South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has apparently had her Christian sensibilities offended by "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" singer Lil Nas X's unofficial "Satan" sneakers. Noem has been spending her free time — of which she seems to have plenty these days despite an ongoing pandemic, record-breaking job losses disproportionately impacting Black and brown women, and a historic recession — clutching her pearls on Twitter, pontificating about the importance of kids' "god-given eternal soul" all because of a pair of limited-edition footwear.
Since the launch, Noem has entered into an apparent Twitter feud with the two-time Grammy Award winner. "Our kids are being told that this kind of product is, not only okay, it's 'exclusive.' But do you know what's more exclusive? Their God-given eternal soul," she tweeted. "We are in a fight for the soul of our nation. We need to fight hard. And we need to fight smart. We have to win." (One could ask what is "smart" about an elected official spending her time attacking the artistic expression of an award-winning musician, but I digress.)
Lil Nas X handled the negative attention with unapologetic grace. "Ur a whole governor and u on here tweeting about some damn shoes," he responded via Twitter. "Do ur job!" The governor took the slight against her mixed-up priorities as an invitation to continue the argument, quote-tweeting Lil Nas X's response with a Bible verse. "What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? -Matthew 16:26," she tweeted. To this, Lil Nas X simply responded with a quote from "Montero."
As Lil Nas X explained after the release of his now-viral music video, he's used to people like Noem condemning him. "I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay," he tweeted on March 27. "So I hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves."
Multiple studies have shown that the stigma, shame, and judgment expressed by family members, friends, church leaders, and other community members toward LGBTQ+ folks can have deadly consequences. One 2016 study found that family rejection increases the odds of substance abuse and suicide attempts in transgender and gender-nonconforming people. And a 2009 study found a clear link between rejection of gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth and negative health outcomes.
A gay Black man taking the near-constant messaging from conservative Evangelicals that he's going to hell, that his soul is doomed, and that he is somehow "evil," and turning it into art is hardly the demise of the country. And for a Republican leader to spend her time perpetuating dangerous messages about the innate worthiness of LGBTQ+ people is not only damning, it's laughable. As COVID-related restrictions are rolled back across the country and the U.S. returns to its regularly scheduled programming of mass shootings, perhaps Noem's time would be better spent passing common-sense gun legislation that would lessen the chances of the country witnessing seven mass shootings in seven days. As the AAPI community endures a rise in hate crimes that are the result, in part, of GOP rhetoric, perhaps the governor should focus on holding her fellow Republicans accountable for calling COVID-19 the "China virus" or "Kung-Flu."
We should all take a page out of Lil Nas X's book and call Noem's behavior by its name: cruel hypocrisy.