The struggle for equal rights is far too familiar in the United States, with the great push of the 1960s still in living memory. Now, in 2021, one of the most difficult fights for civil rights belongs to the transgender community, which has encountered setbacks and hate both socially and politically in recent months.
Over the past few weeks, two events in particular have highlighted this struggle: the House’s vote to pass the Equality Act, which now faces a more difficult battle in the Senate, and the flash pan “Super Straight” movement.
To begin with the latter, the “Super Straight” movement is a blatantly transphobic idea represented by an orange and black banner. Those who identify as “Super Straight” distinguish themselves from typical heterosexuals by preferring “the opposite sex with the exclusion of transgender people,” according to the term’s definition on Urban Dictionary.
The movement began after a TikTok uploaded by user KyleRoyce at the end of February found its way to the minimally-moderated, fringe website 4chan even after the original video was taken down. KyleRoyce coined the term in the video, though he was explicit about doing so to avoid being called or seeming transphobic.
“I’ve made a new sexuality. Straight men get called transphobic because I wouldn’t date a trans woman. Now, I’m super straight. I only date the opposite gender, women, that are born women. So you can’t say I’m transphobic now because that is just my sexuality,” said KyleRoyce.
The term was then picked up by the neo-Nazi groups that frequent 4chan, who proceeded to create a “Super Straight” movement explicitly as an attempt to troll and divide the LGBTQ+ community and to attract more people to groups sympathetic to their bigotry. Even the movement’s initials are meant to be reminiscent of Hitler’s “Schutzstaffel,” more commonly referred to as the S.S., according to posts and deleted threads on Twitter. The plan went into effect on March 1, and the term began to circulate through more popular social media platforms.
Initially, some pro-trans accounts were supportive of the term as a sexuality on Twitter. However, this support diminished as the term was overtaken predominantly by exclusionists and TERFS – those who wish to exclude certain identities from the LGBTQ community and “trans-exclusionary radical feminists,” respectively. The LGBTA Wiki states, “While some cisgender individuals who identify with this term are supportive of transgender individuals, it is still not appropriate to use this term, as it has been overtaken by exclusionists and TERFS. It is also unneeded, as having a preference for cisgender people does not require a label.” The wiki, which hosts pages of queer terms and concepts as a means of easy education, currently does not recognize or support “Super Straight” as part of the LGBTQ community.
The most unfortunate and disheartening part of this story is that it worked, to a degree. The hashtag for the movement started trending on Twitter, and Reddit had an entire forum dedicated to it. Across my own social media I saw exclusionist members of the LGBTQ+ community ally themselves with these “Super Straights,” which was corroborated by The Insider’s articles on this issue, even coining the terms “Super Lesbians” and “Super Gays.” These people actively sided with their own oppressors to hold down other members of their community.
As the source and intent behind the movement has become clearer, it seems that the term “Super Straight” has tapered off. As of March 10, multiple social media sites have banned and removed content by the movement, especially TikTok and Reddit, with the latter stating that “[t]he community had become increasingly exclusionary with hateful content.” Reddit also banned other versions of the subreddit on similar grounds. Although the bulk of the movement lasted a mere nine days, the effects and message remain clear: transgender individuals remain widely unaccepted, and many queer people will side against the already-threatened community.
Concurrent with this recent scare, the Equality Act has entered its Senate hearing after passing with a 224-206 vote in the House on Feb. 25. Three Republicans – Reps. John Katko, Tom Reed and Brian Fitzpatrick – joined the Democrats in passing the bill; however, this is only a fraction of the nine who supported the bill in 2019 when it was first passed in the House. The bill failed in the Republican-led Senate afterward. The Equality Act aims to revise the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and to provide a basis of protection in all states. In order to pass in the Senate, the bill will require 60 votes, meaning that 10 Republicans must also vote to pass it.
Despite the Democratic control of the federal legislature, it seems unlikely that these protections will go through. Many opponents of the bill have fallen back to their decades-old arguments – protection of religious freedoms and protection of women and women’s sports. Honestly, both are feeble covers for the continued refusal to acknowledge the rights of queer people as equal to their cis and heterosexual counterparts. Displays made by Republican legislators – most strikingly Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s posting of an anti-trans sign across the hall from the office of a colleague whose child is transgender – make the motivations for resistance clear.
