An elephant with the GOP symbol on it stepping on general Pride rainbow flag and transgender visibility flag


How the Right Is Winning the Messaging War Against LGBTQ People

Conservative extremists are doing everything in their power to eradicate queer visibility, with their disingenuous cries of "cancel culture" and "wokeism." And they've only just begun.

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Last month, State Farm caved to pressure from right-wing extremists and abandoned its LGBTQ+ book program only hours after it became the target of a widespread anti-LGBTQ+ disinformation campaign. The right-wing organization Consumers’ Research launched a coordinated attack against State Farm after learning that the company had partnered with the GenderCool Project, a youth-led advocacy group, to provide trans-inclusive books to schools and public libraries in Florida that signed up to participate in the program. 

After being forwarded an email about the book program from an anonymous source, Consumers’ Research published an attack ad against State Farm on May 23, accusing the insurance company of supporting “textbook indoctrination” and “targeting 5-year-olds for conversations about sexual identity.” The ad also included an altered version of State Farm’s infamous jingle, replacing the words “good neighbor” with “creepy neighbor” and heavily implying that the company’s efforts to provide schools and communities with age-appropriate books with LGBTQ+ characters is something to be feared rather than embraced. 

Will Hilds, the executive director of Consumers’ Research, also tweeted a screenshot of the internal email, which was soon amplified by Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the notorious Twitter account Libs of TikTok, prompting a cascade of harassment from conservatives. Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers and media analyst Mark Dice chastised State Farm for going “woke” and trying to “groom” children. This wasn’t just limited to Twitter, however. Right-wing media sites published numerous articles about the so-called whistleblower leak, parroting Hild’s misleading narrative and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. In addition, Consumers’ Research spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads smearing the insurance company, many of which still remain active today. 

The onslaught led State Farm to backpedal on the book program, announcing it had officially ended its partnership with the GenderCool Project hours after launch. To make matters worse, the company then came out against LGBTQ+-inclusive education. In a staff email, State Farm’s chief diversity officer Victor Terry told his colleagues that “conversations about gender and identity should happen at home with parents.” State Farm spokesperson Roszell Gadson also echoed this sentiment, telling the Washington Post that the company doesn’t “support required curriculum in schools on this topic.” 

After this news broke, conservative activist and Manhattan Institute fellow Christopher Rufo took to Twitter to pat himself on the back for this triumph, referring to State Farm’s relent as the “working model” of his anti-LGBTQ+ campaign. “Disney was the proof of concept. State Farm is the working model. Other companies will be next,” Rufo tweeted. He also admitted to “waging war” against corporations that “adopt woke ideology” and provided details about his “playbook” against Disney, which he claims helped lower public approval of the media conglomerate to 33 percent. Encouraging his followers to “keep the pressure on” Fortune 100 companies that dare to consider LGBTQ+ inclusivity, Rufo relished in his victory over State Farm, tweeting, “That’s how we win.”

This attack on State Farm is part of a much larger effort to erase queer and trans identity by eroding public support for the LGBTQ+ community and punishing those who step out of line. For months, Rufo and other conservative ideologues have been baselessly accusing teachers and LGBTQ+ adults of being “groomers” who want to sexualize children and “indoctrinate” them into being queer or trans. Conservatives have also been peddling bad faith arguments about the growth of the LGBTQ+ community in an attempt to rekindle the myth that being queer or trans is something that you can somehow “catch” rather than an immutable characteristic or valid identity. 

In response to a February Gallup poll indicating an increase in the number of people who now self-identify as LGBTQ+ in the U.S., many right-wing figures have been falsely claiming that coming out as queer or trans is a concerning trend, especially among young people, and that any proximity to queer people and queer media will essentially rub off on children. Most recently, Georgia Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene falsely claimed that straight people will become extinct in a few generations if people keep coming out at the current rate. “They just want you to think that all of a sudden the entire population is steadily turning gay or turning trans,” Greene said during a social media livestream in late May. “Probably in about four or five generations, no one will be straight anymore. Everyone will be either gay or trans or non-conforming or whatever the list of 50 or 60 different options there are.”

