Amy Coney Barrett’s Use Of ‘Offensive’ Anti-Gay Dog Whistle By Religious Right Sets Off Alarm Bells

During Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked the nominee whether she shared her mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s hostility to equal rights for LGBT Americans.

If confirmed, Feinstein asked, would Barrett, like her mentor, “be a consistent vote to roll back hard-fought freedoms and protections for the LGBT community”?

Barrett responded by claiming she had “no agenda,” a line Scalia also used during his own confirmation hearing.

She added: “I do want to be clear that I have never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference and would not discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.”

Barrett’s use of “sexual preference” alarmed many LGBTQ+ rights groups because the archaic and offensive dog whistle often used by the religious right suggests that sexuality is a choice, and therefore implies that gay and bisexual people, with enough willpower, can be changed.

GLAAD calls the phrase “offensive,” and media arbiters such as the Associated Press and The New York Times ban its use for just that reason.

Slate notes: “As Jesse Bering explained in 2013, the term is similar to other expressions, like ‘the gay lifestyle’ or ‘avowed homosexual,’ that were once common but are now considered offensive. These phrases play into the anti-gay canard that sexual minorities are not a discrete and insular minority deserving of constitutional protections but rather deviants who should not be rewarded for their aberrant sexuality. Today, the term ‘sexual preference’ has almost universally been replaced with ‘sexual orientation,’ which acknowledges that sexuality is a fundamental human trait.”

“But the religious right often refuses to use ‘orientation,’ fearing that it will legitimize homosexuality. For instance, when Scalia dissented from the Supreme Court’s first ruling in favor of gay rights, he put the word ‘orientation’ in scare quotes, speaking only of homosexual ‘orientation.’ Scalia also refused to use the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ in the court’s next three gay rights decisions. Instead, he deployed the term ‘homosexual conduct.’ Like ‘sexual preference,’ this expression implies that homosexuality isn’t something you are but something you do—and, by extension, something you can (and should) stop doing.”