* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Frank Schubert, Bryan Fischer and Ralph Drollinger have exploited the COVID-19 pandemic to increase their attacks on LGBT+ people
Jeremy Hooper is a longtime LGBTQ rights activist who works as a strategist and contributor for GLAAD
One is the mastermind behind notorious marriage discrimination efforts in North Carolina, Maine, and California. Another is a longtime conservative activist who has interviewed major conservative figures on his American Family Association radio show. A third is a prominent evangelical whose weekly bible studies with Trump Cabinet officials and Republican members of Congress are so influential that the New York Times called him a “shadow diplomat.”
What do these seemingly unlinked figures have in common? All three have exploited the current COVID-19 crisis to further their attacks on LGBT+ people.
Let’s start with the campaign mastermind, Frank Schubert. Writing for an outlet called International Family News, the man who persuaded California voters into enacting the unconstitutional ballot initiative known as Proposition 8 insists that the coronavirus crisis is a time to remind us of “the eternal truths of marriage, and what it means for children and families.”
According to the anti-LGBT+ campaign operative, “[n]o other family structure comes close to delivering the enormous benefits to couples and children that does marriage between a man and a woman. Not single parents. Not same-sex parents. Not parents who cohabitate.”
He concludes by saying we’d be “well-advised during this crisis to resolve to stop treating natural marriage as a political matter and start promoting it as an essential institution integral to enhancing human flourishing.” Human flourishing that, in his eyes, is only for heterosexual, married, cisgender parents raising kids under one certain model.
Then there’s the American Family Association staffer, Bryan Fischer. In his contribution to Coronavirus commentary, Mr. Fischer focuses on school closings, which he believes will protect children “from being brainwashed into normalizing sexual deviancy, gender confusion, and Drag Queen story hours.” Fischer goes on to insist parents will find they like this escape from pro-LGBT+ education and ultimately start homeschooling instead.
Which brings us to the Trump administration’s in-house preacher, Ralph Drollinger. Drollinger, who details in his weekly study guide his belief that God is judging America, sharing his view that the current pandemic is a “sowing and reaping” curse. While he does say he believes God hasn’t yet forsaken us, Drollinger does cite “a sensation toward homosexuality” on his shortlist of reasons for why a vengeful God might eventually take his hand of protection off the world.
The study guide where Drollinger makes these outrageous claims bears the sponsorship of 11 GOP senators (Blackburn, Lankford), 41 representatives (Jordan, McCarthy), and 12 current and former Trump Cabinet officials (Meadows, DeVos, Pompeo). Two of the listed sponsors, Secretary Carson and Vice President Pence, are even members of the COVID-19 task force—and they’re directly aligned with someone who sees homosexuality as possible causation for the virus itself!
Unfortunately, LGBT+ people have grown used to being blamed for global tragedies. After 9/11, American evangelical Jerry Falwell blamed us for that attack. Pastor John Hagee, a preacher with close ties to the current White House, blamed LGBT+ Pride parades for causing Hurricane Katrina. Former UK Independence Party councilor David Silvester suggested marriage equality caused storms across Britain. Former U.S Senator Rick Santorum cited marriage equality as a reason for the Great Recession, a talking point we’ll likely hear repeated should the current crisis damage the financial sector.
The insinuation that LGBT+ people are powerful enough to awaken the supernatural is common enough to be laughable, yet laughing it off can’t be our response. Whether they truly believe such things or are just trying to demonstrate their evangelical bona fides, this rhetoric has true human cost attached.
This is even truer at a time when so many families are living under tense conditions with anxieties renewing daily. While struggling with how to keep their kids educated or how to pay rent while suddenly unemployed, the last thing anyone needs is to hear that their very lives are provoking God’s rage. It’s a cruel reminder of ugliness at a time when we could all use a little more compassion.
Many heroes will emerge from this crisis, and we should rightly lift them up once we weather this storm. On the flipside, there’ll be more who cast cruel stones and point misdirected fingers—and we shouldn’t forget them either. At a time filled with considerable darkness, let us point out people’s true colors when they show them.