Marginalized people are being oppressed in the name of “freedom”

In the last couple of days something horrible seems to be happening in Italy. It seems that the Italian Senate has struck down a bill that would have made violence against LGBT people, as well as apparently misogyny and attacks on disabled people, illegal. Yeah, as hard is it is to believe, apparently violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people and the disabled, as well as some attacks on women, are legal, and that was going to change if it weren’t for the Senate, which on October 27th voted by 154 to 131 to block debate on the new law. The blocking of the bill appears to have been met with a wall of applause from Italian politicians, and was spearheaded by the Italian far-right, who claimed that the law would somehow suppress freedom of expression and speech by way “homosexual propaganda” in schools. Yes, apparently, according to the far-right, the freedom to express yourself as an LGBT person without fear of being attacked by bigots with the state practically on their side is somehow a form of authoritarian oppression directed at straight people.

And who took the side of the far-right in Italy? Why, none other than the Catholic Church of course! Vatican lobbyists sought to intervene against the bill on the grounds that it would impede the church’s “freedom of thought”, somehow. Keep in mind who the current Pope is, the ostensibly LGBT-friendly Pope Francis. I haven’t seen any word of condemnation from him over this, and it’s been four days since the bill was struck down. This shouldn’t be too surprising, though. For one thing, the expectation that the Catholic Church would do an about-face on LGBT inclusion was always a fantasy, in light of the church’s historic record of bigotry and exclusion. For another thing, we know that, although Pope Francis has made many gestures suggestive of his tolerance, he is not consistently pro-LGBT, as evidenced this year by the Vatican’s decree that it will deny blessings to same-sex married couples, after Francis himself apparently endorsed same-sex civil unions – though, it might be stressed that this is not the same thing as endorsing same-sex marriage. Frankly, I never took the idea that Francis was such a progressive reformer seriously, and I will never get tired of my suspicions being right. But what do you expect of a guy who, when you get down to it, is just like every other Pope, at least when it comes to protecting children from institutional paedophilia within the Church?

Regardless, the fact remains that the Italian government will not be protecting marginalized people. If you are homosexual, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, disabled, or even just a woman, you’ll be subject to all kinds of attacks and assualts, and the government will practically defend the rights of your abusers.

Italy is not alone in developments such as these. Poland, another Catholic country, is presently debating a bill that could see LGBT Pride parades being banned, along with all other gatherings deemed to be “promoting same-sex relationships” (as if that’s supposed to be a bad thing) in parliament. One of the lawmakers arguing in the defence of “Stop LGBT” bill, Krzysztof Kasprzak, actually argued in parliament that the LGBT movement was a totalitarian, Nazi-esque movement, whose goal is to “overthrow the natural order” and “introduce terror”. The bill was also put forward by a conservative activist group called The Life and Family Foundation, which also seems to be responsible for introducing recent legislation criminalizing abortion. Also in Poland, the Polish high court ruled that EU laws violated the Polish constitution, and this includes Article 2 of the Treaty of the European Union, which outlines the values of “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”, which entails that the Polish government views the obligation to uphold LGBT rights as a violation of its constitution, on the basis that the EU courst “act beyond the limits of compeences transferred by the Republic of Poland” and “illegally override the Polish constitution” by checking the legality of the appointment of judges.

In Hungary, parliament passed a law banning the sharing of information about LGBT people that the government sees as “promoting homosexuality” in schools and TV shows for minors, which is a lot like what is already the case in Russian law on the subject, and is very similar to the justification given by the Italian far-right for blocking the anti-hate crime bill. The Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, also declared plans to hold a national referendum on LGBT rights next year, in which the questions are framed so as to gaslight people into hating LGBT people. These include questions on whether or not you support “sexual orientation workshops in schools without consent”, whether or not you believe gender reassignment surgeries should be made available to children, and all the more bafflingly a question about whether or not you support “minors being shown, without any restrictions, media content of a sexual nature that is capable of influencing their development” (I see someone never watched He-Man). Orban framed the entire referendum as a matter of “child protection”, arguing that “LGBTQ activists visit kindergardens and schools and conduct sexual education classes”, the suggestion being that this some kind of invasion of inappropriate sexual content in kindgardens meant to turn your children gay or something. All of this serves to conflate LGBT activism with pedophilia, an association that he’s outright trying to imprint in the minds of Hungarian voters as the referendum approaches.

You might notice something in all of this. The Italian far-right, the Polish conservative government, and the Hungarian prime minister, all share in common a bizarre kind of Orwellian doublethink which holds that freely expressing sexualities that do not conform to the heterosexual norm, or genders that do not conform to the cisgender binary, are somehow a form of fascism or totalitarian. Somehow, the anti-LGBT right-wing would have us believe that gay people, trans people, bisexuals, non-binary people, and the rest, who mostly just the freedom to express themselves openly without fear of persecution and to share the same rights as their heterosexual/cisgender counterparts, are a totalitarian movement that wants to oppress straight people, presumably by making your kids gay or trans or something. Under this twisted logic, to oppose them would mean preserving, or even rescuing, the freedom of heterosexuals and cisgender people to be who they are (the irony of such a premise is probably lost on them), which means that to curtail the freedom of LGBT people actually becomes a preserving freedom for everybody. This logic also underlies claims that the LGBT movement wants “homosexual propaganda” to fill the airwaves of children’s TV, somehow “oppressing” the natural development of straight children. Considering the frankly ambiguously homoerotic undertones of some Saturday morning shows, particularly He-Man or just about any superhero show, and the fact that I’ve not seen anyone turn out gay because of it, I think it’s obvious what the problems with this idea are. But of course, what they really mean is just the idea of cartoons or kid’s shows taking time out of their day validate the identities of LGBT people, to show them that it can be perfectly OK to be more than just a heterosexual breeder. The same goes for anti-racism. That’s why when Steven Universe or Arthur have little segments about addressing racism or black history, people who probably don’t actually watch those shows anymore or ever shriek with outrage and make claims about how yor kids are being forced to accept what is, let’s face it, not even particularly radical ideology about race. The irony of it all is that it’s one area where these people lose all self-awareness when it comes to their free market ideology (yes, they are still free-market capitalists as far as I can see, just not American free-market capitalists); after all, it is private companies doing this, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it.

Bottom line: LGBT rights are under attack in different parts of Europe, and all the more gallingly they’re being attacked under the auspices of a twisted version of freedom where “freedom” just means not having accept people for who they are.