The Arizona senate passed S.B. 1456, and the House voted in favor of the bill that will require parental permission for students to be allowed to engage in discussions in the classroom on topics on LGBTQ people or HIV (yes, conservatives still connect us intricately with infection).
The bill now goes to Governor Doug Ducey who is a Republican for his signature.
As opposed to five other states that have parental permission “opt out” requirements, the Arizona bill involves “opt in” policies, which is seen as a stricter and more severe constraint.
The bill is applicable to any courses of instruction from sex education to history and civics and literature.
How curious that the Arizona state legislature lodged no concerns over students learning in history classes about white men engaging in horrific wars or Friday night football contests where young male gladiators bash one another into brain damaging frenzies, but, rather, it attempts to further mystify, marginalize, and place off limits and penalize (to use the football metaphor) people and communities who express love and relationships allegedly differently from those in positions of power.
I find it paradoxical that in our society, love of difference makes one the same, while love of sameness makes one different.
To explain my points more fully, I begin with a personal story:
My beloved grandfather, Simon (Shimon) Mahler, was born in 1894 in what today is Krosno, Poland. Simon and his parents and large family, which included 13 siblings, were all born and raised in Poland, most of whom died there as well (many killed under the Nazi occupation). While they were born and lived in Poland, they were never considered by Christian Poles (which constituted the vast majority), as being Poles.
Stated another way, while they resided in Poland, they were never considered of Poland.
When my grandfather came to the United States in 1913 and thereafter, he never identified as “Polish American” since he never was accepted as Polish in Poland. He identified rather as “Jewish American,” two descriptors of which he was very proud.
This personal narrative underscores the point that within many if not most countries, some groups of people – classes of people – matter more than others within a hierarchal system that accords those toward the top higher citizenship status, and more benefits and privileges.
The further down groups of people are placed, constructed, upon this hierarchy, the less status they have, the less ability they have to define themselves, and the less power they have over their lives as they feel the brutal sting of oppression.
Let’s get into the weeds a bit:
Within a patriarchal Christian white supremacist system of male domination in the United States, for example, white cisgender heterosexual Christian upper socioeconomic-class able bodied male bodies of a certain age range matter more, while “othered” or “minoritized” bodies matter less.
These “othered” bodies include female and intersex bodies, and bodies that violate the “rules” for the reproduction and maintenance of the dominant patriarchal Christian white supremacist system, such as trans, gender non-conforming, gay, lesbian, and bisexual bodies, and bodies with disabilities.
In addition, within many Western societies like the United States, non-European-heritage bodies and non-Christian bodies are regarded also as abject bodies – bodies that, to use Judith Butler’s phraseology, do not matter, or, at least, do not matter as much as “white” bodies.
Butler reminds us that the term “abjection” is taken from the Latin, ab-jicere, meaning to cast off, away, or out. On a social level, abjection designates a degraded, stigmatized, or cast out status. In psychoanalytic parlance, this is the notion of Verwerfung (foreclosure).
Social theorist and anti-fascist activist, Antonio Gramsci, coined the term “subaltern” to describe groups that those with higher status exclude from societal institutions and deny having a voice in the larger society.
Judith Butler states that “we regularly punish those who fail to do their gender right,” and similarly punish those who fail to do their “race” right. Doing one’s “race” right often depends on doing one’s socioeconomic class right. The regulatory regimes of “sex,” “sexuality,” “gender,” “ability,” “race,” “class,” and “ability” are inimically connected, and these connections are discursively or socially maintained.
Webster’s dictionary defines “oppression” as a noun meaning “the unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power” on the individual / interpersonal, institutional, and larger societal levels.
As opposed to “oppression,” I define “social justice” as “the concept that local, national, and global communities function where everyone has equal access to and equitable distribution of the rights, benefits, privileges, and resources, and where everyone can live freely unencumbered by social constructions of hierarchical positions of domination and subordination.”
In this regard, I cannot help thinking about something Frederick Douglass, who escaped enslavement and worked for the cause of liberation, once said when he described the dehumanizing effects of slavery not only on those enslaved, but also on white slavers whose position to slavery corrupted their humanity.
While the social conditions of Douglass’s time were very different from today, nonetheless, I believe Douglass’s words hold meaning by analogy:
No man can put a chain about the ankle of another man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.
Though it cannot be denied that oppression serves the interests of dominant group members, eventually it will backfire, and the chain will take hold of them.
