When Pride is filibustered
What’s stopping LGBTQ political progress? The same things stopping everything else.
Pride month isn't over yet, but the big news that dropped earlier this week will be hard to beat.
On Monday, Carl Nassib, the 28-year-old defensive end for the Las Vegas Raiders, came out as gay in a video message on his personal Instagram account. Nassib is the first openly gay active NFL player, a truly historic precedent that is significant not only for the world of professional sports, but also for the millions of young Americans looking for more queer role models in athletics. "Happy Pride Month and Go Raiders," Nassib wrote on the post accompanying his announcement.
Happy Pride, indeed. Turn on your television, fire up one of your social media accounts or walk into any major retail store and you're likely to see an enthusiastic, even over-the-top celebration of the month. Considering the very long history of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in this country, including in the American workplace, corporate America's almost across-the-board endorsement of Pride is no doubt a welcome development of the past decade. And it's surely a sign of how far we've come that some of the loudest protests about Pride, especially its corporate takeover, come not from hateful homophobes these days, but from within the LGBTQ community itself. As the headline of an LGBTQNation article recently read, "Companies need to swap tokenism for authenticity if they want to celebrate Pride with us."
President Biden seems on board with that directive. With an official presidential proclamation recognizing Pride month and a host of executive orders related to LGBTQ equality in his first hundred days in office – a promise he had made on the campaign trail – Biden has pointedly drawn a sharp contrast from his predecessor who never acknowledged Pride month and, more damagingly, carried out a steady attack on LGBTQ rights.
Still, an exuberant Pride month and a supportive president may obscure the real limits of LGBTQ equality in our polarized political environment – and how broken American politics held hostage by a Republican minority is right now. In his presidential proclamation, Biden vowed to keep calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act, proposed legislation that would ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and other sectors. But despite overwhelming support for such anti-discrimination legislation and ever-growing acceptance of LGBTQ Americans, the Equality Act looks like it has no chance to pass because not one Senate Republican is willing to vote for it.
It's worth underscoring just how broad-based American support is for such legislation. In 2017, the Public Religion Research Institute found that 70 percent of Americans approved of laws that protected LGBTQ persons against discrimination. Three years later, that level had grown to 83 percent support. As those numbers would suggest, a large majority of Americans from every political affiliation back these laws, with 94 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents, and even 68 percent of Republicans endorsing such measures. (Those large majorities of support also exist in every major religious group, including among White evangelicals). A recent poll finding 55 percent of Republicans now support same-sex marriage only underscores how much LGBTQ rights are becoming a non-partisan issue for the average American.
That's not the case with Republicans in Washington, however. In terms of the Equality Act, some Senate Republicans have contended their opposition is based only on the legislation's gender identity provisions, admittedly an issue that has less uniform support among Americans. Tyler Deaton, a gay Republican who works with the conservative organization American Unity Fund to build LGBTQ support within the GOP, has also said he could get the ten Republicans needed to avoid a filibuster if sufficient religious liberty language is added to the bill. But Democrats argue those religious freedom protections are already in place, and that the legislation is needed to outlaw discrimination in housing and public accommodations that the courts have failed to address.
Certain carve-outs or addenda to the legislation could very well bring enough Republican Senators over. Yet 70 percent of voters polled this spring voiced their agreement with the Equality Act in its current form.
And that's the instructive point for American politics in general. Congressional Republicans' disconnect from American public opinion – and even their own party members' views – is hardly unique to LGBTQ issues. On a whole list of big issues, including voting rights, gun control, police reform, and prosecuting Trump, Republicans in Washington stand outside a large national consensus on these matters.
In a well-functioning democracy, this would spell devastating political consequences for the party. But thanks to the filibuster and excessive gerrymandering, along with a rigged federal judiciary, Congressional Republicans don't have to worry about what Americans want. Rather than being responsive to their citizens, Republicans now function as roadblocks against those wishes.
On so many issues, Democrats have effectively won the cultural war and stand squarely within public opinion. However, a political system that rewards Republican recalcitrance rather than a Democratic majority means that translating that public support into real policy remains a non-starter. This is hardly how representative government should work.
There are many reasons to celebrate Pride month this year. But the challenge of Pride in the Biden era – and, in fact, much of American life and politics – is that public support and a willing president isn't enough.