To celebrate Pride Month, Taylor Swift took to social media to blast out a rainbow-colored petition asking fans and lawmakers alike to support the Equality Act, a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal civil rights law.
“While we have so much to celebrate, we also have a great distance to go before everyone in this country is truly treated equally,” the Grammy-winner wrote. “I’ve decided to kick off Pride Month by writing a letter to one of my senators to explain how strongly I feel that the Equality Act should be passed.”
The House of Representatives passed the Equality Act last month, with all Democrats and eight Republicans voting in favor. In addition to enshrining sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, the legislation would create a civil right for male athletes to self-identify as females at any time without any evidence of physical changes to their bodies.
In her letter promoting the legislation, Swift said a “recent study shows that over 64% of Tennesseans support laws for protections of LGBTQ people against discrimination.”
“Reports,” she added, “are that the majority of Americans across all parties favor these nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people (liberals at 81%, moderates at 76% and conservatives 55%.)”
It’s difficult to fact-check these statistics because the country singer-turned-pop-sensation didn’t cite her sources. But we do know the results from a more specific poll asking Americans how they feel about transgender individuals participating in sports.
According to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey, just 28% of American adults support letting biological males participate in girls’ sports—something that the Equality Act could allow to happen.
That’s a stark difference from the numbers Swift cited about the “majority of Americans across all parties” supporting undisclosed “nondiscrimination protections.”
In public policy, the devil is always in the details, and there’s always the risk of causing unintended consequences. It’s easy to say you oppose “discrimination” in the abstract until you realize what those protections will entail.
Of course, Swift’s misleading form of Instagram activism is nothing new. Hollywood elites have been virtue-signaling to us for years. We still like their music, but Donald Trump’s election showed that Americans are pretty good at tuning out their political views.
Until recently, the “Sparks Fly” singer (one of my personal favorites) stayed mum about politics. It was refreshing. But not anymore. In a recent article she wrote for Elle titled, “30 Things I Learned Before Turning 30,” Swift addressed her change of tune:
I’m finding my voice in terms of politics. I took a lot of time educating myself on the political system and the branches of government that are signing off on bills that affect our day-to-day life. I saw so many issues that put our most vulnerable citizens at risk, and felt like I had to speak up to try and help make a change. Only as someone approaching 30 did I feel informed enough to speak about it to my 114 million followers. Invoking racism and provoking fear through thinly veiled messaging is not what I want from our leaders, and I realized that it actually is my responsibility to use my influence against that disgusting rhetoric. I’m going to do more to help. We have a big race coming up next year.
I think we can all appreciate Swift’s decision to learn about the different branches of government before becoming an Instagram activist. Sadly, that’s unlikely something that other A-listers have done. But being a Taylor fan dating back to her first single, and as someone who also turns 30 this year, I have a few things that I’ve learned, particularly in the political sphere.
In my relatively short time here, I’ve learned that talking with people is far more effective than talking at people. I’ve learned what a privilege it is to have the platform that I do, and how important it is that I use it responsibly.
Engaging responsibly means not just shouting at others about what I think is right and why—though certainly, speaking out is part of it. It also means engaging other people’s ideas and being willing to debate and defend my own in a civil way. Because in this space, nothing is as important as genuine, civil debate.
This is what’s frustrating about Swift’s newfound Instagram activism—and all Instagram activism, for that matter. It provides no space for real conversations.
On Instagram, Swift doesn’t even take the step of allowing her followers to comment on her posts, meaning her rainbow-colored press blasts are always one-sided. Only those with their own platforms are privileged to respond. And even then, it’s a gamble if she’ll read it.
When her followers read her take on the Equality Act, some would like to converse back. “But Taylor, did you know this legislation could wipe out women’s sports?!”
But alas, she offers nothing but a “Blank Space.” It must be nice to never have to worry about that kind of pushback.
The Equality Act is far more complicated than what a single-page, double-spaced, rainbow press release can convey. It’s a bill that would have implications for individuals and institutions for years to come.
Taylor, if you support it so much, go on TV and debate it. Answer the tough questions about how the legislation would compel medical professionals to perform procedures against their will, and shut down foster care and adoption agencies, drug rehabilitation centers, and homeless centers. Talk to the foster kids who would never be placed with parents because their facilities would be forced to close.
Sit down and have a conversation with high school girls like Selina Soule, the 16-year-old track star from Connecticut, who lost the opportunity to compete in front of college recruiters because biological boys identifying as girls took her spot. Confront the uncomfortable fact that if this bill moves forward, middle-class families like hers could be robbed of scholarship opportunities that will go to biological boys instead.
Would that be equality or justice?
Despite her taking the time to learn about politics, Swift is still misinformed. We all want equality, but the so-called Equality Act would do the opposite.
If Swift wants to engage faithfully with her 114 million fans, she’ll have to do more than post pretty press releases. She’ll have to muster up the courage to confront the not-so-fun questions, and prepare to be held accountable for any (mis)information she spreads.
In my 20s, I learned that Instagram activism is the easy route—you’re not held accountable, and don’t really have to engage. The hard work begin with answering the difficult questions—the ones most other celebrities pretend don’t exist.
Luckily, Swift doesn’t turn 30 until Dec. 13. There’s still time for her to prove she’s not like the rest of them, and add this all-important life lesson to her list.