People often criticize comic books for their ham-fisted writing style. For example, take Stan Lee’s X-Men — a class of people with superpowers, dubbed “mutants,” who are relentlessly persecuted by “normal” humans and politicians who treat them with fear and disgust, despite using their powers for the benefit of both humans and mutants.
This particular piece of intellectual property has been in the public sphere since 1963, and the “mutants” metaphor has been used as a stand-in for a host of social issues, particularly racism and homophobia. However, comic books have a tendency to lay it on thick.
The plotlines are “good vs. evil” and the villains are so over the top and ridiculous. I mean, it’s not like the LGBTQ community is being relentlessly targeted by populist politicians while crazed vigilantes try to hunt us down and intimidate us in a villainous attempt to remove us completely from society, right?
On May 17, Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education candidate Joseph Shelton shared a homophobic anonymous letter he says was sent to him. “It brings sadness that today, I received a letter from an anonymous person stating that as an LGBTQ+ person I do not belong in a public role and that I should drop out of the race,” he said in a news release.
The letter, which made extensive use of the f-slur, repeated a number of far-right talking points. “I am writing today to tell you that f**s do not belong in public office or working near our children for that matter,” the letter reads. “Our Board of Education’s job is to set up an education for our children’s future and we do not need a f****t teaching our children that being gay is okay or that it is okay to go against god’s word.” The letter goes on to accuse Shelton, “you chose to educate children to be gay when you worked for Inside Out Youth Services,” and ends on a particularly fascist note, “our Board must be white, straight, and Christian.”
So far three Board of Education members have condemned the letter. Though crude, the letter pretty clearly reflects the sentiment behind much of the anti-LGBTQ, and specifically anti-trans, legislation we’ve seen this year. Tennessee’s Gov. Bill Lee recently signed a law requiring businesses and government facilities open to the public to post a sign if they let transgender people use bathrooms associated with their gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign called the law “offensive and humiliating.”
These kinds of laws, often presented under the guise of protecting women and children, are really just a way of trying to drive queer people out of public life. We don’t belong in schools, we don’t belong in bathrooms, we don’t belong anywhere God-fearing Americans might have to interact with us and give us the barest of human dignities.
These laws frequently target trans people, using us as a wedge issue to divide people who are generally supportive of gay rights, but find trans people a bridge too far. Trans people are just the first step of course, as the intent, just like with the anonymous author of the letter to Shelton, is to ultimately force out anyone who isn’t “white, straight, and Christian.” Assimilate or face the consequences, basically.
These attitudes ignore the reality that LGBTQ people are, and always have been, a part of human society. No one “teaches kids to be gay,” and if anything, our society does its level best to teach kids not to be queer, to stifle themselves and conform and suffer, so that anonymous reactionaries can be comfortable. There are currently six states — Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas — that outright ban the “promotion of homosexuality,” and prevent teachers from discussing LGBTQ people in a positive light, or at all.
When you really look at it, I guess those X-Men villains aren’t so outlandish after all. What is really outlandish is that a group of mutants like the X-Men would work so hard to try to save a society that shows them nothing but contempt and disdain. The older I get, the more I think that maybe Magneto was right.