The anti-gay, anti-transgender fearmongering never ends. It might retreat as civil rights and social acceptance is slowly achieved, but there’s always another scare campaign about scary queer people.
Such fear mongering against gays and transgender people is a time-tested strategy, despite plenty of evidence that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. In the battle for marriage equality, the nation was told time and again that marriage itself, along with the American family, would be imperiled if same-sex couples were allowed to marry. “Freedom will be taken away,” said one infamous 2009 ad titled “Gathering Storm.” Religion would be destroyed because the clergy would be forced to conduct same-sex weddings, no matter their convictions. Yet none of these doomsday scenarios has come to pass.
The particular terrors that fueled the campaigns in Houston and North Carolina have an even longer history. In the debate over “don’t ask, don’t tell,” opponents of openly gay service spent decades fanning the flames of anxiety about straight recruits sharing quarters — sharing showers! — with known gays and lesbians. At one point, senators held congressional hearings in the bowels of a nuclear submarine to infuse the news cycle with frightening images of the compromised privacy of military life. The message was clear: In such conditions, gay people were not to be trusted, unit cohesion could not be maintained and an inclusive policy would be a clear and present danger to the United States.
Again, none of this was true, as a wealth of research before and after “don’t ask, don’t tell” concluded (some of it was buried by those opposed to change).
A 2003 Palm Center study found that the experience of military and paramilitary organizations that lifted their gay bans showed that “cohesion, morale, recruitment, retention and privacy will be preserved or even enhanced” by ending policies that required gay people to lie about their identities or stay out of uniform. Other scholars noted that, all across the globe, people in various contexts that might seem erotic (especially when social conservatives insisted on eroticizing them) in fact developed an “etiquette of disregard.” In doctor’s offices, in military barracks, in locker rooms and restrooms, most people simply finished their business and ignored those around them. Those who had predicted disaster were spectacularly wrong.
But no amount of evidence seems capable of stopping the fear strategy. The Rand Corp. has completed a new study on transgender military service concluding, unsurprisingly, that ending discrimination against transgender troops will not harm military readiness. The Pentagon has neither released the study nor met its own deadline for reviewing the policy. Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), who wrongly predicted that openly gay military service would “complicate things” and “make it very difficult for us to take care of the troops,” is now opposing service by transgender troops because — guess what — he can’t understand which bathrooms they would use. And Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, who had earlier wrongly predicted that openly gay troops would drive away one-quarter of the military, is now predicting that transgender service will increase sexual assaults.