Pixar's Lightyear Is Triggering the Latest Right-Wing Anti-LGBTQ+ Panic | Vanity Fair
By: CALEB ECARMA
The conservative outrage machine has picked its next target and it's about to hit theaters: Disney-Pixar's Lightyear, the Toy Story spin-off movie out Friday. "Disney works to push a 'not-at-all-secret gay agenda'…Parents should keep that in mind before deciding whether to take their kids to see 'Lightyear,'" tweeted Ben Shapiro, one of the most popular right-wing podcast hosts. His post included a screenshot from the upcoming animated movie that features two lesbian parents embracing each other. "Children are not adults. What may be appropriate for adults is not appropriate for children," the podcaster continued. "That this must be said demonstrates that our society is in a state of moral collapse."
Shapiro's portrayal of LGBTQ+ people and relationships as inherently lewd or pornographic, and thus, inappropriate for children, has become the norm among many conservatives. Over the past three months, the biggest names in conservative media have resurrected an all-out war against LGBTQ+ Americans, attempting to trigger a moral panic that is growing more extreme and more widespread with each passing week. As state legislatures tee up hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ proposals this year, a study from the Human Rights Campaign declared that 2022 could be the most anti-trans legislative year in history, per USA Today. This campaign has also escalated in conservative media; in March, far-right pundits began maligning educators who talk about gender identity or sexual orientation as "groomers" who seek to prey on schoolchildren. The revival of this age-old smear was adopted by some of the right's most popular pundits and politicians. But the focus of these attacks has since shifted from schools, evolving into much broader attacks on LGBTQ+ people in all public spaces.
In a Townhall column titled "When a Kiss Is Not Just a Kiss," talk radio host Larry O'Connor pushed back against a Perez Hilton tweet noting that Lightyear is "banned in multiple countries over a gay kiss. CARTOONS KISSING, Y'ALL. That's some commitment to homophobia."
"This is the standard response whenever objections are raised to the slow-motion degradation of our principles and values that we try to instill in our children," O'Connor wrote. "Now, Disney has decided to warp its credibility with parents everywhere by letting us know that even its cartoons are no longer free from content that might be objectionable." Likewise, The American Conservative's Rod Dreher condemned Disney's decision to include the Lightyear scene, accusing the company of appeasing a "woke mob that wants to sexualize children" and trying to "turn popular art into culture-war propaganda." (At one point, Disney higher-ups reportedly decided to remove the scene in which the lesbian couple shares a kiss, but they reversed that decision in March in response to employee protests over anti-LGBTQ+ legislation being passed in Florida.)
"It's great that it's back in the film," actor Chris Evans, who voices the character Buzz Lightyear, told Vanity Fair at last week's world premiere. "I think it's a shame that it's such a story. It should be more normalized, but I'm glad we are making those steps."
It's not just movies. In a direct rebuttal to Pride Month celebrations taking place across the country, conservatives have also denounced LGBTQ+ spaces as innately depraved and unfit for children. "It's OK to just say you don't want kids to go to drag shows because you don't want them to see men dressed up like women," wrote conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey in a tweet, adding that "men pretending to be women should [not] be celebrated, especially by children." Even Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene jumped in on the war against drag saying she was going to propose a bill making it illegal for children to be exposed to drag performances.
"Random drag queens in public spaces pose exactly 0 threat to children," Natalie Wynn, a popular trans YouTuber, remarked on this controversy in a tweet. "These people don't care about protecting children, they care about protecting 'childhood innocence'—ignorance romanticized; a bullshit fantasy made up by adults, reflecting every adult prejudice."
Wynn's comment caught conservative podcaster Matt Walsh's attention, who in response to Wynn wrote, "These people are monsters" who "actively want to corrupt your children." Walsh, who apparently began utilizing the "groomer" smear and pushing for laws to ban drag queen storytelling hours nearly a year before some of his peers joined him, went on to write, "This is why we must oppose them with every fiber of our being, no matter what." (Might be worth noting that Walsh, a Catholic, has shown far less concern and ire toward the largest grooming scandal in modern history. "The pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church is not a pedophile scandal. The vast majority of victims are post-pubescent teens and young men," he wrote in 2018. "The real problem in the Church that everyone sees and few will say out loud: gay priests.")
This campaign to seemingly ostracize LGBTQ+ people from society isn't just playing out between conservative pundits; there's a growing legal push to codify bans against talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in classrooms, limiting trans kids' abilities to participate in sports, and receive appropriate gender-affirming health care. Democrats have taken notice too; on Wednesday President Joe Biden signed an executive order to expand resources to LGBTQ+ Americans, from housing initiatives, to health care, as well as reducing the exposure of minors to conversion therapy.
In a statement to Vanity Fair, Amit Paley, the CEO of the Trevor Project, a LGBTQ+ youth advocacy organization, warned that the anti-trans narratives being propagated by conservatives could have dire consequences. "The resurgence of regressive anti-LGBTQ attacks that seek to smear adults—including parents, teachers, counselors, and doctors—who affirm and support LGBTQ youth is incredibly dangerous," said Paley, "and diverts attention away from the critical work being done to prevent and address actual child abuse and sexual assault perpetrated against LGBTQ youth."
Some LGBTQ+ Americans have already experienced new threats set off by the right's latest moral crusade. At an Idaho Pride event Saturday, 31 members of Patriot Front, a white nationalist group, were arrested for conspiracy to riot after they traveled to the event armed with shields, metal poles, and at least one smoke grenade. That same day, a group of Proud Boys stormed a California library's drag queen story hour and began hurling anti-trans and antigay slurs at attendees. Similarly, a band of reported "Christian fascists" harassed and threatened patrons of drag queen brunch in Dallas last week. During the incident, the group began directing "groomer" chants at the event's participants and guests.