These terms are used by many social justice advocates to refer to beliefs, behaviors or practices that cause a minority class to suffer adversely - whether unintentional or intentional. Originally used in the context of race and class, more recently LGBTQ+ activists refer to conservative theological viewpoints or practices - and the legislative priorities aligned with those beliefs - as being “oppressive” towards sexual and gender minorities.
Conservatives argue that such legislation protects important moral boundaries and guidelines which uphold a better-functioning society, and that LGBTQ individuals do not constitute a “special class” of people who should be afforded special protections. Some conservatives also take offense at being labeled as “oppressive” as they have no intent to mistreat others, and merely assert that their moral beliefs about appropriate sexual behaviors ought to hold a higher priority than special treatment for minority groups. Increasingly, conservatives themselves are suggesting that they have become the real focus of oppression in America.
Progressives are more likely to use the term "oppressive" to describe the impact of policy. Thus not being able to marry is seen as oppressive not because someone (or some group) is intentionally trying to be mean but because not being able to marry limits a group’s freedom and choice.
Since a label of oppression carries particular weight in demanding a remedy, the question of what constitutes legitimate oppression remains a challenging one in dialogue across the political spectrum.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
-Have you ever met a person who claimed to be oppressed? What reason did they give? Did you believe them?
-Have you ever told someone you felt oppressed and were not believed? What was that like?
-Is everyone oppressed? Is no one? Where do you draw the line?
-If you think people who say they are oppressed are not, how much worse would their treatment have to be before you felt they were truly oppressed?
Heidi Weaver-Smith, Mikhail Lyubansky
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