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Just days after Nikki Joly established her city’s first gay community center, she set fire to her home, reducing her three cats and two dogs to burnt offerings to the god of progress. It took investigators a little work, but they determined in time that Joly, an LGBTQ rights activist, would be adding arson to her repertoire.
Apart from the community center, Joly had organized the first gay festival in the otherwise conservative town of Jackson, Michigan. She had spent the past two decades pushing to bring LGBTQ rights to Jackson; finally succeeding in 2017, with the passage of a “nondiscrimination law” which, in effect, institutionalized discrimination against the heteronormative.
Joly had won, and yet, according to friends, she was frustrated that the passage of the law was not met with vocal protests by the conservative people of Jackson. Joly was, friends say, disappointed that the residents of Jackson weren’t more upset about having their way of life and traditional values plowed under. Itching for a fight, Joly was also irritated that the gay pride parade and festival she suffered Jackson to endure was not met with sufficient controversy to provoke the attention she wanted.
So, Joly did what any good social revolutionary would do to fan the flames of discontent: she orchestrated a hoax.
Joly had spent the better part of 20 years railing against the way of life that the people of Jackson thought made their town feel like home, in a country that is otherwise lost in a sea of spiritual and cultural rot. So when Joly succeeded against the will of Jackson’s people, and they didn’t oblige her by burning down her home in anger, she decided to do it herself. How else would she draw attention to the hateful and retrogressive citizens of Jackson who tolerated her antics?
“Yes, be angry, be very angry,” Joly wrote to her supporters, before officials revealed she was the one who set the fire and killed her pets. “Use that anger to force good! Use that anger to make change.” Be angry indeed.
But Joly isn’t the only one who has cried “fire” in the political theater lately. The conflagration in Jackson comes on the heels of black and gay “Empire” TV actor Jussie Smollett’s hoax. Smollett claimed to have been assaulted by straight, white, Trump-supporting men one very early Winter morning in Chicago. “This is MAGA country!” Smollett claimed they shouted as they roughed him up. “F—-t, Empire, n—-r!” they supposedly yelled. And for good measure, Smollett insisted that his assailants rattled off every slur in the bigot’s vocabulary.
Smollett’s harrowing story resonated in the highest chambers of power. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) denounced the incident as an “attempted modern-day lynching.” But none of it was true.
The straight, white, racist, Trump-supporters were actually a pair of Nigerian immigrants Smollett had hired to stage the attack. He even wrote them a check for the noose and other stage props. The superficial wounds Smollett sustained were, according to investigators, “mostly self-inflicted.” When the Smollett hoax was revealed as such, Kamala Harris’s mood turned to “sad, frustrated, and disappointed”; but one wonders if she felt all those things only because it wasn’t true. The only thing worse than a crisis wasted is a crisis hoaxed.
Of course, hoaxes such as Smollett’s and Joly’s are really just elaborate hate crimes. They are designed to terrorize, silence, and shame entire groups of people; in this case, straight, white, conservatives—especially men. Agitated members of minority groups, for whom the protective blanket of hate crime legislation was knit, increasingly are themselves the perpetrators of those hate crimes. The “marginalized” have become the marginalizers.
Still, why hoax?
The short answer is: the times are on their side.
In California, healthcare workers risk a fine or jail time, or both, for failing to use a transgender patient’s “preferred name or pronouns.” The politics of transgenderism are protected, then, while the politics of heteronormativity are not. Remember, the First Amendment applies to all equally, but some are more equal than others.
A high school teacher in Virginia was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns. This was the first case of the kind in the state, but it will not be the last. Joanna Duka and Breanna Koski, two female bakers in Arizona, face potential jail time for refusing to ply their trade for same-sex weddings on the grounds that it violates their Christian faith. A lesbian couple in Oregon a sued Aaron and Melissa Klein for the same reason.
Aaron and Melissa are married and run their own little bakery, Sweet Cakes by Melissa.
Like Duka and Koski, creating a cake that celebrates homosexuality violates their faith. Though the lesbians who sued them demanded $400 in damages, Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian valuated their emotional pain at no less a sum than $135,000. The Oregon Supreme Court has refused hear the Kleins’ appeal. “I hope your shop burns,” one woman wrote the Kleins on Facebook. If the Kleins won’t do it, maybe Nikki Joly will.
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