Blog series “How to Counter the Populist Narrative of Scapegoating?” is part of the project “Improving Communication on Human Rights”, organized by ELF and supported by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, with the aim of creating a safer work environment for human rights defenders and increasing the visibility of their work.
Giving equality to same-sex couples will harm the stability and survival of the nation, argue the opponents of LGBTI+ equality. How is this argument framed, why does it touch a nerve with so many people and how can it be deconstructed?
As advocacy manager for the Czech equal marriage initiative “We Are Fair” I see every day the arguments used by opposition. The threat to a nation or society is certainly one of the prominent ones.
The Czech Republic is a very ethnically homogeneous country, with the average Czech not having much regular contact with other ethnicities. Czechs have the most negative attitudes towards migration within the whole of EU. But what is important for them? Psychology tells us that aggression is often a reaction to an unmet need. Having a stable and good family is the biggest value for 86% of Czechs. Financial stability, security, certainty and peace being the needs whose frustration is most likely to create fear among Czechs.
The anthropological threat argument which I was able to observe as advocacy manager for the Czech marriage equality initiative has two levels of discussion – internal and external, often used simultaneously. The internal one has several forms:
- same-sex couples may not produce children and therefore may not ensure the survival of the nation by procreation:
“The task of the state of the highest importance is also to contribute to a favourable demographic development. The situation in this respect is not optimal in the Czech Republic.” (Collective statement by a group of MPs who submitted draft bill banning same-sex marriage in the Constitution, June 2018),
- allowing same-sex couples to raise children takes away the privileged position of a “traditional family” as building block of a society (“traditional” of course having no other meaning than “heterosexual”):
“Homosexuals will be declared a superior ruling class, you will belong to the inferior working class…” (Petr Piťha, Roman-Catholic Czech priest, October 2018)
- only the exclusive complementarity of man-woman parental roles may ensure stability of the whole nation:
“A support for redefinition of marriage is a support for a new world. A world in which family will continue to be purposefully weakened…” (Alliance for Family, Czech anti-LGBT+ organisation, policy paper sent to all MPs).
The externally oriented argument rests on the threat that foreign powers (other nations, EU, George Soros, Muslims…) will gain control of the nation using LGBT+ equality as a tool of destruction:
“…[marriage of same-sex couples] will please the Muslims the most, because it is going in that direction…” (MP Marek Benda, the Conservative Party, March 2019).
So what does it do with an undecided mind hearing these terrifying statements? It triggers fear. That chaos will ensue, and the basic societal unit as most people know it will be under attack.
There are different strategies for defending against the false narrative of an anthropological threat.
The most efficient seems to be the sharing of personal stories and commonalities. Making a connection between the public and real-life same-sex couples and their children. We always fear the unknown. Seeing that same-sex couples are not plotting the national demise, and on the contrary, share many of the daily joys and struggles as other families, will help to create understanding.
Being proactive in the debate helps control the narrative. Not only passively defending ourselves to the absurd claims, but to shed light on the real threats to family and national stability. Accessibility of pre-school care, equal pay for women, part-time jobs, equal sharing of parental duties between men and women etc. – all these are factors that are proven to have positive impacts on people’s will to have children. Not whether the gay couple next door can get married and have children as well.
Preparation is key. Many of the debates take place via media, sometimes in live debates. At the same time, there will likely not be more than 10 arguments used against LGBT+ equality over and over again, as they have been in many countries around the world.
Last but not least – facts do still matter (depending on the circumstances and audience) so gathering solid and well-documented data regarding the main arguments and counterarguments is the key. For example, it has happened to me several times that MPs who were hesitant to support marriage equality became more at ease with it after seeing the vast body of evidence supporting same-sex parenting.
Exploiting identity-based anxieties is (and probably will remain) a favourite exercise for many opponents of LGBT+ equality. The anxiety around the stability of a nation or society is a popular choice not only in the Czech Republic. Understanding how these stoked up fears affect one’s mind is essential for being able to relieve the stress by creating a connection with the audience and LGBT+ people.
Adéla Horáková is a lawyer for the Czech marriage equality initiative ”Jsme fér/We Are Fair”. Prior to joining the fight for LGBT+ equality, she was practicing commercial law for 12 years, and was a Diversity and Pro Bono Manager for European offices of Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Adéla lives in Prague.