However, the bill only includes clauses on religion in regard to the protections already in place as part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prevent discrimination based on religious belief. Nowhere in the bill does it state that it prevents religious beliefs from being held, only that, in wider society, people cannot be discriminated against based on sexuality and gender identity. Outside of a church, mosque or synagogue, people are part of a secular – not sacred – world, just as the United States is a secular state, not a theological one. The fact that a bill meant to provide secular protections which does not interfere with worship in any real capacity is being misconstrued as the greatest attack on “freedom” so far this year draws a disturbing line between American Christianity and basic human rights – namely that members of some denominations within the religion cannot respect secular human rights and to do so is a grave breach of faith. Calling this deeply troubling and problematic does not begin to describe it; this is, quite literally, an argument used to justify slavery in the 19th century and a core aspect of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, wherein Finn is taught that helping a slave go free means eternal damnation.
Despite this, roughly 83% of Americans of various religions and races support protections for LGBTQ people like those in the Equality Act, according to a survey published in October of 2020 by the Public Religion Research Institute. The PRRI is a non-profit, nonpartisan organization which conducts independent research on religion, culture and public policy, according to the organization’s website. The report also states that only 16% oppose such rights, with much of the resistance coming from Evangelical Protestants. The majority in this survey includes Democratic, Republican and Independent groups, as well as various religious sects. According to the survey, “79% of white mainline Protestants, 78% of Hispanic Catholics, 72% of members of non-Christian religious groups, 68% of Hispanic Protestants, 67% of white Catholics, 57% of Black Protestants and 56% of members of other Christian religious groups” supported marriage equality. Support of protections for LGBTQ people ranged from “59% among white evangelical Protestants to 92% among religiously unaffiliated Americans.”
Finally, the idea that religious organizations or institutions would be forced to breach their beliefs is not supported by the wording of the Civil Rights Act. In the definitions laid out in Subchapter VI of the document regarding equal employment opportunities, the protections are intended for use in purely secular contexts, with churches and other religious institutions being included in the exceptions to some clauses. This is the case in Subchapter VI, subsection 2000e – 1, which already includes an exception for religious institutions in regard to hiring based on religious beliefs.
This same clause could possibly be amended to include a protection of those beliefs by allowing religious institutions to refuse employment based on violations of their beliefs. The fact of the matter is that the Civil Rights Act goes out of its way to protect religion. Several clauses expressly protect specific religions, with Subchapter I,… Section 1996 being dedicated to the upholding of Native American religions. With regard to the second point made by conservative opponents to the bill, their proposals rarely suggest care for the protection, autonomy or well-being of women. The most glaring example of this is former president Donald Trump’s policies and personal treatment of women. The slew of demeaning comments Trump utilized during his presidency and Republican support of him create a stark contrast to the sudden interest in protecting women and the integrity of their sports. Additionally, another bill recently proposed in the House – the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act – has only a single Republican supporter so far in Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who co-sponsored the same legislation in 2019. The Violence Against Women Act builds on previous versions of the bill to support groups helping with issues of sexual assault, domestic violence and more. The current form of the bill has stalled in the legislature as both parties propose their own new versions of it. These are only two examples of hypocrisy in Republican attitudes toward women, which more often seem to run counter to their current claims in regard to LGBTQ rights.
This resistance to the Equality Act mirrors the situation playing out in many state legislatures. CNN reported earlier this year that 14 states have proposed anti-LGBTQ bills, with transgender youth finding themselves caught in the middle. Some of these bills have already passed, with Mississippi being the first to ban transgender students from women’s sports. Other bills, such as one in South Carolina, focus not only on participation in sports, but also on prohibiting sex reassignment procedures and hormone therapy for minors, even with parental consent. This is in line with the Human Rights Campaign’s prediction in its State Equality Index for 2020.
The reports states, “…opponents of equality have already telegraphed that they are more interested in continuing to attempt to sow divisiveness around LGBTQ issues in an effort to score political points. We anticipate continued attacks on transgender youth, particularly in relation to athletic participation and access to best-practice, affirming medical care, to continue across the country. We also anticipate seeing a resurgence in interest in passing religious refusal legislation, including legislation to create novel religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws.”
The report goes on to explain that 2020 saw the most proposed bills against LGBTQ rights, particularly in regard to transgender equity, at 185 bills proposed nationwide. To call this series of events a blow feels insufficient; it represents a thorough societal resistance to the acceptance of transgender people – people who wish only to be held as people in a world that supposedly encourages them to be themselves.
Despite all this, the situation is, however slowly, improving for transgender and otherwise queer individuals overall. Last year saw 379 bills proposed in support of LGBTQ people, and 47 of them passed. More recently, South Carolina rejected a bill which would have prevented transgender students from participating in women’s sports. While the federal bills face significant hurdles yet, support is steadily growing for equal rights. This year has already proven it will be a challenge to defeat and delay progress, but, with the work being done at the state and federal levels and support within queer communities, the fight for equal rights will continue.