Commentary: With ‘divisive concepts’ language, Pride Month is under attack

A pride flag outside
President Joe Biden, in a proclamation dated June 1, promises he “will not rest until full equality for LGBTQ+ Americans is finally achieved and codified into law.” (Getty Images)

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Pride Month, but if a public school teacher even mentions that fact in the classroom, they may be the subject of a complaint under the “divisive concepts” law. What if the teacher mentions that February is Black History Month or March is Women’s History Month? Would they be brought in front of the Human Rights Commission because they offended a student who felt as though they were left out of the discussion, thereby being discriminated against?

We’ve heard about and read about House Bill 544 for months. It failed to pass the full House, so members attached it to the state budget. While the budget was in the Senate’s hands, members wrote their own version of a “divisive concepts” bill. 

Gov. Chris Sununu, in an interview with Chris Ryan on “New Hampshire Today” on June 3, talked about the Senate’s version and basically said that it “strengthens” and “clearly defines” our anti-discrimination law (RSA 354-A) and doesn’t have any “First Amendment confusion,” so it’s a better law. 

From what I’ve read, specifically Ethan DeWitt’s June 2 New Hampshire Bulletin article headlined “Critics unpersuaded by Senate changes to ‘divisive concepts’ bill,” I feel quite certain that Sununu is misleading the public. He apparently will do anything to get the budget he wants, no matter the consequences to the First Amendment or a woman’s right to choose (the last one is a subject for another day).

Sununu is downplaying the underlying purpose of the bill, which is, according to Sen. Jeb Bradley, to prevent “government entities from teaching that people are inherently oppressive because of their ‘immutable characteristic’ – be it their race, gender, sexual orientation, and more – and it bans them from teaching that some groups have inherent social advantages.”

What does this mean in practical terms? As I suggested above, a teacher who mentions that June is Pride Month could be brought before the Human Rights Commission and later sued for civil damages. Why? Because, Gay Pride is about fighting against the tide of homophobia, which sweeps out to sea the momentum toward full equality. It is also about standing proud and firm against those waves. We are willing to go out in public and proclaim our civil rights, even though we know there is a large percentage of the population that would stone us if they could. 

The teacher in my scenario would be teaching the students that straight people are “inherently oppressive” because of their “immutable characteristic” of being straight. That teacher would be suggesting that straight people are inherently socially advantaged. The straight person would therefore be protected under the “divisive concepts” law and would be able to bring a complaint against the teacher to the Human Rights Commission. 

I’m calling it “critical sexual orientation theory.” Just like “critical race theory,” which exposes patterns of systemic racism, which are ingrained in laws and institutions and have an unfair effect on Black people, indigenous people, or people of color. Both the House and Senate are trying to outlaw “critical race theory” so in effect are also trying to outlaw my invented “critical sexual orientation theory.” They do not want the truth exposed because they want to continue to assert their white or straight supremacy.

Take, for example, the effort in New Hampshire to prevent transgender high school and college students from participating in women’s sports. That is a bald-faced form of discrimination against people because of their gender identity. The Republican legislators who lobby for the law say it is necessary to protect the integrity of women’s sports, turning a blind eye to the discriminatory aspect of the law. They will protect non-transgender people at all costs, the same way they insist on protecting white people from being called racist with the “divisive concepts” bill. Do you recognize the hypocrisy of our state legislators? 

It’s not just our state. In 2020 and 2021, according to the ACLU, 20 states attempted to prohibit health care for transgender youth. Two states, Alabama and Arkansas, succeeded. Thirty-one states introduced legislation to exclude transgender youth from school sports teams. So far, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, and West Virginia have passed sports bans.

The ultimate arbiter of some of these issues is the U.S. Supreme Court, which is about to weigh in on a case that will address the conflict between LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. The case is Fulton v. City of Philadelphia. In March 2018, the city of Philadelphia learned that two of the agencies it hired to provide foster care services to children in the city’s care would not, based on their religious objection, accept same-sex couples as foster parents. Philadelphia informed the agencies that it would no longer refer children to them unless they agreed to comply with nondiscrimination requirements that are part of all foster care agency contracts. One of the agencies agreed to do so. The other, Catholic Social Services, sued the city, claiming the Constitution gives it the right to opt out of the nondiscrimination requirement.

The Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority thanks to the former guy, will get a chance to weigh in on this thorny subject. A decision is expected by the end of June. 

Will the Supreme Court side with Catholic Social Services and expand constitutional license to discriminate in the name of religion? I certainly hope not because it will open the floodgates of discrimination in the name of religion. Just like the “divisive concepts” law will open the floodgates of discrimination against everyone because it will embolden all the people who believe they are superior and supreme. 

Instead of rejoicing about the advances the LGBTQ community has made over the decades and coming out to celebrate in Pride marches and parades, I will be looking over my shoulder waiting for the next attack by the conservative wing of the Republican Party. 

The only rose amidst the thorns is President Joe Biden’s willingness to proclaim June as LGBTQ+ Pride Month, which the former guy never did. Biden, in a proclamation dated June 1, promises he “will not rest until full equality for LGBTQ+ Americans is finally achieved and codified into law.” While I know you can’t take promises to the bank, I will take Biden’s promise as a sign of encouragement and affirmation that I am a full citizen of the U.S.A., with all the rights and privileges afforded under the Constitution.