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Opinion Don’t let Mallory McMorrow fight bigotry alone

Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow delivers remarks on the senate floor on April 19. (AP)
5 min

“So who am I? I am a straight, white, Christian, married, suburban mom …”

Well, I’m not. In fact, with the exception of being Christian and married, I’m really not anything like Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who delivered a blistering rebuke to a fellow lawmaker’s marginalizing attack this past week when she described herself — and her privilege.

I’m gay, and I’m Black, and I’m a city slicker with no children. But listening to McMorrow’s roar of moral indignation, I felt like she saw me and anyone who looks like and loves like me. Others who fit her description should take note.

McMorrow had been (falsely) accused by a GOP colleague of being a “groomer,” the latest right-wing slander against anyone who supports LGBTQ children. But McMorrow did not apologize for that support. “I want every child to feel seen, heard, and supported,” she said, “not marginalized and targeted if they are not straight, white, and Christian.”

To understand the power of McMorrow’s words, you have to understand that “straight, White and Christian” is the default cultural and political setting in this country. Throw in “male” and you’d have the top of this pyramid. Just ask Tucker Carlson.

When you’re none, or not all, of those identities, you’re made to feel it. Your intellect, dignity and value are called into question. Demagogues gin up fear of you for electoral gain. Your very life becomes a political piñata whacked around by people who don’t have to live with the consequences of what they have wrought. Look at the anti-trans legislation littering the land or the “don’t say gay” law in Florida.

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Activists who aren’t “straight, white and Christian” have pushed back against bigotry for many generations, and they have secured hard-won advances. But especially in this new front in the United States’ oldest culture war, those voices could use some backup. Enter McMorrow.

“My hope is that there are a lot more people like me, who see what I did and say, ‘We have to stand up and fight back.’ Because this strategy is not going away,” she told me when I interviewed her Sunday. “This is the playbook … and we may get to a place where we’re out of time and we can’t afford to fight back.”

Since her speech, McMorrow said, many LGBTQ friends have told her they are exhausted by having to defend themselves against charges of pedophilia or grooming. “We can’t constantly ask the community that’s targeted to defend themselves. I am not marginalized, and it’s going to take a lot more people like me to take the hits,” she said. “If we keep taking the hits, people like me, we take away its power. We owe it to our neighbors and our friends who are just trying to live.”

What McMorrow did was textbook allyship. It was also a blueprint for Democrats who are accustomed to cowering in fear of Republican culture war attacks. Too many national Democrats are letting the incipient “groomer” charges go unchallenged or are assuming they’re too ridiculous to gain traction. They’re ridiculous, yes — but that doesn’t mean they can’t gain traction. (Have you seen today’s Republican Party?)

McMorrow is right to urge her party to “stand in our morals, stand in our values, stand for our families, and call it out for the absolute nonsense that it is.” This applies to any form of GOP bigotry. It’s not enough to, say, put up a black square on your Instagram feed and proclaim that Black Lives Matter. You can’t just talk about your beliefs. You have to act on them.

Gavin Newsom isn’t afraid of a fight. Democrats shouldn’t be afraid to emulate that.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) pretty much said the same thing when I talked to him in February: “We all just need to … recognize what we’re up against, which is mishegoss, which is full-time propaganda coming from a disciplined far extreme right.” Newsom was explaining why he was willing to use the punitive Texas abortion law as a template to go after gun manufacturers in California.

Our nation needs more Newsoms and McMorrows. It needs more Mackeys, too — Missouri state representative Ian Mackey, whose own speech earlier this month against an anti-LGBTQ bill went viral. The out gay legislator told his colleagues about his fears as a gay kid in his home state. He, too, ended with a roar: “Gentlemen, I’m not afraid of you anymore, because you’re going to lose. You may win this today, but you’re going to lose.”

Democrats must embrace Mackey’s fearlessness. We need more straight, white, Christian, married, suburban moms to show the fearlessness McMorrow did. Really, we need anyone who believes in basic respect and equality under the law to be fearless — especially if they haven’t had to struggle for those things themselves. McMorrow must not fight alone.

Follow Jonathan Capehart on Twitter: @Capehartj. Subscribe to “Capehart, his weekly podcast.