Conservatives are about to lose the 21st century

They have never once been right.

Did you ever notice that? Do you ever think about it? Never once.

Oh, in matters of, say, foreign affairs or military strategy, one might contend that conservatives have had their moments, made arguments that, arguably, made sense. But on matters of social evolution, they’ve compiled a remarkable record: They’ve never been vindicated by history. Rather, they’ve always been repudiated by it, always been wrong.

You think that’s harsh? You think it’s overly sweeping? The record begs to differ.

They stood athwart the civil rights movement, William F. Buckley once arguing (and later repenting) that white people’s “cultural superiority” entitled them to dominate African Americans.

They opposed women’s rights, Barry Goldwater once saying that he had nothing against a woman running for vice president, “just so she can cook and get home on time.”

Nor are the right’s wrongs limited to matters of human freedom. Every art form that ever dared deviate from status quo — music, film, books, comic books — has had to run a gauntlet of conservative opprobrium. As far back as the 1920s, they were up in arms over a new music called jazz.

It’s a history that provides a jaundiced context for the latest right-wing crusade. Meaning the one against LGBTQ kids. Florida’s Legislature passed its obnoxious “Don’t Say Gay” bill last week. Gov. Ron DeSantis, evidently determined to leave no principle untrampled in his hoped-for march to the White House, is expected to sign it.

The bill, which says educators may not “encourage” discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity, is just the latest front in the right’s war on LGBTQ young people, particularly those who are transgender. The ACLU counts dozens of such bills working their way through legislatures in over two dozen states. This includes Texas, whose attorney general has defined gender-affirming health care as child abuse.

If you didn’t know better, you’d think transgender people just dropped onto the planet from space. They didn’t. The former George Jorgensen made news way back in 1952 when he had sex reassignment surgery in Denmark and returned to the U.S. as a woman named Christine. No, the only thing that is new here is transgender people’s refusal to hide, their determination to live full, free and visible lives in the American mainstream.

Which brings them into conflict with conservatism’s reflexive terror of anything that does not fit inside the white picket fence of its imagination. That tendency to look ever backward toward an imagined better past, that timorous inability to face the future — heck, to face the present — and the challenges of change, is what had conservatives at odds with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Martin Luther King to Gloria Steinem.

Now it has them standing between children and their teachers and doctors. It is cold comfort to know that these acts of invasive cruelty will one day stand condemned by history, but they will. We’ve seen this movie too many times to doubt it. You’d think that would matter to conservatives; you’d think they’d think about it. Then you remember that fear and thought are incompatible; it’s almost impossible for them to exist in the same space.

So, LGBTQ kids and their allies can only put their heads down, work for change and take such satisfaction as they may find in the fact that, where social evolution is concerned, conservatives lost the 20th century.

Now they’re about to lose the 21st.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. Email him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.