This year’s Pride Month has reinvigorated the culture wars of yesteryear with a special focus on children and the school curriculum.
As a third-generation Baltimorean, I am no stranger to Baltimore’s sizable LGBT community. I am old enough to remember the formation of the ‘Gayborhood’ in Mount Vernon with its notable LGBT-friendly establishments like Club Hippo and Leon’s.
I am also old enough to remember the fire and brimstone sermons told at Black churches warning attendees of the evils of ‘white homosexuality’, ‘down low culture’, and gay marriage. While my progressive friends sought to link the LGBT movement with the Black Civil Rights movement, I often took a step back and examined the complex relationship between privilege and power when it came to issues of race, gender, and sexuality. I specifically took note of gender and sexuality were amplified by some (often white LGBT) groups while many Black Baltimoreans grappled with harsh economic realities.
No doubt, both Black Americans and LGBT persons have faced historical discrimination and marginalization. Tensions arise when it comes to differing religious beliefs and cultural values, but there is often one key fact left out of these debates, namely the stark differences between the lives of Black Baltimoreans and their white counterparts.
For decades, many poor Black Baltimoreans saw political arguments on sexuality as more a luxury than a real necessity. Throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, organizations led mostly by white gay males sought inclusion and LGBT-friendly health services, but did little to advocate for Black families struggling with rampant poverty, the crack epidemic, and rising crime. For many of Black Baltimoreans, issues facing homosexuals seemed distant and confined to white men living in Baltimore’s ‘White L’ communities.
The local media also did not help. They often mirrored their national counterparts and focused on esoteric battles between religious leaders and gay-rights activists. They spoke about gay educators, gay marriage, and gay adoption, but never included the perspectives of blue-collar whites or poor Blacks living in the inner city.
It was as if our deeper concerns about unemployment and rising crime did not matter. This was particularly true for Italian and Irish American communities in the Northeast and poorer whites in the Deep South. Prior to the 1980s, these communities were strongly tied to the Democrat party. With the high inflation and an increasingly post-industrial economy, these communities were in dire need of a renewed focus on economic prosperity. Instead, they saw their Democrat Party become more concerned with pleasing increasingly vocal LGBT and feminist activists.
Enter the Religious Right who sought to capitalize on the Democrat shift and draw bright lines between Republicans and Democrats on social issues like abortion and LGBT rights. Leaders like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson began to tap into the underlying resentment of blue-collar workers who felt that their religious and cultural values were under attack while their concerns about the economy were being ignored. With respect to LGBT issues, conservatives had Anita Bryant, a housewife and former Miss America contestant whose outspoken opposition to LGBT rights, particularly her successful campaign to repeal a gay rights ordinance in Miami, resonated with many socially conservative Democrats.
The result was the rise of the “Reagan Democrat.” This new constituency was made up of blue-collar white ethnic communities (Irish, Italian) from the North and evangelicals from the Deep South. Both warmed up to the Republican Party through Ronald Reagan’s embrace of socially conservative positions. They provided a crucial voting bloc that contributed to Reagan’s victory in addition to setting the stage for his conservative policies and the broader conservative movement of the 1980s. By 1984, traditionally Democrat states like Maryland voted for Reagan as did other states like Massachusetts and Mississippi. It became a sustainable coalition that lasted throughout the 1980s rendering three consecutive terms for Republican presidents.
It is now 2023 and we are again in the midst of several culture wars on sex and sexuality. This time, the battle is on gender ideology and transgender children. There is little doubt that the divide falls along party lines with Republicans opposed to gender ideology curricula in the classroom and Democrats pushing this curriculum and transgendered kids in sports.
Both sides use these issues to galvanize their base. Again, left out of these discussions are the conditions facing blue-collar workers and inner-city Blacks. And just like in the late 1970s, blue-collar workers who vote Democrat are concerned that their worries about rising crime, the direction of the economy, and the drug epidemic (this time, fentanyl) are being ignored. These Democrats are no longer Irish and Italian Americans, but rather Latino, Asian-American, and African American.
And also, like 40 years ago, the Left’s obsession with abortion and transgender rights allows Republicans to again create a new form of ‘Reagan Democrats’ by simply focusing on a positive economic message and a pledge to protect traditional and religious values.
Democrats would argue otherwise. They cite their successes with same-sex marriage in 2015 as a clear example of the American electorate’s shift in supporting LGBT causes. The problem, however, lies in the fact that this time around, arguments on sexuality do not focus on two consenting adults, but rather on children. The stories of trans girls dominating ‘girls’ sports come all too frequently. So too are the stories of sexually-explicit books and materials in public schools. To top this is Maryland’s recent Trans Equity Act that allows minors to access hormonal replacement therapy and medical procedures with minimal parental consent and at taxpayer expense.
Older Democrats who bear the scars of culture wars from decades prior may suggest a truce and contend that arguments on gender inclusivity be directed solely toward adults and not children. But at this point, the genie has largely left the bottle. The Left is hellbent on advocating a radical agenda on gender ideology at a time when more racial and ethnic minorities are turning to the Republican Party. And so, while the culture wars rage on this Pride month, let us think ahead just a year or two where the conversation may then shift toward the queerest of voters, i.e., a new generation of Republicans who were once Black, Latino, and Asian American Democrats.
O brave new world!