by Char Scott
March 11, 2022 – Students in Iowa walk out to protest a new law to prevent transgender students from competing in sports. Photo by Phil Roeder via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)
Multiple states across the nation, including Tennessee, Alabama, New Mexico, Arizona, and Florida, have recently proposed or passed laws that threaten the meager gains LGBT people have been able to win under capitalism. It was only eight years ago that the Supreme Court was forced to rule in favor of legally recognizing gay marriage nationwide. Now, under the smokescreen of “protecting children” or “ensuring fairness in sports,” conservative forces are building a reactionary wave against these small but significant victories for LGBTQ+ people.
Many of these laws are targeted attacks on LGBTQ+ children and their parents. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has directed the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate and criminalize parents and doctors who provide children with gender-affirming healthcare. This is on the heels of the attacks on abortion rights in Texas last year. Despite protests and public outcry, Florida’s governor recently signed HB 1157 into law, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill prohibits teaching students about LGBTQ+ issues in Florida’s public schools. This joins a host of conservative attempts nationwide to censor public education, strengthening curricula that teach children to accept oppressive ideas that benefit capitalist society.
Biden’s promises on the campaign trail have led to little in the way of concrete improvements for the working class including defending and extending LGBTQ+ rights, despite Democratic control of the Presidency, House, and Senate. Republicans might gain electorally in the upcoming midterms from the failure of the Democrats to help working people and from the lack of a left workers’ party. By campaigning on these “culture war” issues, they can leverage these bigoted ideas to galvanize and appeal to the more extreme sections of their voter base. They have spun a story where LGBTQ+ people are among those responsible for the evils in society to distract workers from issues rooted in the capitalist system. Framing LGBTQ+ and other rights as these “culture war” issues helps both parties look like they’re fighting for change while avoiding anything that might threaten profits.
While millions were convinced that a vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election would mean a defeat of “Trumpism,” politicians like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Boebert have seen substantial success using the reactionary, populist style of Trump. Their attacks are a sign that the longstanding betrayals and failures of Democrats in office are a factor in setting the stage for something even worse than Trump in the future.
The example set by workers at Disney gives us an idea of how the working class can combat this wave of homophobia and transphobia. The Disney Corporation has supported right-wing, often openly homophobic politicians since its inception regardless of the avalanche of Rainbow Mickey Mouse merchandise every June. The employees at Disney saw the company’s refusal to condemn the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as the last straw. Employees spoke out publicly against a long history of censorship towards LGBTQ+ material at Disney. The outcry culminated in a walkout on March 22nd, demanding that the company use its vast wealth and influence to stop the discrimination it has thus-far enabled. The possibility of this pressure growing into a larger labor struggle forced the company to condemn the Florida bill and rescind their donations to the politicians supporting it. This is hardly even the tip of the iceberg of what employees could accomplish by forcing Disney, a company that posted profits of $1.2bn in the first quarter of 2022, to use its influence to fight these laws. Workers’ power can force the capitalist class to budge on the rights of LGBTQ+ people when it’s otherwise unwilling.
The working class needs to unite against our shared enemy—the capitalist class—to win LGBTQ+ rights. No capitalist anti-discrimination laws can end the economic oppression built into the system. Laws against employment discrimination mean nothing under “at-will” hiring. We need free universal and inclusive healthcare to end medical discrimination and guaranteed housing to end housing discrimination. Militant unions that fight for their members can organize workers against bigoted bosses and give workers the power to oppose corporate attacks on our rights. Under capitalism, any rights the working class is able to win are only temporary, and are constantly under threat of being rolled back. Only the power of the working class, in all its diversity, can bring an end to the capitalist system, and with it, the oppression of LGBTQ+ people.