No “neutral” in the “culture war”

All gender restroom

Image by Keshet, CC license.

Trigger warning: anti queer and anti trans hatred, transmisogyny, misgendering.

One of my e-mail accounts got on the American Family Association’s mailing list, somehow. Don’t ask me how; I mean, an atheist trans woman is precisely the wrong audience for an evangelical anti-queer group’s newsletter. I’ve never unsubscribed, though, and I’m not sure why. Maybe part of it’s morbid fascination; maybe part of it is just a desire to keep tabs on my enemies. I dunno.

So every so often, I get some panicked missive about how we queers are destroying something or other, and everyone needs to boycott and/or protest such-and-such company because said company likes queers. This has been a very popular genre in Christian writing for at least as long as I’ve been alive, and all examples of it look roughly the same. In recent years, though, a new theme in these articles has emerged: the idea that businesses have an obligation to “remain neutral in the culture war” by refusing to support queer folks in any way, shape or form.

For example: When Home Depot chose to participate in various pride parades across the country, the AFA jumped on them for it and posted a boycott pledge (which I won’t link to) promising to boycott them “until The Home Depot agrees to remain neutral in the culture war” — by which, of course, they meant to stop being in pride parades. (The Home Depot basically told them off, which was gratifying.) More recently, and more ridiculously, the AFA lauded Chick-Fil-A for being “neutral in the culture war” (because openly opposing same-sex marriage and supporting the FRC is totally neutral, right?).

But the one that sticks most in my mind, partly because it’s more personally affecting and partly because it illustrates my point so clearly, is the incident at a Macy’s last year. Quick rundown: A trans woman went to use the women’s dressing room, and an employee stopped her (in deliberate violation of store policy), misgendered her and called her a man to her face. Macy’s, rightly, fired said employee for being an asshole; at this, the anti-queer orgs lost their collective shit and claimed that their religious freedom was under attack, and we were destroying the sanctity of dressing rooms, and blah blah blah. And when the AFA sent their e-mail about it, they included a demand for Macy’s to, once again, “remain neutral in the culture war.”

Which, not to put too fine a point on it, is a giant steaming pile of elephant shit. Natalie Johnson was anything but neutral when she was telling a customer, to her face, that she did not exist and did not deserve basic respect. And you’d better believe that the AFA is anything but neutral when they try to frame such flagrant bigotry as “religious freedom”. They didn’t want Macy’s to be “neutral”. They wanted Macy’s to take their side.

In this matter, and in others like it, there can be no “neutral”. You either support trans* access to appropriately-gendered public accommodations, or you oppose it. You’re either in favor of the legalization of same-sex marriage, or you’re against it. You’re either okay with pride parades, or you are not. Evangelicals know this, preach it, and sometimes even quote Jesus in doing so (“Whoever is not for me is against me”). The fact that the AFA and groups like it can nonetheless claim that their position is “neutral” either demonstrates the kind of self-deception and loss of perspective that can only come from ignorance born of privilege, or just shows them to be flat-out liars. Personally, I suspect it’s a little of both.

9 Comments

  1. Kiri — I’m glad you didn’t unsubscribe from the AFA mailing list. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the Religious Right, given their disturbing rhetoric and goals.

    • I suppose, but at the same time I wonder if reading this stuff is good for my mental health.

      • My mental health could not hold up to regular messages like that. “Remaining Neutral” – kind of like that quote about “when good men do/say nothing evil thrives”?

  2. To them, neutral = maintaining the status quo. In their worldview, there aren’t two opposing sides. There’s the “normal/neutral” view and then there’s the “aberration”.

    What they don’t understand (or maybe they do and don’t care) is that when a group of people is being oppressed, neutrality/ keeping the status quo = siding with the oppressors.

    • Right, that’s what I was trying to get at with that “ignorance born of privilege” bit.

      Now that I think about it, though, there’s also a bit of Dominionism involved. In my experience, at least some evangelicals really, honestly believe that they’re supposed to be the most powerful and privileged in society — they serve the One True God, after all! — and so they consider it an injustice when they’re not.

  3. Natalie Johnson was anything but neutral when she was telling a customer, to her face, that she did not exist and did not deserve basic respect. And you’d better believe that the AFA is anything but neutral when they try to frame such flagrant bigotry as “religious freedom”. They didn’t want Macy’s to be “neutral”. They wanted Macy’s to take their side.

    A thousand times THIS. Excellent piece, and thank you for pointing out that when bigots claim to want neutrality, it means siding with them. Why a restaurant or a home-goods store ought to have a stance that aims to remove, violate, or prevent human rights is beyond me.

  4. Kickass argument. Thanks for helping decode the religious right once again. I keep thinking I can decode their superficially bland language, and they keep coming up with a new “dogwhistle” terms that mean something other than what their words indicate. We should keep a master list somewhere, lol.

  5. I have a relative who is a Million Mom member, among other organizations. Every once in while, I click through her recommendations and outraged emails so I can stay current with where I should be shopping. I had a GLBT marathon shopping day a couple months ago – JCPenney, Home Depot, and Target all in one day!