Let’s do a quick recap: Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Humans who value women’s rights, reproductive freedom, LGBTQIA+ equality, and immigrant lives, anti-racism, and protection of our most marginalized died inside too. With the death of Ginsburg, a seat on the United States Supreme Court opened the door for Trump to appoint a conservative judge who will interpret the Constitution in a way that supports religious freedom and views of our founding fathers—because that makes sense in the year 2020.
Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett, who made it very clear during her confirmation hearing that she will strengthen the push recently made by Justices Thomas and Alito to challenge the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. While saying she has never discriminated based on “sexual preference,” her word choice said so much more. Language is important, especially when it comes to the law, and Barrett’s poor use of it is a dinosaur-sized canary of trouble for LGBTQIA+ rights.
Trump needs votes, and in order to do that he has to appeal to his base, which is full of anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQIA+ people who don’t believe racism is a problem, or who are openly adamant about preserving the white race. Trump’s nomination of Barrett looks like a move to appeal to the suburban, middle class, college educated, working mother.
The Republicans seem to think that because Barrett is a mom of seven with two Black children, she is qualified for the Supreme Court and can’t possibly be racist. They are using her as the face of “family values” to create a narrative of fairness and sound decision making. However, Coney will use those values to tear down and not protect women, men, and nonbinary folks and families, specifically those who are queer. When she said “sexual preference” instead of sexual identity or sexual orientation, she became as lovable to the queer community as J.K. Rowling is to the transgender community.
The implication that sexuality is somehow a choice or a preference has been a long-standing argument against folks who don’t identify as heterosexual. In that belief, many religions preach that homosexuality is a sin and something that can be prayed away or avoided through restraint. Conversion therapy, rejection, and the refusal of services based on religious preferences have persisted as persecutions against queer people.
Justice Thomas recently said that the 2015 court’s decision on same-sex marriage “[E]nables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots, making their religious liberty concerns that much easier to dismiss.” Barrett defended the dissenters of the Obergefell v. Hodges case in a speech in 2016. Religious folks use their opinions to take away the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, while they never risk losing theirs. Going to church does not take away your ability to work, but going against church rules can? That seems far from the 14th Amendment’s claim that all citizens are guaranteed equal protections of the law.
Homosexuality is no more a choice than heterosexuality, because attraction and love are not something we can control. Every human can practice abstinence, but that does not erase one’s sexuality; it simply makes one celibate. Barrett’s apology for calling sexuality “sexual preference” does not make her an ally to the queer community. It only confirms to me that she is not educated enough about LGBTQIA+ people to fully understand what is at risk, and won’t be able to stand up to the other judges who are openly more conservative.
Barrett said, “I certainly didn’t mean and would never mean to use a term that would cause any offense in the LGBTQ community. So if I did, I greatly apologize for that.” If she didn’t mean to cause offense, then she would have known better than to use an offensive term. Intention matters, and so does the impact of accidental harm.
Her apology was a plea to excuse ignorance, and I and other queer Americans do not accept it. Barrett is versed on religious freedoms and is smart enough to have earned multiple degrees; surely she can better understand the lives of LGBTQIA+ folks who are just trying to get through the day without fear of discrimination in every aspect of our lives.
One small way our lives are better is through same-sex marriage. When Barrett equates queerness to choice, she is showing her hand. If she really cares about the LGBTQIA+ community, she would have openly supported Obergefell v. Hodges and not botched her response while stumbling over her bias. She essentially told me she supports my “lifestyle” and reassured me she loves the sinner but not the sin, because she is about to ask the queer community to agree to disagree when it comes to our right to protections.
I can promise you no queer person prefers to live a life that is statistically higher for mental illness, homelessness, unemployment, substance abuse, sexual and physical abuse, and poverty compared to heterosexual and cisgender folks. The difference is not in how we love or identify; it’s in how we are perceived and treated based on ignorance and religious liberties.
Here is another very important element that makes me nervous about Barrett being a part of the Supreme Court: gender identity is not a choice either. A cisgender person knows their gender on a very personal, almost thoughtless level. The same goes for transgender people. However, because gender is assigned at birth based on biological sex, a person whose gender differs from that assigned assumption struggles against the heteronormative narrative to live as their true self.
Sexuality or sexual orientation is often based on one’s gender identity and the expressions of both vary widely. I don’t have faith that Barrett understands any of this. Yet, these are important distinctions — because the laws that protect LGBTQIA+ people are work-arounds from the 1964 Civil Rights Protection Act. While biological sex is not the same as gender identity, the law claims that one can’t be fired for being gay or transgender because that is discrimination based on sex.
Barrett has openly misgendered transgender people and has referred to transgender women as “physiological males.” She does not believe Title IX should protect transgender individuals. As more attempts are being made to restrict bathroom use and the ability for athletes to play sports based on their gender identity vs. birth sex, Barrett would impede transgender rights for years.
Amy Coney Barrett is not an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, and she doesn’t care about the harm she may cause us. She is another white, cisgender religious woman who will do everything she can to find a place at the most powerful bench in America in order to do what she believes is the Lord’s work.
Barrett is a total asshole, and I am as sorry about my choice of words as she was about hers.