Opinion | If a Lesbian Kiss From ‘Lightyear’ Is Criticized, No LGBT Victory Is Safe

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“Lightyear,” Pixar’s latest attempt to cash in on the “Toy Story” franchise, isn’t a very good movie. But it is a useful barometer of the current conservative backlash against LGBTQ rights. If people are truly angry about the lesbian relationship portrayed in “Lightyear,” then perhaps what seemed like a big leap into a more tolerant future was just a moment of calm in an ongoing and intensifying culture war.

At issue is an early sequence in the film when space ranger Buzz Lightyear (now voiced by Chris Evans) attempts to break the speed of light barrier. Each of his test flights lasts just a few minutes for him, but years for everyone else, especially his best friend Alisha Hawthorne (Uzo Aduba).

Every time Buzz returns, Alisha hits a new milestone: she’s engaged to a woman named Keiko; she is pregnant; her son is a little boy, so he graduated in a beanie and gown; she and her wife celebrate their 40th birthday, marking the occasion with a chaste kiss so fleeting it’s barely visible. Buzz and the audience only catch a glimpse of the couple through their apartment door, giving the impression that the film’s lesbian relationship takes place entirely in – you guessed it – a closet.

Before the release of “Lightyear”, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro warned that “Disney works to promote a ‘no-secret gay agenda’ and seeks to add ‘queerness’ to its programming. …Parents should keep this in mind before deciding to take their children to see ‘Lightyear’”.

While Shapiro might be cynical — his company, the Daily Wire, is investing $100 million in family-friendly content in a challenge to Disney — he’s technically correct. The conventional domesticity of Alisha and Keiko is exactly the image gay rights advocates of the past decade have used to fight for marriage equality, arguing that LGBTQ people wanted to join historically heterosexual institutions, not destroy them. That effort culminated in the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that the 14th Amendment protected the rights of same-sex couples to marry and have their marriages recognized by other states.

Over the next seven years, support for marriage equality continued to grow, reaching 71% in a Gallup poll released in June. However, in recent months, broader anti-LGBTQ animosity has resurfaced on the national stage with real force and venom.

On June 11, 31 members of a white nationalist group were arrested and charged with conspiracy to riot at an LGBTQ pride event in Idaho. A week later, at the Texas Republican Party convention, delegates affirmed the sentiment that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice” and endorsed legal and professional protections for therapists trying to rid their clients of “the unwanted attraction to the same thing.” sex”.

Then there’s the rise of the “groomer” slur, which has been deployed by far-right activists eager to label LGBTQ people as child sex abusers (and wink at the QAnon conspiracy theory). It’s a nasty recap of both Anita Bryant’s 1970s Save Our Children campaign against a Miami anti-discrimination law, and the accusation that gays “recruit” converts, which persisted — and was rightly parodied — into the late 1990s. .

Hysteria over drag queens — who may be neither gay nor transgender, and whose performances often tend more toward parody than excitement — has been particularly intense. A Vermont father was recently arrested after allegedly threatening to “show up and kill someone” at his son’s school in the unlikely event the boy meets a drag artist or transgender person there. Members of the far-right Proud Boys broke up an event where a drag queen was reading stories to children in a California library.

What is striking about these cases is how public and organized the distaste for LGBTQ people and drag artists has become. To the extent that homophobia has acquired a social stigma, this taboo seems to have fractured in recent years, if not completely destroyed. (Transphobia was never really underground.)

Meanwhile, “Lightyear” is a paradox. Her portrayal of lesbians suggests that not much has changed since 1997, when Ellen DeGeneres and the character she played on TV were released, but it took 25 years for something so lighthearted to become a children’s movie. When this first happens, it inevitably seems a little less important to people who have waited decades to see their families represented — but still controversial to those who want gay people to remain invisible, if they exist at all.

It once seemed possible that the LGBTQ movement was powerful enough to reach infinity and beyond. The response to “Lightyear,” and the ugly uprising of which it is a part, are a sobering reminder of how much work still needs to be done on the ground.

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