September 1993: Stakes Rise in Michigan Holy War

This article is part of a series commemorating the 30th anniversary of Pride Source's print publication, Between The Lines

“Holy crap!” That was my reaction upon rereading the article “Stakes Rise in Michigan Holy War” that I wrote in 1993. The holy war waged against the LGBTQ+ community back then is disturbingly similar to what we are facing 30 years later. 

As a young queerdo in Michigan, I was stunned to enter their anti-queer sanctum in black mourning drag. I certainly hadn’t planned to enter the inner sanctum of their holy war, their “civil war of values,” as they called it. But it seemed important to flirt with the enemy to understand how they were planning on using the word of Christ to chip away at our rights and strip us of our dignity and self-determination. 

When I founded Between The Lines in 1993, I wanted our community’s newspaper to celebrate our freedom and creativity while sounding the alarm about people who were waging war against us. I haven’t looked at this article for decades and hadn’t remembered using the term "war" to write about the efforts of Focus on the Family and their ilk in 1993. It was (and still is) a war. They were laying the ideological foundation for building a massive army of true believers who would play the long game to deny queers their freedom. Their war was a series of campaigns, from taking over school boards to influencing the media to gaining enough political power to influence the direction of the Supreme Court.

Many of us were sounding the alarm 30 years ago. But did enough people respond to the alarm? Did enough people act? Could we have done more to prevent the wave of hate that is sweeping much of the nation? 

The Christian Right has had a scary amount of success in recent years. Last year, they managed to overturn Roe v. Wade in their attacks on the autonomy of women to control their bodies. This year alone, roughly 20 states have passed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. And state legislatures are especially dehumanizing trans people, even to the point of not allowing Montana State Representative Zooey Zephyr to speak on the floor of the legislature anymore. Then there is Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. It goes on and on.

Tennessee, where I have lived for 29 years, has passed more anti-LGBTQ+ bills than any other state, including the first legislation making drag performance illegal in many places and harmful laws taking away health care from trans folks. The law was struck down by a federal judge June 3, but that ruling could soon be appealed. 

I live in a rural queer community an hour and a half from Nashville. We have formed the Coalition Against Moral Panic (CAMP) to respond to the slate of hate. On April 1, the day the anti-drag bill was set to go into effect, CAMP mobilized a choir of several dozen angels who circled the State Capitol and cast spells to transmute the hateful and discriminatory legislation coming from right-wing lawmakers into calls for respect, nurturing, protection and well-being for all Tennesseans.

Just like then, I have been out marching and protesting with other queers — in festive drag, mourning drag, and by being our authentic selves. The stakes are higher — how can we not respond to the alarm bells? These Christian fanatics are trying to exterminate trans people. And they won’t stop there. They go after whomever they think is easiest to attack, and they have plans to broaden their war after they pass this year’s set of bills. 

It is heartening to see that Michigan has not joined this wave of fanaticism. But please don’t think for a minute that you are safe from the attacks on our community — the Holy War knows no borders, and they will continue to use the federal courts and national elections to take it to the whole country. So, please, remember that the stakes are high. We need to celebrate our freedoms and defend ourselves against the religious right’s unrelenting onslaught.