Over the years I’ve seen a variety of reactions to Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s TLC show, a show they landed as a result of their unusually large number of children. I knew of the show when I was a teen, growing up in a large Duggar-like family myself. At the time I saw the Duggars as powerful witnesses for Christ, using their platform to promote their—our—beliefs. As an adult, it seems to me that the general public either thinks the Duggars this beautiful, loving, quaint family that reflects old-time values in a positive way, or prefers to snark and laugh at them. Personally, I don’t think either of these two reactions does the Duggar kids any good.
But one thing that is often overlooked is the Duggars’ involvement in politics, involvement which finally came to national attention this last summer. And now, this just in:
Fayetteville, Arkansas voters overturned a local ordinance outlawing discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity on Tuesday.
David Badash at The New Civil Rights Movement reported that the ballot race came to national attention earlier this year when Michelle Duggar — matriarch of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting — made a series of fear-mongering robocalls encouraging voters to vote against equal rights for LGBT citizens.
Fayetteville residents voted in a 52 to 48 percent split to overturn Ordinance 119, a nondiscrimination law that “prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, real estate transactions, city services, business transactions and public accommodations based on ‘race, ethnicity, national origin, age (if 18 years of age or older), gender, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, socioeconomic background, religion, sexual orientation, disability or veteran status.”
Duggar joined the effort to overturn the law in late summer, recording robocalls that went out to every phone in Fayetteville in which she described LGBT people as a threat to the community.
. . .
Badash at New Civil Rights pointed out that the Duggars are also using the newfound wealth from their reality TV series to influence the outcomes of local elections.
“The 19 Kids and Counting family “donated $10,000 toward the campaigns of the three most outspoken opponents to Fayetteville’s new Civil Rights Administration ordinance,” wrote Badash.
That’s right, the Duggars got a local anti-discrimination ordinance overturned.
This sort of political involvement is typical for families like the Duggars. The other day I was talking to a friend who grew up in another large Christian homeschooling family, whom I had thought was probably uninvolved politically given the level of dysfunction and abuse was going on, and was surprised when she told me that “most people in [my state’s] General Assembly knew of me when I was 15.” This was true in my own family of origin as well.
I entered politics before I could read. By the time I was a teen, I had campaigned for well over a dozen political candidates. It got to where elected state officials knew me by name, because I was always there. Our number one issue was abortion, but this was in the 1990s and early 2000s, before gay rights ordinances quite as much of a thing. Toward the end I did attend a rally against gay marriage, though, and afterwards I (yes, teenage me) spoke with reporters on the steps of my state’s capitol building.
Even today my mother describes LGBT individuals as “disgusting,” so you better believe that if an anti-discrimination ordinance comes to my home town, my parents and younger siblings will turn out in full force against it. Let’s look for a moment at the content of Michelle Duggar’s summer robocall:
Hello, this is Michelle Duggar. I’m calling to inform you of some shocking news that would affect the safety of Northwest Arkansas women and children. The Fayetteville City Council is voting on an ordinance this Tuesday night that would allow men – yes, I said men – to use women’s and girls’ restrooms, locker rooms, showers, sleeping areas and other areas that are designated for females only. I don’t believe the citizens of Fayetteville would want males with past child predator convictions that claim they are female to have a legal right to enter private areas that are reserved for women and girls. I doubt that Fayetteville parents would stand for a law that would endanger their daughters or allow them to be traumatized by a man joining them in their private space. We should never place the preference of an adult over the safety and innocence of a child. Parents, who do you want undressing next to your daughter at the public swimming pool’s private changing area?
Yes, it was that bad. The sad thing is, I could see my mother—and so many other mothers in this subculture—saying these exact same words.
Some find the Duggars “quaint” and somehow attractive, in spite of their position on women’s rights or their involvement in cult-like Christian ministries. Others prefer to snark at the Duggars, laughing at them and treating them as comedic entertainment. I would argue that neither approach is helpful to the Duggar children, but there’s something more than that—neither approach fully takes into account the Duggar’s investment in politics and the problematic nature of the causes they support.
Yes, everyone has the right to be involved in politics. But if you support causes that are intolerant to people who are different from you, that makes you a bigot, and if you have political muscle because of the prominence of your name or the amount of money you have to toss into politics, that makes you a powerful bigot, and if you successfully use politics to actively discriminate against vulnerable groups, that makes you both dangerous and malicious.
It’s long past time to see the Duggars as “quaint” or snark fodder. It’s time we fully understood the political influence the Duggars and other families like them wield or seek to wield, and the real world effects of that influence. It’s time we understood the world they aim to create—a world where LGBTQ individuals are marginalized and denied their rights at best, and forced to undergo anti-gay conversion “therapy” at worst. It is a world where gay people will be barred from the teaching profession, stigmatized, and treated as dangerous and depraved. This dystopia may look far fetched at the national level, but it is likely not so far fetched in Fayettville, Arkansas.