“Old men in dresses from organisations with a history of child abuse have infiltrated our schools to spread their contested deity theories and gender beliefs to vulnerable children.”

This is how news that the Catholic Church is spreading anti-gay marriage propaganda in schools would be reported if it were treated the same way the Safe Schools campaign had been reported in the conservative press.

The language is important.

On International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, those who we describe as having homophobic or transphobic views no longer use the fire-and-brimstone language condemning people for being gay or transgender. They moderate their language to make it sound like they’re being reasonable and civil, while in reality their words are still as damaging and oppressive as ever.

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They now campaign against what the Australian Christian Lobby has termed “rainbow ideology” or “rainbow sex” — that teaching people that LGBTI people are just like other people and deserve the same rights as everyone else is somehow a contested notion. The Australian Christian Lobby yesterday pre-emptively whined about Queensland Police showing support for gay and transgender people by raising a rainbow flag over its headquarters.

But those with homophobic views realise they can no longer campaign on their religion’s own views, so they frame the debate to be all about children and religious freedom. In the marriage equality debate, the only arguments they have left are slippery slope arguments that marriage equality will lead to either polyamorous relationships or gay people having children, despite the fact that both of these things already happen outside of the confines of marriage.

Or they complain that religious bakers will have to make gay wedding cakes. The horror. These campaigns just show they’ve lost the war. They are reduced to complaining about facing their own discrimination because of their religion, when what they really are feeling is the loss of privilege.

But the attacks on transgender people are more vicious, framing the idea of transgender people as “contested ideology”. In years past, fear of gay people came from straight men fearing they would be sexually assaulted by gay men. Unfortunately, so-called “gay panic” defence laws still exist in South Australia and Queensland and allow people accused of murdering a gay person to plead the defence that they were forced to kill because of a homosexual advance. For transgender people, a familiar argument is now being laid down about which bathrooms they use.

Opponents conjure up images of scary men entering girl’s bathrooms, when the reality is quite the opposite. There is absolutely no evidence protections for trans people in the United States has led to an increase in sex crimes.

Although homophobic groups are losing, gay rights advocates cannot afford to be complacent. As Labor’s Penny Wong has said in the past, although the polls indicate that the majority of Australians support same-sex marriage, it can’t be taken as an inevitability that marriage equality will become law.

The relentless campaign against Safe Schools is just the opening act to what will be a major battle waged by the far-right fringe groups like FamilyVoice Australia and the Australian Christian Lobby in the event of the plebiscite, or if Labor introduces legislation soon after the election. While the language might be civil, the intent will remain hostile.