Therefore, I have come to understand that within the numerous forms of oppression, members of targeted (sometimes called “minoritized” or “subordinated”) groups are oppressed, while on many levels, members of the dominant or agent groups are hurt. Although the effects of oppression differ qualitatively for specific targeted and agent groups, in the end everyone loses.
This is true as well within the social oppressions called “heterosexism” and “cissexism.”
I define “heterosexism” as the overarching system of advantages bestowed on heterosexuals. It includes the institutionalization of a heterosexual norm or standard, which establishes and perpetuates the notion that all people are or should be heterosexual thereby privileging heterosexuals and heterosexuality, and excluding the needs, concerns, cultures, and life experiences of people who do not define as heterosexual or gender normative.
“Cissexism” (a.k.a. “Binarism,” “Transgender Oppression,” “Genderism”) comprises a conceptual structure of oppression directed against those who live and function external to the gender/sex binary, and/or the doctrine that they do not exist at all.
Heterosexism and cissexism are pervasive throughout the society, and each of us, irrespective of sexual or gender identity and expression, stands at risk of their harmful effects.
First, heterosexist and cissexist conditioning compromise the integrity of people by pressuring them to treat others badly, which are actions contrary to their basic humanity. It inhibits one’s ability to form close, intimate relationships with members of one’s own sex, generally restricts communication with a significant portion of the population, and, more specifically, limits family relationships.
Heterosexism and cissexism lock all people into rigid gender-based roles, which inhibit creativity and self-expression. It often is used to stigmatize, silence, and, on occasion, target people who are perceived or defined by others as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender but who define as heterosexual and/or cisgender.
In addition, heterosexism and cissexism are some of the causes of premature sexual involvement, which increases the chances of teen pregnancy and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Young people, of all sexual and gender identities, are often pressured to become heterosexually active to prove to themselves and others that they are “normal.”
Societal heterosexism and cissexism prevent some LGBTQ people from developing an authentic self-identity and adds to the pressure to marry someone of another sex, which in turn places undue stress and oftentimes trauma on themselves as well as their spouses and children.
Heterosexism and cissexism, combined with sexphobia or erotophobia (fear and revulsion of sex) results in the elimination of discussions of the lives and sexuality of LGBTQ people as part of school-based sexuality education programs, keeping vital information from all students.
Such a lack of information can kill people in the age of HIV/AIDS. And heterosexism and cissexism (along with racism, sexism, classism, sexphobia) inhibits a unified and effective governmental and societal response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
With all the truly important issues facing the world, heterosexism and cissexism divert energy and attention from more constructive endeavors. It also prevents heterosexuals and cisgender people from accepting the benefits and gifts offered by LGBTQ people, including theoretical insights, social and spiritual visions and options, contributions in the arts and culture, to religion, to education, to family life, indeed, to all facets of society.
Ultimately, it inhibits appreciation of other types of diversity, making it unsafe for everyone because each person has unique traits not considered mainstream or dominant. Therefore, we are all diminished when any one of us is demeaned.
The meaning is quite clear: When any group of people is targeted for oppression, it is ultimately everyone’s concern. We all, therefore, have a self-interest in actively working to dismantle all the many forms of oppression, including heterosexism and cissexism.
I believe we are all born into an environment polluted by heterosexism and cissexism (two among many forms of oppression), which fall upon us like acid rain. For some people, spirits are tarnished to the core, others are marred on the surface, and no one is completely protected.
Therefore, we all have a responsibility, indeed an opportunity, to join together as allies to construct protective shelters from the corrosive effects of prejudice and discrimination while working to clean up the heterosexist environment in which we live. Once we take sufficient steps to reduce this pollution, we will all breathe a lot easier.
One way to do that is to contact the Arizona Governor and state legislature to turn back its abusive and, yes, oppressive bill targeting LGBTQ topics in the classroom. This bill is a form of youth oppression (adultism) and must be challenged!
This post is republished on Medium.
The Good Men Project gives people the insights, tools, and skills to survive, prosper and thrive in today’s changing world. A world that is changing faster than most people can keep up with that change. A world where jobs are changing, gender roles are changing, and stereotypes are being upended. A world that is growing more diverse and inclusive. A world where working towards equality will become a core competence. We’ve built a community of millions of people from around the globe who believe in this path forward. Thanks for joining The Good Men Project.
Support us on Patreon and we will support you and your writing! Tools to improve your writing and platform-building skills, a community to get you connected, and access to our editors and publisher. Your support will help us build a better, more inclusive world for all.
Photo credit: iStock