Trump Supporters Are Not Oppressed

New York Times readers were confronted today with a new entry in the paper’s ongoing competition for the most ill-conceived article of all time: a “news analysis” that blames liberals for the actions and attitudes of conservatives who voted for Trump. There are many things wrong with this puerile puff piece masquerading as a legitimate analysis of the current political climate, but its most egregious fault is that it equates liberals’ treatment of Trump supporters with the discrimination gay people experienced in the 1950s.

The article begins with an anecdote about a Republican in South Carolina who was upset by “strangers on Facebook” and “friends in New York and Los Angeles” giving him a hard time about his vote for Trump, which he claimed has made him even more supportive of the president. Does this man have beliefs and convictions of his own, or does he base his political thoughts and actions solely on how other people treat him? The answer seems to be the latter, as he said, “I didn’t choose a side. They put me on one.”

I’ve seen this ‘I’m the victim of liberal cruelty’ stance from conservatives in multiple venues since the election. It’s odd, and if our country weren’t in such a grave crisis of leadership it would be hilarious, given that Republicans have long boasted of being “the party of personal responsibility.” Instead of living up to that self-imposed label, they’re now claiming that their embrace of extreme right-wing positions and their support of a lying, bullying, unhinged president are the fault of liberals who have been mean to them.

The Times article then introduces an extended metaphor of a Trump supporter coming out of a political closet. You might be tempted to think this comparison was made in jest, except that the article’s overall tone is beyond earnest as it begs us to empathize with these oversensitive Trump voters:

“The name calling from the left is crazy,” said Bryce Youngquist, 34, who works in sales for a tech start-up in Mountain View, Calif., a liberal enclave where admitting you voted for Mr. Trump is a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay. “They are complaining that Trump calls people names, but they turned into some mean people.” Mr. Youngquist stayed in the closet for months about his support for Mr. Trump…He came out a few days before the election. On election night, a friend posted on Facebook, “You are a disgusting human being.”

Wherever you live in this country, admitting that you voted for Donald Trump isn’t “a little like saying in the 1950s that you were gay.” It’s nothing like it, in fact. Let’s review some of the things that happened to people who were either openly gay or involuntarily outed in the 1950s:

  • Every state had “anti-sodomy” laws that outlawed gay sex. Vice squads in major cities regularly arrested men in sting operations for soliciting sex, leading in many cases to the loss of jobs and of status within their communities.
  • The Lavender Scare, which John Kerry apologized for last month, involved mass firings in the 1950s of lesbians and gay men who worked for the federal government.
  • Homosexuality was classified as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association, an error that wasn’t corrected until the 1970s. As a result, people were committed to institutions just because they were gay.

And let’s drop the idea that you need to cite the 1950s to reference an era when it was hard to be openly gay in this country, as if everything has been just swell for LGBT people in the 60 years since. Discrimination and danger are still major concerns in 2017:

  • It’s legal in 28 states to fire someone from their job for being gay or transgender.
  • Hate crimes against LGBT people are disturbingly common.
  • The newly recognized right to same-sex marriage is now endangered by the fact that Trump (or Pence, should Trump not serve his whole term) may be able to nominate two or even three justices to the Supreme Court who oppose gay rights.
  • Republicans in states across the country are pushing various bills to curtail the rights of LGBT people.

Let’s not forget Ronald Reagan ignoring the AIDS epidemic for years because it disproportionately affected gay men. Or the murder of Matthew Shepard. Or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Or the case of Janice Langbehn, who (along with their children) was prevented by a hospital in Miami from seeing her partner, Lisa Pond, in the last moments of her life. Or about a million other horrific events and obstacles that LGBT people have had to overcome while just trying to live our lives and gain societal acceptance and equality under the law.

So, to sum up: having someone tell you that you’re a horrible person because you voted for a horrible presidential candidate is not at all like being fired from your job, disowned by your family, kept from seeing your loved one on their deathbed, arrested for having consensual sex with another adult, prevented from serving in the military, or being threatened or beaten up or killed for who you are. Discrimination against LGBT people was and is real, it did and does ruin people’s lives, and it still ends people’s lives in violent ways. The New York Times should know better than to diminish this history by ascribing a comparable mantle of victimhood to Trump supporters who can’t handle well-deserved criticism of their actions and beliefs. Especially when those voters belong to a political party with a long and continuing history of demonizing LGBT people and denying us equal rights.