This malicious and incendiary rhetoric is not only false, but it also dehumanizes LGBTQ+ people by presenting the community as both manipulative and predatory. Instead of considering the fact that more people are coming out now due to greater societal acceptance, conservatives are pushing the false notion that coming out is a social contagion. Unfortunately, these types of attacks are effective precisely because they don’t blatantly express hatred toward specific groups of people. Instead, they’re framed as a “culture war,” in which children are used to incite anger among straight, cisgender people who think that LGBTQ+ people will turn their children queer or trans simply by existing. 

Although these arguments have previously been successful when it comes to banning children’s books and young adult novels with LGBTQ+ characters from schools and libraries, the right’s attack on State Farm is now proof that this anti-LGBTQ rhetoric can be used to manipulate corporations, as well. Rufo’s strategy to make companies pay a price for so-called “woke capitalism” by using political power to damage their revenue and reputations may not be foolproof, but it can certainly deter major corporations from supporting social causes or taking a stance on human rights. And as we’ve seen in the case of State Farm, these types of large-scale attacks and harassment campaigns can even make companies publicly denounce equality and inclusion altogether.

While no one forced State Farm to reverse course, the onslaught of right-wing propaganda and pressure that followed the “whistleblower leak” was effective enough to scare them into submission. Ever since conservatives turned on Disney in March, right-wing organizations have been finding new companies and businesses to target, going after Starbucks, Calvin Klein, and even Target for vaguely voicing its acknowledgment of the LGBTQ+ community through vapid displays of rainbow capitalism.

Extremists have also recently attacked Pizza Hut for its “Book IT! Program”—a free reading incentive program for children in Pre-K to sixth-grade—for recommending books with LGBTQ+ characters, one of which celebrates kids who do drag. 

What makes State Farm unique, however, is that the company actually caved and abandoned their LGBTQ+ book program less than 24 hours after the harassment initially began. Despite bowing down to the mob, however, attacks against State Farm have yet to cease. The “creepy neighbor” campaign from Consumers’ Research has only continued to grow, spending even more money on Facebook propaganda as recently as June 6. With no end in sight, the right is signaling that it’s not enough just to denounce LGBTQ+-inclusive books and beliefs, businesses must also be shamed far after they’ve abandoned their principles. 

Just a few years ago, corporations helped fight against an anti-trans bathroom law in North Carolina by threatening to take their business elsewhere, and it actually worked. Yet now, corporations that Republicans once revered are being bullied into silence for trying to do something good. It’s not hard to see the consequences: Extremist views and intolerance in the U.S. are becoming more overt and violentWhile the LGBTQ+ community has come to expect, evenresent the corporate rainbow logos and meaningless Pride messaging that companies churn out each June, now even the most performative rainbow washing is subject to conservatives’ highly motivated and organized wrath.

Of course, the stakes are much higher than rainbows and empty platitudes. Conservatives don’t really care about that. They care about making sure that the U.S. is an increasingly hostile place for queer and trans people to live. 

By stifling growing awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community and painting queer and trans people as predators, the right is trying to make it virtually impossible for LGBTQ+ children and adults to live safely and openly as themselves. For some conservatives, this is seen as an effective tactic to rile up their base and win elections, while others view this more as a moral or religious crusade. Either way, it’s working. So far, the GOP’s dangerous and inflammatory rhetoric has already led to a rise in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment across the country, sparking harassment and threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community and its allies. 

That’s why it’s imperative for Democrats to finally stand alongside the LGBTQ+ community and actively fight back against these attacks. It’s not enough for liberal and progressive politicians to release vague statements signaling their support for Pride month. They must also actively reject conservatives’ attacks on the queer and trans community. When the goal is to erase LGBTQ+ people from public life, it seems that the right will stop at nothing to ensure that the queer and trans community is rendered invisible or nonexistent, even if that means bulldozing the very entities they once put on a tax-exempt pedestal. With this kind of messaging, one can only imagine how much worse it could get. One thing is for certain, however: Ignoring it won’t make it disappear.

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