Would they be making these changes if they were still winning?
As someone who has been doing this work for nearly a decade, and as someone who was a sentient, semi-politically-minded person long before that, I can easily remember the self-confidence of the anti-gay movement when their "wins" came easily. During the early and mid part of the Bush years, the professional anti-LGBT figures and groups were not at all concerned with their tone, and they certainly saw no need to temper their plans for rolling back LGBT rights. They weren't even especially concerned with whether or not they were seen as "hating" people, except in the typical way that evangelicals tend to handle LGBT conversations (e.g. "love the sinner, hate the sin").
That being the case, when I look at these new efforts in which folks who've long opposed us are making some sort of strides to turn down the rhetoric, I have to give them a very skeptical eye. This week, we saw two stories that fall in this category: One involving Glenn Beck, the conservative talk show host who regularly plays host to some of the anti-LGBT movement's most vicious voices (David Barton is one of his top guests), claiming that if you "hate" gays you shouldn't listen to his show; another involving Imago Dei, a collection of anti-LGBT activists with quote banks that contain truly shocking rhetoric about LGBT people, making a public case about everyone being loved by God. I seriously don't believe we would be seeing either of these public relations efforts if the anti-LGBT movement, and the conservative movement in general, were doing better in the minds of the public.
These are the kinds of thought exercises that those of us on the right side of history are surely going to have to consider more and more in the days and weeks to come. The questions: when can we forgive people who have worked so hard against us? What sort of effort is needed to make amends? What can a public figure who has made a name and considerable profit off engagement that has truly harmed our lives do to absolve his or her hurtful actions? Are they saying and doing these kinds of things now because their hearts are really expanding, or are they doing this stuff because the polls are changing?
In the case of this Imago Dei coalition, I really do see the whole thing as nothing more than PR that is designed to make these folks seem more mainstream in hopes of staving off their increasing marginalization. The vicious words of its key leaders are not ancient history—these are things they have said and done in the past few months and years. We don't see Focus on the Family, Liberty Counsel, or any of the organizations or figureheads involved actually making any kind of policy shift. Heck, Mat Staver was just on his radio show praising countries like Nigeria for their nightmarish laws against homosexuality. Just bringing him on board was enough to invalidate the "God loves" mission that Imago Dei is trying to work.
But in the case of Glenn Beck, he might actually be feeling some inner rumblings (he's certainly come out against Russia's insane policies). If so, he probably could put his money where his mouth is. If he had a lightbulb moment and publicly condemned the actual things that his allies do so routinely say (as opposed to just the subjective "hate" label), he could probably win some new fans. If he admitted he'd been wrong to promote the anti-LGBT voices and voices that he has (the way he has admitted his role in tearing our nation apart) and vowed to stop bringing these kinds of advocates on his show, he could morph into an unlikely voice of change. And he could do this without abandoning his conservative views. He could be the same person with the same party and the same show—just one that is no longer working against certain kinds of human beings. He just has to be sincere about it.
With Beck and other conservatives who are softening, it really might be that our wins and the associated public debates about our rights have, in fact, caused some new things to click in place in their minds. But with others, it's surely more of a case of our victories causing an "oh crap" moment for those whose salaries depend on the sort of fundraising that fighting against us has been able to bring in. There are both cynical and positive options here, even when looking to people who might have mostly stayed entrenched in their positions, had the landscape remained fertile to their fruit. Though let's be clear: all of it is acknowledgement of the historic shift.
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