The US Christian right has been busy. Over the last few months they’ve been busy in America pushing for extreme restrictions on women’s access to safe, legal abortion. Ahead of the European parliament elections last month, they were busy on this side of the Atlantic too – in March, an ultra-conservative jamboree in Verona, Italy, brought US religious and European far right activists together over juice and cookies.
LifeSiteNews – which calls itself “the #1 most-read pro-life website” – is a part of the infrastructure of this international backlash against women’s and LGBTIQ rights. It publishes articles, videos (on why, for example contraception is 'intrinsically bad'), and the views of conservative Catholic leaders. It also has its own petition platform that’s hosted dozens of drives for signatures over the last year.
We perused this petition platform so you don’t have to (you’re welcome); it offers a window into some of the targets of this backlash. Recently they’ve included the proposed ‘Equality Act’ in the US which would extend civil rights protections to LGBT people; Pope Francis, presented as a radical propagating heresies and the Vatican as captured by ‘homosexual networks’; and Disney, and LGBT superheroes.
Yes, Disney, and LGBT superheroes. “Children and teens aren't ready! And, parents of children and teens aren't ready!” screamed one of the site’s petitions in March. Addressed to Marvel Studios executives it warns them against including an ‘LGBT superhero’ in one of its films with alarmist language about children losing their ‘innocence’ and being ‘indoctrinated’ with ‘LGBT propaganda’ hidden in cartoons.
Last month, two days after the European elections, the Madrid-based ultra-conservative campaign group CitizenGo (which has close ties to the Vox far right party and also really, really likes petitions), posted a drive for signatures protesting Disney – over plans to host a Pride event at its Paris amusement park, on 1 June, and “indoctrinating children” with “the LGBT agenda”.
“According to the information available online”, warned the hysterical message:
The "Magical Pride Parade" promises a festive and unforgettable LGBT celebration featuring a unique parade celebrating diversity in all its splendor… there will be a parade, karaoke, a DJ, and other activities that are clearly not intended for a young audience. Sign this petition to ask Disney to protect children from gender ideology and cancel the gay pride parade in their park.
“Oh dear, karaoke. It would be too ridiculous -- if these people weren’t so serious, ambitious, and well-connected”
Oh dear, karaoke. It would be too absurd – if these people weren’t so serious, ambitious, and well-connected. Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right deputy prime minister has also pledged to fight “the theory of gender”. In March he spoke at the same ultra-conservative jamboree in Verona where the leader of CitizenGo, Ignacio Arsuaga, urged activists to pursue direct and indirect paths to power – with the latter by “controlling the environment” in which politicians act.
In April, an openDemocracy undercover investigation revealed ‘explosive’ evidence of how CitizenGo was coordinating with and supporting far-right parties across Europe, including the Vox party in Spain. Earlier this year, CitizenGo’s Spanish-language sister group, HazteOir, lost the equivalent of charity status in Spain after campaigns the government said “denigrate or devalue” LGBT people.
CitizenGo says that its petition against Disney has had more than 380,000 signatures. The protest against ‘LGBT superheroes’, directed at Marvel Studios, received a much smaller 11,000 – but it is just one of several similar media-focused petitions on the hyper-active LifeSiteNews platform.
There is a long history in the US of campaigns against film studios – and efforts to influence this industry (for example, through annual ‘Christian Oscars’ awards) and create parallel platforms (there’s a Christian conservative alternative to Netflix, for instance: ‘PureFlix’). (Fun fact: several 1990s TV icons, on shows like Hercules and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, are now Christian right film stars).
Last year, a petition on the LifeSiteNews platform demanded that Disney “don’t make Elsa a lesbian in Frozen 2!” and “protect the innocence of little girls” against “lesbianism and the over-sexed LGBT cause”. (This one said it received almost 20,000 signatures). A more recent petition targets Netflix “over their attack on unborn babies” after the company’s chief content officer stated his opposition to Georgia’s newly-signed bill further restricting women’s access to abortion.
Other petitions have targeted other companies – including Uber, for firing a driver who would not take a passenger to a Planned Parenthood clinic that performs abortions, and the ‘Roe v Wade’ US Supreme Court decision that legalised abortion in America, while others have rather supported the actions of individuals or specific groups, including a parish school in Kansas that was “under fire after declining to enroll a child being raised by a same-sex couple in its kindergarten program”.
This backlash has many targets. On their own, some of these specific petitions and campaigns can seem, well, hyper-specific. Some, absurd. But they are connected in a cross-border movement to block and roll back women’s and LGBTIQ rights that is mounting simultaneous attacks on politics, courts, and culture.
This is about the strategic imposition of a whole worldview, and fuelling a ‘culture war’ in every aspect of our lives. The backlash against Disney and ‘LGBT superheroes’ is part of that. And so there’s not much, in the end, to laugh about.