said some version of “this was inevitable.”

“When it comes to gay issues, conservatives largely lost the culture war,” Katie Herzog observes. “But something about recent trends has reignited that passion — and issues that seemed resolved are up for debate again. I guess the Nineties really are back.”

“The core reason for the backlash is pretty simple: children,” Andrew Sullivan explains. “The attempt to indoctrinate children in gender ideology and to trans them on the verge of puberty has changed the debate. Start indoctrinating and transing children… and you will re-energize one of the oldest homophobic tropes there is: ‘gays are child molesters.’”

Glenn Greenwald largely agrees: “What destroyed the culture war consensus was their cynical and self-interested decision to transform the LGBT cause into one that no longer focused on the autonomy of adult Americans to live freely — which most people support — but instead to demand the right to influence and indoctrinate other people’s children.”

“They are calling them ‘trans kids’ and medicalizing them at an early age. Lying about puberty blockers. Lying about young girls getting irreversible surgery and so on,” says trans man Buck Angel.

In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriages, and with bipartisan support it seemed there was a consensus on this one culture war issue, as well as broad support for the legal rights of trans adults to be free from discrimination. The war was largely won. But rather than shutting up shop or refocusing their efforts on parts of the world where gay and lesbian people faced serious discrimination, activists and NGOs moved onto the transgender issue.

“There are countries in the world where you can be executed for being gay,” says James Kirchick, author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington. “That’s what the Human Rights Campaign [America’s foremost LGBT campaign group] should be saving its ire for.”

An average person will likely refer to this shift as “woke” and wonder how “the trans stuff” is suddenly everywhere, all at once. Parents are baffled when three out of four of their twelve-year-old daughter’s friend group “identify” as boys or, even more confusingly, nonbinary. People started putting pronouns in their social media bios, on their work résumés and in their email signatures. Biological men are competing in women’s sports and being placed in women’s prisons. In medical magazines and birthing classes, women are suddenly referred to by dehumanizing terms such as “birthing persons” and “uterus havers.”

“It’s like a new enforced public holiday thing and people smell a rat,” says Douglas Murray. “The wiser people realize that something weird is being smuggled in. This isn’t just like, ‘don’t beat up your gay neighbor.’ It’s like ‘there is no such thing as gender.’ ‘There is no such thing as sex.’”

We’ve arrived here thanks to a confluence of forces. Perpetual victimhood pushed by activist groups that need a reason to exist and continue collecting money. The corporatization of Pride. The hijacking of the movement by gender ideology.

“You can’t dress toddlers up in extreme political propaganda while lecturing the parents on committing child abuse for not transitioning their kids and expect everyone to keep quiet,” trans writer Chad Felix Greene tells me.

To a normal, not especially political person going about their life, it can seem like gay culture is everywhere. Pride was once just a day to have fun, go to a parade, and “for those who have just come out as a way to cement their self-confidence in public” as Sullivan says. Now every June it becomes “the Holy Month of Pride” as Murray dubs it. Corporations change their social media logos to rainbows (unless, of course, it’s their Saudi account). Pride™️ has become so accepted it’s inescapable. 

On the surface this might look like capitalism at work. These companies just want the gay dollar! Though there’s some truth to that, there’s also an undertow dragging these huge corporations down. They aren’t making decisions that are in the best interest of their shareholders; they are acting out of concern for their social credit score.

“These corporations aren’t getting any gay dollars from these fiascos. Gays hate corporations at Pride,” said publicist Mitchell Jackson. “Worst of all, these corporate campaigns just backfire on LGBTQ people. Gay rights are now being threatened again because big-box stores needed to sell tucking underwear.”

Jackson is exasperated that corporations listen to the advocacy groups in an attempt to do the right thing: “Corporations go to these groups for advice, hoping to avoid a woke controversy, and they get led into a hornet’s nest — and then these non-profits can fundraise off of the Bud Light controversy of the week.”

“What changed is that LGBT activist groups could not afford to obtain victory,” Greenwald says. “When activist groups win, their reason for existing, and their large budgets and salaries, dry up. They always have to push debates into whatever places Americans resist. They also have to be losing, have a claim to victimhood, a reason to assert that they are righting the bigotry of Americans.”

“It’s so tragic because we’ve reached this moment when gay people have finally won mainstream acceptance for the first time in, like, 2,000 years of history,” Kirchick said. “It’s OK to be gay pretty much everywhere in America — and there are obviously pockets where it’s still a problem, I’m not gonna deny that — but majorities of Republicans support gay marriage. I’ve seen it in my own life as a thirty-nine-year-old gay man: it’s a lot easier to be gay now than it was six years ago. And just when we’ve reached this moment, these activists have decided, in our name as gay people, to just piss off America and to make them think that we are a threat to their children.”

“I am so upset that my community has been co-opted and has been used for some other agenda,” Angel told me. “The work we have done to get here is profound and should never be forgotten. All we want is to live our lives just like you, but of course that’s not what you see now with the people driving the LGBTQIA+++++ bus.”

