When Rick Santorum talks of imposing his idea of God’s Plan on his fellow citizens; when Rush Limbaugh calls a law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” for advocating access to contraceptives; when Republican state legislators try to define embryos as persons and require women seeking abortions to undergo invasive and medically unnecessary procedures — when the right wing does these obnoxious things, they are doing us a favor.
We need to be jolted out of our complacency once in a while and reminded that the struggle to form a more perfect union is never done — whether the discrimination in any given moment is based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. Caught up in our own struggles, we do not always see the connections between different forms of discrimination. Recognizing them is crucial in a year when opponents of equality are eager to divide and conquer us.
To cite one example: The intersection of sexism and homophobia was nicely captured by William Hurt’s line to Raul Julia in the movie Kiss of the Spider Woman, “What’s wrong with being like a woman?” It is not that male homosexuality equals effeminacy; the wide spectrum of actual gender roles is increasingly hard to ignore. It is that homophobia is built on a foundation of misogyny.
Gay people, by not conforming to gender norms, are correctly perceived as a threat to male privilege. Let us not pretend that we seek to change nothing of importance. Social and professional standing, the role of women, marriage and the raising of children are all hugely important. The point, as my late colleague Frank Kameny often put it, is that, “We are right and they are wrong.” In our diverse society, people of every gender, color, orientation, faith and nationality deserve equal treatment under the law. This most American of goals is a threat to some self-professed patriots, and they are fighting back.
Those who oppose us can prevail if they are not sufficiently challenged. Part of the task is about nuts and bolts like organizing and turnout. A big part, though, is one-on-one conversations in which we not only explain ourselves but connect with people on a human level.
The truth will not win out by itself. We must make our case. The religious right has controlled the debate so effectively that too many people don’t understand that using the civil law to impose one group’s religious prohibitions on everyone else would be the opposite of religious freedom.
Turnabout being fair play, women legislators in Virginia and Oklahoma have proposed the Every Sperm Is Sacred amendment, in which ejaculation of sperm anywhere but into a woman’s vagina is an act against an unborn child. (For biblical support, see Genesis 38:9-10.) Others would require men seeking Viagra to watch videos on the dire consequences of erections lasting more than four hours.
Activist Toni Broaddus recently posted on Facebook, “I have a vagina and I vote.” I replied, “I intend to vote as if I had a vagina.”
Each of us has characteristics that others can use to label us. I say to those of us who enjoy a measure of privilege because we share characteristics with the dominant group (white, male, Christian): Vote as if you were a woman. Vote as if you were a Muslim. Vote as if you were an immigrant who fits a police profile. Vote as if you were Deoni Jones, murdered 50 blocks east of the U.S. Capitol because she didn’t conform to someone else’s idea of an acceptable gender presentation.
Share your privilege. Join the coalition. Start a journey toward trust with people unlike yourself. If we do that, we can avoid waking up one morning in a country less free.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at .