The Republican party is at war against LGBTQ people. The GOP’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is heating up — a pivot for midterm campaigns.
The question is, what are Democrats going to do about it?
Thus far, despite some supportive tweets and “Happy Pride Month” banners on both President Biden’s and Vice President Harris’s Twitter accounts, there has been scant pushback against increasingly aggressive — and according to some activists, dangerous — anti-LGBTQ rhetoric from the GOP, revved up as “culture wars” talking points.
Those talking points, like a viral video from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) in which she claims cis-het people face extinction because of LGBTQ+ education and makes reference to “trans terrorists.”
“They just want you to think that all of a sudden the entire population is steadily turning gay or turning trans,” said Greene.
Comments like Greene’s have real world impact on LGBTQ people: targeting them for harassment, abuse, violence, and generally making them unsafe.
June 11, several dozen members of Patriot Front, a white nationalist hate group linked to the January 6 attack on the Capitol, were arrested in Idaho for “planning a riot” at the North Idaho Pride event in Coeur d’Alene. Thomas Ryan Rousseau, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the founder of Patriot Front after the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, led the foiled attack.
Concomitantly, as PGN has reported and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been tracking, there are several hundred anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures, a record number. A disproportionate number of these bills emphasize limiting healthcare to LGBTQ youth and restricting access to sports by trans youth to the gender they were assigned at birth.
In addition, laws like the now-notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida restrict access to books and even any mention of LGBTQ issues for younger children. It would, for example, be illegal to mention that Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is married to his husband Chasten and that the couple and their twins constitute a gay family.
Back in February, President Biden said of the Florida law in a tweet, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
Biden’s tweet pivoted off the official White House account’s, which responded to a news story about GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’s law noting,
“Today, conservative politicians in Florida advanced legislation designed to attack LGBTQI+ kids. Instead of making growing up harder for young people, @POTUS is focused on keeping schools open and supporting students’ mental health.”
Powerful comments from the White House and the antithesis of how LGBTQ people were treated under the prior administration.
But as is the standard for political action, particularly in an election year, the question is always about the present: So what have the Biden administration and congressional Democrats done for LGBTQ people lately when the Equality Act has yet to be passed and Obergefell is under threat?
Where is the statement from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on the incident in Idaho as a domestic terrorist concern, particularly when the January 6 Committee hearings are ongoing?
Why hasn’t Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona spoken out on the attacks on LGBTQ students? Cardona had an immediate response to the suggestions from House and Senate GOP that teachers be armed with guns after the Uvalde massacre. Yet months have passed since the full-fledged attacks on LGBTQ students without statements from Cardona.
On June 15, ESPN published an interview with Cardona on the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Cardona was asked about controversy regarding University of Pennsylvania NCAA swimmer Lia Thomas, Cardona was quoted as saying, “Athletes who happen to be transgender deserve the same opportunities. Participating in athletics gives all students an opportunity to learn about themselves, to compete, to negotiate with a team and learn skills that are going to be needed for success in life, outside of college or high school. That’s critical, that’s part of the experience.”
Cardona added, “And I recognize that the implementation of it is very difficult. I don’t think you’re ever going to come up with a solution where everyone agrees.”
Not a real answer and certainly not one that addresses the discrimination trans athletes are facing at all levels of the educational system. Cardona had the opportunity to speak out against both the targeting of Thomas and the myriad bills attacking trans athletes that are being pushed in state legislatures.
On June 14, Cardona posted an unlabeled video of himself speaking about parents of K-12 students in which he asserts that parents don’t want students caught up in culture wars. That statement contravenes fact. Parents are bombarding school board meetings with GOP culture wars talking points.
Greene’s statements, loathsome as they are, also reflect the impact of that perspective. As PGN reported in November, Republican Glenn Youngkin won the Virginia governor’s race campaigning on a platform that focused on “parental rights” — with 67,000 Democrats voting for him.
What’s more, “parental rights” is a major GOP talking point and is the basis for Florida and other states’ “Don’t Say Gay” laws. Why isn’t Cardona addressing this very real and very damaging reality?
His predecessor, Betsy DeVos, was constantly outspoken on LGBTQ issues in very negative and damaging ways. Cardona should be countering the dangerous GOP messaging on LGBTQ youth with the same force and passion with which DeVos attacked LGBTQ students.
Democratic politicians choosing to discount and/or ignore the constancy of the GOP message is reminiscent of 2009 when the Obama administration chose to dismiss Alaska governor and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin labeling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “Obamacare” and claiming that it would “kill grandma” through care ratios.
Palin’s messaging was ultimately adopted by the GOP, and her Tea Party Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, knocking Nancy Pelosi out of the Speakership and curtailing President Obama’s ability to pass legislation.
“Obamacare” became a neologism for the ACA so endemic that it finally had to be embraced by Democrats.
Democrats can’t afford a repeat of the 2010 midterms, the “shellacking,” as President Obama called them. As President Biden has noted, the “MAGA GOP” is much more virulent than its 2010 Tea Party forebears. Donald Trump still leads the party, January 6 notwithstanding, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is eager to be Speaker. In January 2021, Nancy Pelosi was re-elected Speaker over McCarthy by a mere eight votes.
Categorizing GOP electeds like Marjorie Taylor Greene as fringe is an error. Opposition to Greene is not reflected by voting — she won her May 24 primary overwhelmingly. And as the Pennsylvania Senate race showed, GOP candidates are pushing LGBTQ issues hard. Mehmet Oz, who campaigned in the primary on strongly anti-LGBTQ messaging, won the tight race along with Trump’s endorsement.
Democrats are at a crossroads politically. Biden argues that there are “reasonable Republicans” who can be worked with. But that has been proven time and again to be fake news. Making nice with the GOP as Speaker Pelosi did recently, is a tactical and even moral error. At the opening of the new Washington branch of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, Pelosi said, “It might come as a surprise to some of you that the president I quote most often is President Reagan,” Pelosi said. “The good humor of our president was really a tonic for the nation… the gentleman that he was.”
Reagan was responsible for the deaths of thousands of gay men from AIDS and Pelosi represents San Francisco, the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. No humor there. None.
Democrats can and must do better with regard to the LGBTQ constituents that help elect them. Those votes will be needed come November.