The real slippery slope hasn’t been the gay rights movement, as right-wing pundits often say. “When I see some of them going after Pride, they appear to blame gay people for the nonsense peddled in the name of Pride today — when in truth gay people are the victims of it,” comedian Andrew Doyle said. 

At the heart of the problem is the fact that LGBT was never the package deal that most people consider it to be. “LGBT people don’t exist,” says Sullivan. “We’re very different from each other.”

Generally speaking, it’s “the Ts and the Qs” that insist it’s all or nothing. Trans activists demand acquiescence to all their demands no matter how insane and pseudo-scientific, push to allow men in women’s shelters and allow kids to be put on puberty hormones or you’re committing genocide. People are are increasingly saying, “OK — it’s nothing then.”

“I think gays and women in general are bearing the brunt of the gender ideology nonsense,” Murray said. “And it has itself piggybacked like some kind of parasitic entity onto gay rights.”

“Gender identity ideology is essentially anti-gay,” said Doyle. “Gay rights were secured through the recognition that a minority of people are instinctively orientated towards members of their own sex. Gender identity ideology seeks to break down the very notion of biological sex and claim that it is unimportant.”

Underneath the rainbow facade are illiberal forces such as “queer theory” that have been eroding the classically liberal foundation of the original civil rights movement that won gay and trans folks the rights they have now. We’ve gone from “love is love” to trans women insisting if a lesbian doesn’t want to suck their lady dick, they’re a fascist. 

If you’re confused, that’s the point; confusion and contradiction are features, not bugs. In order to understand how this happened, and why, you need specialized knowledge. The average person can’t explain exactly what’s going on, because it’s nonsensical, you can only intuit it; but call it out and you’re dubbed a bigot — and so you retreat, keeping your head down while the gender borg marches on.

The temperature has been raised further by the Biden adminstration’s unambiguous embrace of this ideology. The White House is quick to paint anyone doubting the wisdom of what they euphemistically call “gender-affirming care” for minors as a knuckle-dragger, even though the overwhelming majority of Americans support a ban on such care and many liberal, tolerant European countries have banned it or scaled it back.

No wonder dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who disagree with the idea of biological men in women’s spaces — or are confused about the pseudo-religious idea that you were born in the wrong body, and wonder whether or not pausing puberty is even possible — are terrified to speak out. 

“It was once ‘live-and-let-live’ said Sullivan, “Now it’s ‘embrace the ideology — or else.’”

Herein lies the problem with Pride. You can no longer opt out of the ideology. The trans activism changed everything. It is coercive. It is everywhere. Big Tech acts as an enforcer, in conjunction with the state, policing language, pronouns, exacting punishments for refusing to repeat the mantras “trans women are women” and “gender-affirming care is reproductive freedom.”

“I know many gay activists from yesteryear who are coming out of retirement to address this new anti-gay movement which has usurped Pride,” said Doyle. “It doesn’t help that all criticism of Pride is interpreted as homophobic or transphobic. These are important conversations. Like most culture-war issues, we need to stop thinking of this in terms of ‘left’ and ‘right’. These things are irrelevant. There are left-wing gay people and right-wing gay people — and all of them are harmed by Pride in its current form.”

The backlash is veering into a full-blown moral panic. “I’m seeing a lot more people online talking about gay people as though we are all pedophiles who want to groom children into becoming cross-dressing strippers, and a lot of what’s going on feels like good old-fashioned bigotry rearing its ugly head once again,” said Herzog.

Might the public backlash to Pride push moderates and independents to the left the way the overturning of Roe v. Wade did? From an optics perspective, attacking Pride can often look like attacking the whole LGBT community; just from what I’ve witnessed online, an unsettling amount of homophobia is rearing its head, using boycotts as cover for bigotry. Last week a video went viral that showed Muslim children stomping on the rainbow flag while their parents cheered them on.

“I don’t want to name names but there are certain conservative commentators who are using the backlash against LGBTQIA plus to include a backlash against gays,” says Murray. “But I think it’s inevitable because not enough gays try to do the decoupling that I’ve tried to do myself in recent years and say, ‘Sorry, not my party.’”

Yet the decoupling has begun and it seems to be the only way to navigate our way out of this moment without throwing the baby out with the bathwater. #LGBwithouttheTQ and the #LGB have been trending on Twitter almost every day in June. Even if people don’t understand the forces at work, I think most Americans are smart enough to make the distinction between their gay loved ones and friends and some of the more insane gender stuff.

Like most things, this requires nuance. “You have to say, ‘we respect the rights of adults to undergo a gender transition,’” says Kirchick. “And ‘we want full equality and non-discrimination for transgender people in society, but there are real live debates about at what age it’s appropriate to administer these sorts of medical treatment to kids.’”

“Keep biological sex as a central characteristic in the law and culture,” Sullivan says. “Gender can be added, but can’t replace.”

“I think many LGBT people see this mess but are scared to lose friends and community if they speak up,” said Angel. “But it’s our duty as LGBT members to call this out. To show the world that these people are not a representation of us.”