Strategies for Concealing and Revealing Animus in Public Arguments about LGBTQ People: Lessons from the SSM Debate and ‘Bathroom Bill’ Discourse

During the same-sex marriage debate in the United States, several conservative organizations (Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, the National Organization for Marriage) released talking points guides that encouraged SSM opponents to make arguments about the concept marriage rather than gay rights or gay people. SSM opponents, they advised, should avoid relying on anti-gay animus. In a recent article (Cloud, 2014), I argued that these strategies were deceptive—they merely concealed anti-gay animus behind arguments about abstract concepts (e.g. “what we’re talking about here is marriage, not gay people”). One of the lessons of the SSM debate, then, was that opponents of LGBTQ rights will work carefully to conceal negative claims about the moral worth of marginalized groups. To put it another way: although anti-gay animus surely motivated opposition to SSM, as the debate progressed, that animus became less and less acceptable to air publicly.

In recent months, a spate of so-called “Bathroom Bills” have been proposed and ratified at the state level to repeal city-level LGBTQ anti-discrimination bills, ban people from using bathrooms not associated with the gender on their birth certificate and propagate “religious freedom.” Ted Cruz recently told Meet the Press that, “the real danger is not people who are transgendered — it’s people who are predators.” The same impulse—to conceal anti-LGBTQ animus in public arguments—appears to be at work. Proponents of these bills will not say, “transgender people are bad people.” They will use careful rhetorical moves to do so indirectly.

In this essay, I take lessons from SSM debate and apply them to the nascent debate over transgender rights in the United States. I ask what can anti-SSM discourse teach us about anti-trans discourse? In particular, what argumentative moves might opponents of LGBTQ rights use to conceal the social animus in their arguments? And, more importantly, how can this animus be laid bare? My analysis focuses on public statements by Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and others about transgender issues, particularly the notion that being transgender reflects a momentary or fleeting identification with a gender other than that assigned at birth and the idea that bathroom bills are about protecting women and children.

My goal in this presentation is to help those who want to intervene in public conversations about LGBTQ rights.


Part of panel Meaning, Framing, and Emotion in LGBTQ and anti-LGBTQ Politics
October 1, 2016, 16:45–18:30