opinion | If a ‘Lightyear’ Lesbian Kiss Backfires, No LGBT Wins Are Safe

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“Lightyear”, Pixar’s latest attempt to break its “Toy Story” franchise for profit, isn’t a very good movie. But it is a useful barometer of the current conservative opposition to LGBTQ rights. If people are really upset about the lesbian relationship depicted in “Lightyear,” then what seemed like a huge leap into a more permissive future may have been just a moment of calm in an ongoing and intensifying culture war.

It involves an early scene in the movie where space keeper Buzz Lightyear (now voiced by Chris Evans) tries 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).

Each time Buzz returns, Alisha has reached a new milestone: she is engaged to a woman named Keiko; she is pregnant; her son is a little boy, then graduated in a cap and gown; she and her wife are celebrating their 40th anniversary, marking the occasion with a chaste kiss so fleeting it’s barely visible. Buzz and the audience only see the couple through the door of their pod-like apartment, giving the impression that the film’s lesbian relationship is set entirely in — you guessed it — a closet.

Prior to the release of ‘Lightyear’ conservative commentator Ben Shapiro warned that “Disney is working to push a ‘not secret gay agenda at all’ and trying to add ‘queerness’ to its programming. … Parents should take this into account before deciding whether to take their children to ‘Lightyear’.”

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

In the seven years since, support for marriage equality has continued to grow, reaching 71 percent in a Gallup poll released in June. But in recent months, a broader anti-LGBTQ animus has re-emerged on the national scene 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 Republicans’ party convention, delegates confirmed the sentiment that “Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice” and endorsed legal and professional protections for therapists trying to rid their clients of “unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Then there’s the rise of the “groomer” slur, which has been deployed by far-right activists bent on branding LGBTQ people as child sexual abusers (and winking at the QAnon conspiracy theory). It’s a dire renewal of both Anita Bryant’s 1970s Save Our Children campaign against an anti-discrimination ordinance in Miami, and of the charge that gays “recruit” converts, which persisted through the late 1990s—and rightly so. was parodied.

The hysteria about drag queens—who may be neither gay nor transgender, and whose performances are often parody rather than titillation—was particularly intense. A Vermont parent was recently arrested after allegedly threatening to “show up and kill someone” at his child’s school in the unlikely event that the child met a transvestite or transgender there. Members of the far-right Proud Boys broke up an event where a drag queen read stories to children at a California library.

What is striking about these cases is how public and organized the loathing of LGBTQ people and drag performers has become. To the extent that homophobia had acquired a social stigma, that taboo seems to have been broken, if not completely broken, in recent years. (Transphobia never really went underground.)

Meanwhile, “Lightyear” is a paradox. The portrayal of lesbians suggests that not much has changed since 1997, when Ellen DeGeneres and the character she played on TV both came out, but it took 25 years for even something mild to make it into a children’s movie. By the time such a scoop happens, it inevitably feels like milquetoast for people who’ve waited decades to see their families represented — but still controversial for those who want homosexuals to remain invisible, if at all.

It once seemed possible that the LGBTQ movement was powerful enough to reach the infinite and beyond. The reactions to ‘Lightyear’ and the ugly rebellion it is part of are a sobering reminder of how much work still needs to be done on the site.

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