Laurie Essig Ph.D.

Love, Inc

The State of the Union and the New Cold War

Obama's SOTU address made clear that a new Cold War is upon us.

Posted Jan 22, 2015

The world can be divided in a myriad ways. Democracy vs. dictatorship. Capitalism vs. communism. And increasingly, homosexualism vs. heterosexualism. These last two isms are words coined by my colleague, Alexander Kondakov, at the European University at St. Petersburg. The point of his neologisms is that the ideological divide is not about particular sexual acts or even sexual identities but rather a much more ideological stance about sexual citizenship, who can access it, and who cannot.

Homosexualism is the ideological stance that non-straight populations deserve full citizenship rights in the form of marriage, and heterosexualism is the ideological stance that only straight people, often regardless of marriage, deserve full citizenship rights. According to the just-so story of this new ideological battle, homosexualism is located in countries that were on the capitalism side of the old Cold War, while heterosexualism is primarily located in previously communist spaces. Now that there is world agreement that "greed is good," the new ideological divides are appearing over sexual citizenship not economic systems. 

When President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address, he laid out this new Sexual Cold War: 

"There's one last pillar to our leadership — and that's the example of our values.

As Americans, we...condemn the persecution of...people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

This particular claim to what is truly American divides the world into two camps. Thus the global "West" is positioned against Russia, Uganda, Saudi Arabia, and a plethora of countries that fail at this most basic test of democracy. This new Sexual Cold War is upheld by many of the U.S. allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was willing to work with Vladimir Putin even after he annexed Crimea and illegally sent troops into Ukraine. But once Merkel became aware of Putin's views on homosexuality, she began to advocate a much more hardline containment of Russia. Britain's David Cameron has also raised the sexual iron curtain between the "West" as well as Russia and Allies. 

But what Obama and other leaders miss, is that "homosexualism" and "heterosexualism" are not actually as easily located as communism and capitalism. Indeed, there is plenty of "heterosexualism" in the U.S., and although gay marriage might soon find itself the law of the land (if the Supreme Court makes such a decision), there is an ongoing battle as to whether full citizenship really ought to be extended to everyone regardless of sexual identity or gender expression. In other words, marriage may represent a certain set of rights and privileges, but there are other forms of citizenship and those are increasingly at stake in the U.S. Consider the many news laws being proposed that would allow businesses not to serve LGBT customers. A new bill in Virginia is so extreme that, according to Mark Stern over at Slate:

"its reach is essentially endless. University professors would refuse to teach gay students; doctors in state-run hospitals could refuse to treat gay patients. Hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, and bars could simply put up a sign reading “No gays allowed.” Police officers and ambulance drivers could refuse to aid not just gay couples, but also gay individuals. County clerks and DMVs could turn away gays at the door. Public school teachers could kick out gay students. Daycares could refuse to look after the children of gay couples."

To make the new Cold War even less grounded in geography is the fact that much of the "research" behind heterosexualism comes from U.S. academics, people like sociologist Mark Regnerus and psychologist Paul Cameron. The global circulation of homophobia is made even more obvious when we consider how conservative Christian movements in the U.S., Europe and Russia join forces in their battle to impose heterosexualism on the world (in God's name, of course). 

The point is that protecting LGBT citizens is not an American value, as Obama claimed, but a human value that exists in many if not all countries on earth. And the denial of rights to LGBT people is not a movement "over there" but pretty much everywhere. The new Sexual Cold War is not a battle between East and West or barbarism and civilization but between humans around the world who support sexual and gender diversity and those who do not. The Sexual Iron Curtain has come down and both heterosexualism and homosexualism are free to circulate the globe.