Why Queer Folx & Allies Can’t Kiki in the Name of False “Unity”

Ophelia Wild
9 min readMay 23, 2024

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A somber meditation on how social calls for “unity” normalize homophobia, transphobia, hate speech rhetoric and discrimination for all marginalized people

Nex Benedict committed suicide in the aftermath of a year of unchecked bullying for their gender identity. They have been misgendered and deadnamed extensively in the press since their death. Photo Credit: Sue Benedict via AP News (Fair Use)

Welcome to the year 2024. For the sake of all the work of those before us, people like Marsha P. Johnson, Billie Jean King, Harvey Milk, Audre Lorde, Larry Kramer — and especially RuPaul — let’s not “F*ck…it up!”

The theme of New York City’s 2024 Pride Parade is “Reflect. Empower. Unite.” They don’t mean unite with homophobes, transphobes, and bigots.

They mean for us to reflect on the status of LGBTQIA+ rights that have been built, brick-by-brick, by fabulous giants who paved the way for us to openly hold Pride Parades, come out in school and at work, and love or marry whomever we love. The same rights that are currently being dismantled at a frenetic pace by legislators across the country.

They want us to reflect on the horrifying FBI Annual Crime Report’s finding that we are in a State of Emergency as Anti-LGBTQ+ Hate Crimes Hit Staggering Record Highs. The Leadership Conference Education Fund also found that hate crimes are at record highs across the board for all marginalized groups, including Arabs, Asian American and Pacific Islanders, Black or African Americans, Hispanic or Latino people, Islamic, Jewish, Sikh, LGBTQ, and People With Disabilities.

They want us to reflect on the fact that hate crimes have increased by more than 80 percent since 2015. And that “reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased by 54 percent from 2020 to 2021, with anti-lesbian hate crimes increasing by more than 80 percent, anti-LGBT (mixed group) increasing by 70 percent, and anti-gay hate crimes increasing by 40 percent.”

They want us to reflect on the fact that in 2024 the ACLU is tracking 515 anti-LGBTQ bills across the U.S., and while not all of these will be codified into the law, all damage the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ people. The Washington Post reports that LGBTQ hate crimes quadrupled in states with restrictive laws and anti-LGBT laws and rhetoric became the top reason for calls to The Rainbow Youth Project — a hotline for LGBTQIA+ youth to call in crisis, where calls rose from 1000 to 1400 per month.

Schools should be one of the safest spaces for everyone. But according to the FBI, K-12 and higher education campuses are in the top three locations where hate crimes are reported and represent 10% of all hate crime locations in the U.S.

In 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions that gutted protections for BIPOC individuals against barriers build by racist structures in colleges and universities, terminated an attempt at debt alleviation for people currently repaying student loans, and created a precedent for legal discrimination by private businesses against LGBTQ people. More than 16 states passed laws placing restrictions on LGBTQ students’ rights in schools, colleges, and universities.

Changes include new restrictions on federal or state funding to support diversity equity and inclusion offices or staff at public colleges. Examples include prohibiting schools from requiring diversity training, using diversity statements in hiring and promotion, or using identity-based preferences in hiring and admissions, according to the U.S. News.

Beyond the effects on LGBTQ students’ safety and success, this distressing reversal of equality and inclusion programming in education profoundly affects LGBTQ and allied higher education professionals who are striving for equity at their schools.

— Point Foundation, The National LGBT Scholarship Fund

The problem with data is that it doesn’t resonate and call people to action (which is a shame). So let’s reflect on the story of one person: Nex Benedict.

In the sleepy town of Ottawa, Oklahoma, anti-LGBT sentiment is high. The state has led the charge, passing legislation to prohibit anyone from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify or changing their gender in school records:

Oklahoma’s head education official, state superintendent Ryan Walters, continues to embrace anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policy. In January, Walters pushed an emergency rule to prevent students from changing the gender listed on their school records.

Last month, he also appointed Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the virulently anti-LGBTQ+ platform Libs of TikTok, to the advisory council overseeing the state’s school libraries, despite Raichik not even living in Oklahoma. Last year, a Tulsa elementary school received a bomb threat after Raichik shared a video with the name and school of a local librarian. In 2022, Raichik similarly targeted a teacher in Benedict’s school district for openly supporting LGBTQ+ students who weren’t accepted by their families. The teacher later resigned following harassment. — Abby Monteil, Them Magazine

Nex Benedict was bullied throughout their sophomore year and died of suicide a day after they were physically assaulted in a bathroom at Ottawa High School. Authorities in Ottawa claim the fight was “mutual combat”. Nex had experienced bullying by the same group of students previously. In the bathroom that day, the students were harassing Nex who tossed water at them. In response, Nex was jumped and had their head slammed into the floor multiple times.

In the year leading up to Nex’s attack and suicide, Ryan Walters, the head education official in Oklahoma, claimed he was “standing strong for Christian morals” as he fomented fear in Oklahoma and legislated it into public schools. Others say he’s fueling hateful rhetoric. The death of Nex amplifies these concerns. How many along the way helped Ryan Walters create and expand the anti-LGBT sentiment and policy that led to their death? Answer: All who did not resist.

If the head education official of an entire state successfully incites hate through his example, policies, and actions, and there is no recourse, where and how can we, and our children, be safe?

There is no time when it’s safe to let anti-LGBT (or anti-race or anti-ability) rhetoric slide. Even seemingly “free speech” statements such as “no offense, but it’s just against my religious beliefs” and “love the sinner, hate the sin” are hateful rhetoric that paves the way for cruel bullying, discrimination, intimidation, and creating a culture of silence and fear — long before it ends in unthinkable violence.

