LGBTQ people urge Democrats to forcefully reject GOP attacks


FILE – Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, left, stands next to 16-year-old Aspen Morris during the Rainbow Pride flag raising Wednesday, June 1, 2022 at the Capitol in Madison, Wis. Democratic political candidates who otherwise support the civil rights, safety and visibility of LGBTQ adults and children are struggling to respond to a Republican campaign offensive targeting these people. Republicans’ use of LGBTQ people as a “corner issue” seeks to appeal to the general public’s emotions and misunderstandings about transgender people in particular. (Mark Hoffman/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel via AP File)


“The T stands for transgender,” a teacher explains in a video on a Maine Department of Education website launched during the coronavirus pandemic.

“A transgender person is someone who was mistaken by doctors when they were born,” the teacher explains in the lesson plan for kindergarten children. “But some people, when they get a bit older, realize what the doctors said wasn’t right.”

Republicans then produced an ad accusing Democratic Gov. Janet Mills, who is running for re-election against former GOP Gov. Paul LePage, of using state money to create “radical schoolyards.” Within hours, the lesson disappeared from the website, and Mills’ spokesperson said the governor was fine with its removal.

While most Democrats support the rights, safety, and visibility of LGBTQ adults and children, they are struggling to counter a barrage of GOP attacks on LGBTQ people, especially transgender people. With measured responses and occasional capitulations, Democrats like Mills aim to avoid becoming further embroiled in culture wars that primarily serve to galvanize the Republican base.

But as Democrats largely avoid direct confrontations, some LGBTQ people say they feel let down.

“Our lives and our existence are being used as political fodder to bolster the GOP base, and they are not coming to our defense,” said Deja Alvarez, a transgender woman who finished third in the Democratic primary in a heavily LGBTQ legislative state. . Philadelphia neighborhood. “They don’t rally the troops saying, ‘Hey, we can’t stand this. “”

Democrats are hardly silent on LGBTQ issues.

As Pride Month kicked off this week, President Joe Biden tweeted his support for LGBTQ rights. He recently named Karine Jean-Pierre as the White House’s first openly gay press secretary and criticized Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis this year after he signed legislation banning discussion of the sexual orientation and identity of gender from kindergarten to third grade.

Even after distancing herself from the Department of Education video, Mills released a statement this week confirming the LGBTQ-friendly legislation she signed into law. She insisted that if re-elected, Maine “will remain a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ people to live.”

And in Wisconsin, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has warned that if he loses in November, Republicans will take action to ban books, especially those with LGBTQ themes.

Evers’ approach is that of activists who say more Democrats should embrace this election year. They want to see candidates move beyond prepared statements celebrating Pride Month and instead put LGBTQ issues more front and center in the campaign while warning about the specific consequences of Republican victories.

“These are the types of actions we need people to take,” Alvarez said, “but not just because it’s Pride month.”

The problem may be that even allies aren’t willing to talk about the issues, which has helped make LGBTQ people look like a threat, said Fran Hutchins, executive director of advocacy group Equality Federation.

In this election cycle, Republicans have focused on discussions banned by the Florida bill dubbed by opponents “Don’t Say Gay”; the participation of transgender students in competitive sports, although such conflicts are rare; and gender-affirming care for children.

“The root of why this is happening is a real lack of familiarity and understanding of trans people and what it’s like to be transgender,” Hutchins said.

A notable exception was Mallory McMorrow, a Democratic senator from the state of Michigan who gave an impassioned speech in response to a plea from a Republican lawmaker who claimed that McMorrow, who is running for re-election, wanted to “groom” and “sexualizing” kindergartens.

The video of McMorrow’s reaction speech and a related Twitter thread have been widely celebrated, but there remains a sense — even by McMorrow — that she has fallen on a sword that other Democrats are ducking.

“There is a difference between politics and outright hatred,” she said in April, reflecting on the reaction to her speech. “I think people are frustrated that elected officials haven’t done enough to speak out against this, that maybe the Democrats are afraid to talk about religion and faith openly and honestly and call hate what it is. is.”

Labeling sexual orientation and gender identity education as ‘grooming’ evokes methods used by sex offenders to moleste children, and part of a Conservative push to address parents’ fears by equating such education with pornography and paedophilia.

Maine video teacher Kailina Mills – unrelated to the governor – said in a Facebook post that she taught transgender and non-binary preschoolers and that they deserved to be represented in the program, the Portland Press Herald reported.

“Public schools are for everyone and should therefore include everyone,” the teacher said.

When the narrative that these questions are inappropriate or dangerous embeds itself in the minds of voters, pushing back can indeed be politically problematic. But campaigners said there were bigger issues to consider.

“It’s good for candidates when they stand up and say what their true values ​​are and say what they think about what’s really going on with the legislation,” said Liz Seaton, policy director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. Equity Fund. “When they speak the truth from values, they will speak from their hearts and their constituents will respond.”

Annise Parker, a former mayor of Houston who is now CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and Institute, a nonpartisan organization that works on behalf of LGBTQ candidates, agreed that LGBTQ allies running for office have a responsibility to “stand up and to speak out when any of these marginalized communities are under attack.

Political observers and activists have noted parallels in today’s rhetoric with that around same-sex marriage in the 1990s and 2000s.

Just 10 years ago, former President Barack Obama — hot on the heels of Biden, his vice president — endorsed same-sex marriage. This was 16 years after another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, signed the law that blocked him.

Both presidents were candidates for re-election and were perhaps hostages to public opinion which, during the Obama era, had swung the other way. Same-sex marriage quickly became legal in the United States, and the public now sees that the sky did not fall as expected, the lawyers said.

But now ‘conservative forces are again very effectively using the tactic of ‘altering’ us…and they’re making trans activists look radical when all they’re looking for is the right to exist’ , said Jonathan Lovitz, a gay man who ran against Alvarez and other candidates in last month’s Democratic primary in Philadelphia and placed second.

A poll released in April by the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that, overall, Americans lean slightly toward broadening discussions about the sexuality in grades K-12. And some observers say it’s only a matter of time before today’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric stops working in favor of Republicans.

Lovitz encouraged Democrats to set aside political concerns as LGBTQ people feel increasingly targeted.

“Be a vocal and visible ally even if it costs you endorsements and donations. Stand up for what you believe in; otherwise, you are not a chosen one, you are just a weather vane,” a- he said, “We don’t need fair weather friends right now.”


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Sandy A. Greer