At the recent National Art Education Association convention, the presenters of a session dealing with “LGBTQ+ artists” began with the rather startling declaration that “we owe it to our kids to normalize these identities.” Not one of the more than 230 other registrants for the session questioned that assertion. I find it deeply troubling, however.
To normalize means to cause something previously regarded as anomalous (that is, as deviating from the normal or common order) to be accepted as normal, thereby altering the accepted norm.
Do we really want to do this with LGBTQ identities (much less the unknown identities subsumed by the plus sign I omit here)? Or would doing so constitute a fundamental denial of reality, with ultimately destructive implications for humanity?
The perpetuation of our species, after all, depends on the binary male-female sexuality that LGBTQ individuals deviate from. The very term “queer,” represented by the Q in the abbreviation, signifies deviating from what is expected or normal. If such deviation were the norm, how long would humanity have survived?
It is true that advances in artificial conception tend to muddy this picture. Moreover, many couples choose not to have children. And sexuality involves more than procreation.
Yet the existential necessity of procreation no doubt lies at the heart of traditional religious prohibitions against sexual deviance, and helps to explain (though not to excuse) the persecution of LGBTQ individuals. Understandable concern for the well-being of such individuals, given their long history of persecution, moves teachers to advocate normalizing their deviant identities. But is that the best remedy for their past suffering?
What Should Be Done
I would argue that the most salutary way to counter the persecution of LGBTQ individuals is by focusing on the ways in which they can and do contribute to society—to our shared humanity—not by emphasizing their sexual deviation in seeking to “normalize” it.
To their credit, the NAEA presenters cited above advised fellow teachers not to “focus on” gender identity when utilizing the work of LGBTQ artists in the classroom. Yet their own choice of such artists, as well as their discussion of them, seems based primarily on sexual and gender identities, rather than on the quality of the artists’ work. How else to explain their astonishing failure to cite Michelangelo, for example, whose homosexuality did not prevent him from becoming one of the greatest artists of all time? That omission is all the more glaring in view of the contemporary mediocrities that were recommended for study.
The principle enunciated by Martin Luther King, Jr., with respect to race is also relevant here. Our focus should always be on the caliber of the character—and achievements—of the individual, not on group identity. That meritocratic principle has been at the core of American greatness. It is currently under assault by woke warriors, however, for allegedly promoting white supremacy.
We Must Reject Identity Politics
The LGBTQ issue highlighted here is but one expression of the present “woke” obsession with group identities that now pervades art education, as well as virtually every other arena of American life and Western society in general. To successfully oppose it, it is crucial to recognize that it is rooted in neo-Marxist ideology deliberately aimed at undermining democratic societies by sowing division.
One of the destructive effects of the woke mindset has been erosion of belief in the “melting-pot” ideal. Yet that ideal enabled generations of diverse immigrants to become successful Americans—not least my own family. As I’ve argued before, contrary to the claims of modern-day critics, that ideal did not require abandoning one’s ethnic or religious identity. It meant embracing a second, transcendent “American” identity—centered on espousing the core values enunciated in our founding documents, and cemented by adherence to English as our common language.
Most important to emphasize is what those founding documents promised: that is, the freedom to pursue happiness (without harming others), not a guarantee of its attainment. Equal protection under the law in that pursuit—not a mechanism for producing equal outcomes—is what our system of government aimed to offer all individuals.
In contrast, identity politics aims to achieve greater “social justice,” conceived in terms of “equity,” or equal outcomes. All perceived inequities are allegedly due to the oppression of certain identity groups by the group in power—namely, Western, white, heterosexual men. Members of the designated oppressed groups are viewed as essentially helpless victims, unable to improve their lot without public intervention on their behalf.
We have not always fulfilled the promise of equal protection under the law. In that respect, we have not entirely lived up to our founding documents. But we have been engaged in an ongoing process of self-correction. Moreover, we have made great strides in the right direction, as evidenced most dramatically by the civil rights advances for blacks since the 1960s and by a sea change in the social status of women.
Given inevitable differences between individual circumstances and capacities, the total “equity” of equal outcomes sought as “social justice” in identity politics is a will-o’-the-wisp—an unattainable goal prompting ever more intrusive government interventions, which actually perpetrate new injustices. Economist Friedrich Hayek correctly dubbed it a “mirage.”
Social justice warriors generally ignore the great progress that has been made toward fulfilling our founders’ visionary promise. Instead of continuing along that path, they aim to replace our system with something essentially different. In place of equal protection under the law for all individuals, they seek to impose equal outcomes by bestowing benefits unequally, based on group identity.
Tyranny of the Minority
What identity politics leads to, in effect, is a tyranny of the minority, aptly characterized by one writer as “a system in which a particularly extreme and motivated fraction of the populace can wield outsized power in the face of a majority which is either too indifferent or too scared to oppose it.”
Our democratic system’s legal protection of individual rights has in fact contributed to a policy of tolerance regarding some forms of sexual deviation. But toleration does not mean normalization. Normalization of LGBTQ identities would constitute tyranny of the minority. Controverting the reality that the human race’s survival depends, at root, on binary sexuality, it would serve a small minority (currently less than 10 percent of the U.S. population) at the expense of humanity as a whole.
Ironically, under such tyranny, the objectively normal majority—heterosexual individuals—are often denigrated and disparaged. Still worse, they are burdened with unearned guilt as “oppressors.”
In the present woke climate, however, it is impossible to raise these concerns without attracting instant calumny for alleged homophobia and anti-trans hatred. As shown by my experience in challenging the woke groupthink in art education, this essay would be barred from discussion among the very teachers for whom it is most relevant. Yet the recent parental outcry nationwide against other aspects of sex education clearly suggests that most Americans would share my concerns and would welcome thoughtful debate on the complex question of how best to deal with LGBTQ identities.