Make no mistake: anti-LGBT rhetoric is hate speech. Even when it feels murky. Even when it feels like it fell short of the mark of hate speech. Hate speech doesn’t begin with overt venom; it begins covertly — with justifying and normalizing one’s hate in the name of “morality” and “individual freedom” and “free speech”. The morality is most often religious morality and the messages are delivered by force — without the consent or agreement of the person or audience. The messages pose a dare: “I dare you to tell me I can’t express my religious beliefs whenever and however I please”. It says “it is more important to me that I express my perceived moral imperative than value your safety and wellbeing — your human value, worth, and dignity”.

Hate speech is against the law in many countries like the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Germany. This rhetoric ranges from covert dog whistles and encoded language to overt name-calling or slights to vile threats and intimidation. Most of us associate hate speech with only the latter of these three. Within the realm of anti-LGBT rhetoric, there are themes, catchphrases, and slogans that ever evolve to strengthen the power beneath the speech as it’s understood by the community espousing it.

Anything that expresses or refers to the following is anti-LGBT rhetoric (and hate speech). This is a comprehensive list of anti-LGBT rhetoric from Wikipedia’s Series on Discrimination:

  • Queerness as a conspiracy or foreign conspiracy (they’re coming to get you or your children, the “gay agenda”, “homintern”, “gaystapo”, “gay mafia”, “lavender mafia”, “gay lobby”, “liberal human rights conspiracy”, etc.)
  • Queerness as an ideology (using terms like “LGBT ideology”, “gender ideology”, “pronoun police”, etc.)
  • Dehumanization (comparing LGBTQ+ people to animals or homosexual relationships with bestiality).

Anti-gay themes encapsulated into anti-LGBT rhetoric and hate speech:

  • Homosexuality as a cause of disasters or disease (like HIV/AIDS, Covid, etc.)
  • AIDS as punishment, homosexuality as unnatural, homosexuality as a disease, illness, or sickness, homosexuality as a choice or lifestyle
  • Homosexuality as sinful or ungodly (using one’s religion or religious text/s to make a moral statement about another person based on their identity, “Adam and Steve” arguments, love the sinner, hate the sin, and My religion says X statement against LGBT, etc.)
  • Homosexuality as a Western ill
  • Conflation with pedophilia/grooming
  • “Gay agenda”
  • Claims of “homosexual recruitment”
  • Misgendering, deadnaming, refusal to use or claims of persecution about using preferred pronouns, claims of transgender deception and masquerade, bathroom fear and policy
  • Any new term or phrase, typically unmerited “justifications” for discriminating against, intimidating, and harassing anyone who is LGBTQ+ from expressing themselves fully and safely

Gone unchecked, the elephant is now in the room: “if you are LGBT+, I am making moral judgments on you based on your identity and now you can’t be sure how far I may take my discrimination and dismissal of you, your identity, your experience.”

I have experienced this several times in work-related groups. Once it was sexism being shown in a community full of progressive activists. They were focused on everything except women’s rights, which became the blind spot that left me feeling unsafe and unprotected after I spoke out about my assault. I had assumed it was a safe community to speak up about this in. I was wrong. I was patronized, silenced, and told privately they supported me but didn’t want to impact their own careers or reputation by supporting me publicly. Promises were made, then broken. It was soul crushing.

Recently, I was part of a group that had an anti-hate-speech rule. I thought that meant any hate speech. Again, I was wrong. When racist and homophobic comments were made, I brought it to the decision maker, who refused to discuss it with me, minimized the comments from multiple people on multiple occasions, and dismissed others who also expressed they felt unsafe and harmed. He unilaterally decided it wasn’t hate speech and it was allowed (if it never affected him, that is a privilege that can blind). Worse, he was cold and short with me, and did not express any empathy or compassion for any of us experiencing distress from the comments. All of these comments fell clearly under the list above.

I learned to speak up and express my concerns in these awkward situations. I didn’t have a choice, and since I’d been a victim of crimes, I felt I had not only a right but a responsibility to pave a safer path for all those after me, wherever I went. This is now my default setting. I always speak up, try to be kind but firm, advocating for myself and whatever group is being targeted. The idea of allowing people in the community to express any form of hate speech in the name of “unity” and “conformity” has never sat well with me. And it’s not working. The historic record of legislative efforts against marginalized communities is frightening. And it doesn’t start with legislation. It starts in our individual communities, what’s accepted, what’s given a pass.

The only way to combat this kind of forced normalization of hateful thinking is to deprive it of respect. The thinking itself is disrespect already exhibited; do not be gaslit by the “free speech” justification. We cannot just ignore it, it’s there in the room. We must make clear that these kinds of expressions are not acceptable in any civil gathering and go against the very idea of unity. No one has the right to force us to listen to or respect their hateful ideas about gender or sexual orientation.

If no one stands up, if we tolerate this kind of behavior in the name of “unity” and “avoiding conflict,” we’re simply ignoring the conflict that has already entered the room. This is especially important in social, school, and work settings. To make it impossible to pass legislation against us, we must make it socially unacceptable to express such toxic views that make people uncomfortable and unsafe.

It is up to each one of us to take a stand, by words, actions, or both, when those among us believe they have a right to express anti-LGBT rhetoric or rhetoric against any historically marginalized group. Speak up when you can; when you cannot, leave, and don’t tolerate the behavior. Actions speak louder than words. Hate and ignorance cannot survive without anyone to help fan its flames. We just can’t kiki in communities that allow anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric to be normalized.

Read more on moving from bystander to upstander in these articles by Roy Lam, Zac Gipson, and Morgan Jones.

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Ophelia Wild

Writer of non-fiction at the intersection of religion, policy, trauma, and human rights. Writer of genre fiction featuring fem/LGBTQ+ casts. #NewtoMedium