This Is What Happens When the President Is a Bigot

[Content Note: Homophobia and transphobia.]

Something I've said many times over the past year is that Donald Trump didn't invent bigotry, but he has mightily empowered it.

At the Daily Beast, Samantha Allen reports on a grave consequence of that reckless sanction: A new survey, commissioned by GLAAD and conducted by The Harris Poll, found that support for LGBTQ Americans among their cishet countrypeople has precipitously diminished, marking "the first time in the four-year history of the Accelerating Acceptance report that GLAAD has witnessed a decline in LGBT acceptance."
"This year, the acceptance pendulum abruptly stopped and swung in the opposite direction," GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis wrote in the 2018 report, noting the sharp contrast between this year's results and the last three years of watching Americans report being "more comfortable with LGBTQ people and more supportive of LGBTQ issues."

The annual GLAAD survey asks non-LGBT Americans to describe how comfortable they are in several scenarios involving LGBT people, like learning that a doctor is LGBT, witnessing a same-sex couple holding hands, or worshipping alongside and LGBT person at church.

This year's version, conducted in November 2017, found "a decline with people's comfort year-over-year," not just in a few of the scenarios, but "in every LGBTQ situation."

For example, in 2016, 27 percent of non-LGBT Americans said that they would be "very" or "somewhat" uncomfortable with learning that a family member is LGBT; in 2017, that figure jumped all the way up to 32 percent.

...The popular wisdom was that 2017 was a uniquely awful year for LGBT Americans; the Accelerating Acceptance report is one of the first tangible signs of how bad it has been.
Naturally, there have been direct, interpersonal consequences for members of the LGBTQ community: "55 percent of LGBT respondents to the GLAAD survey reported experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in 2017, as compared to 44 percent who said the same in 2016."

Another troubling finding was that the number of self-identified "allies" dropped significantly:
The GLAAD survey sorts non-LGBT Americans into three broad categories based on their comfort level across the LGBT scenarios: "allies" who are "very" or "somewhat" comfortable with every scenario, "detached supporters" who vary in comfort based on the question, and "resisters" who report being "very" or "somewhat" uncomfortable in every situation.

The proportion of "resisters" has held steady at 14 percent of non-LGBT Americans since 2015 but the ratio of "allies" to "detached supporters" took a turn for the worse over the past year. Now, GLAAD counts 49 percent of the non-LGBT respondents as "allies," down from 53 percent in 2016. Over that some time span, the percentage of "detached supporters" rose from 33 percent to 37 percent.
That the number of "allies" has diminished is very telling, for a couple of reasons.

1. It speaks directly to the disingenuousness of "ally" as a fixed identity.

2. It confirms my suspicions that lots of privileged people who most aggressively identify as "allies" are doing it to mask their discomfort, as opposed to because they have an interest in doing the work to leverage their privilege on behalf of people without it. And, given the slightest room to indulge that discomfort, they will.

Relatedly, there are a lot of privileged folks who aren't particularly principled about their support for marginalized communities. They simply identify as "ally" when that's the more popular position, and jettison that identity when it's no longer fashionable.

3. Finally, and most importantly, as many social justice advocates have long argued, a public expectation of support for marginalized people matters. Hugely.

That is, privileged people must feel ashamed for failing to support marginalized populations, or a number of them won't fucking do it.

Empathy will only get us so far. The rest depends on creating a public perception that it's entirely unacceptable to not show support.

That's why Trump empowering bigotry is so dangerous. The whole "he's just saying what we're all thinking" stuff was always going to result in a backlash, because what it was doing was tearing away the boundaries that decent people had set in terms of what was publicly tolerated.

He unmuzzled bigots who felt constrained — and rightly so — by social disincentives to express their bigotry. Unleashing queerphobic rhetoric in turn creates space where more people feel okay about their reservations, as opposed to feeling obliged to interrogate them. Visible support from fewer cishet people — including those who are silent because they believe equality has been achieved (nope) and wouldn't need vigilant nurture even if it had been (wrong) — then creates even more space for expressed bigotry to thrive.

It's an ugly cycle and a massive failure among privileged people.

Trump is the ringleader of this grotesquery, but behind him roars an entire circus of seething hatred and dangerous indifference. Their spectacle is contagion, and it must be shut down.

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