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Gay Republicans fought for acceptance in Texas GOP, see little progress

Gay Republicans who fought for acceptance within Texas GOP the past 3 decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow

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Dale Carpenter, outside his home in Dallas on July 8, was the state president of the Log Cabin Republicans in the 1990s but has since distanced himself from party politics. The group is the largest organization representing gay conservatives and advocating for inclusivity in the GOP. Photo Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

By Eric Neugeboren | (The Texas Tribune) AUSTIN – In June 1998, a group of gay and lesbian conservatives, pushing for greater representation at the Texas Republican Party convention in Fort Worth, found themselves in a frightening clash with members of their own party.

Members of the Log Cabin Republicans were protesting at the gathering of party faithful after a state GOP official made offensive comments comparing the group to the Ku Klux Klan and pedophiles. The group was also protesting the rejection of their request to host a booth at the convention — the second time in a row they’d been denied — where they hoped to share information about their organization.

Counterprotesters surrounded the Log Cabin members, wielding signs with homophobic slurs and phrases like “The Gay Life = AIDS Then Hell.” They pushed and spat and shoved their fingers in the faces of the gay Republicans.

Richard Tafel, the former executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans which bills itself as the “nation’s largest Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives and allies,” attended the Texas convention that year and recalls thinking he was in serious danger as they advocated for respect from members of their own party.

“We’re here to draw the line,” Tafel declared at the protest. “No more hatred, no more hatred in the name of God. And we won’t be silenced.”

Richard Tafel speaks at the Rally for Liberty in June 1998.
Richard Tafel speaks at the Rally for Liberty in June 1998. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

A counterprotester threw a sign at his face.

“It was a tornado of emotion, volatile and dangerous, ready to touch down and sweep us all away at any moment. I was afraid for my own safety and that of others,” wrote Dale Carpenter, a former president of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, in a newsletter later that year.

Ultimately, no one was injured that day. But it was a vivid display of homophobia within the party.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Gay Republicans who have fought for acceptance within the Texas GOP over the past three decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

More than two decades later, this year’s Texas Republican convention made headlines again for its attitudes toward LGBTQ people. The party adopted a platform in June at its convention in Houston declaring that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” That party position comes after similar language had been stripped from the platform just four years earlier, representing a backward step for Log Cabin members who have for years been fighting for acceptance within their ranks.

Gay Republicans who have fought for acceptance within the Texas GOP over the past three decades told The Texas Tribune progress has been excruciatingly slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.

“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president.

Since the group’s inception in 1989, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas have been denied a booth at the state convention. And this year’s convention was no different. Booths are granted to all sorts of conservative interest groups, advocating for issues related to gun rights, anti-abortion issues and freedom from vaccines. A booth, in many ways, is symbolic of a seat at the table.

“Getting a booth also became a signal of party approval,” Carpenter said. “You have ‘arrived’ and are accepted in the GOP.”

Members of the state Log Cabin Kelton Dillard, Dale Carpenter and Steve Labinski, left to right, outside the Texas Capitol i…
From left: Kelton Dillard, Dale Carpenter and Steve Labinski, members of the state Log Cabin Republicans, outside the Texas Capitol in 1997. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

Beyond the official state party, which often represents the most hardline members and belief systems, mainstream conservatives in Texas have turned their attention in recent months toward anti-LGBTQ initiatives, oftentimes in the form of legislation related to school sports, curriculum and library books that address sexuality and gender identity.

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an order this year equating allowing minors to receive transgender care with child abuse. The Legislature also passed a bill last year banning transgender children from playing on public school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

And conservatives nationwide are taking aim at same-sex marriage. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz said on his podcast last week that he believes the U.S. Supreme Court was “clearly wrong” when it legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. A majority of U.S. House Republicans last week voted against protecting the right to same-sex marriage. Only one Texas Republican voted for the measure.

State legislatures across the country have proposed more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, many of which target transgender youth.

“​​It saddens me that in a state where our biggest issues are infrastructure, development and education, we have child poverty everywhere, school shootings that are happening, that we’re so focused on issues trying to limit the access to opportunities for trans youth,” said Christopher Busby, a former Log Cabin member who left the party in 2016.

The Texas GOP declined to comment for this story and referred all questions to the party platform. The Tribune reached out to prominent Texas Republican leaders for comment on the state party’s latest anti-LGBTQ platform plank. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan declined to comment. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn did not answer when asked about the party platform, instead deflecting to discuss the congressional action this week on marriage equality. Cruz said the party platform “is not rhetoric or language that I use” and that “the decisions of consenting adults concerning matters of sexuality are choices for individuals to make.”

All of them attended the convention with the exception of Abbott, who held a reception associated with the event.

Current Log Cabin members in Texas have admonished the party for the language in its platform. But they emphasize the party apparatus is not representative of all or even most Republicans, while pointing to incremental gains they’ve made within the state party.

“There are over 270 planks in the GOP platform,” said Michael Cargill, the president of the Austin Log Cabin chapter who recently resigned as acting chair of the state organization for reasons he said are unrelated to the recent platform. “There are only four planks that we disagree on.”

Notably, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, which included about 350 dues-paying members in 2021, endorsed the Legislature’s bill targeting trans youth playing school sports. That position represents what earlier members describe as a shift within the group and a schism between current and former Log Cabin members.

Carpenter recalled that in the ’90s, the primary mission was to achieve acceptance of gay members within the state party. But after decades of nearly stagnant progress on that front, he thinks the group has shifted toward prioritizing common ground.

“We asked ourselves from time to time, are you gay first and Republican second, or are you Republican first and gay second?” he said. “I think in recent years, the mission may have shifted to primarily promoting the Republican party among LGBT people to help win elections. Current leadership seems [to be] ‘Republican first.’”

Dale Carpenter looks through photos from the 1998 Hate Crimes March in Austin in his home in Dallas, TX on July 8, 2022.
Dale Carpenter looks through photos from the 1998 Hate Crimes March in Austin. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“I sort of lost hope” 

In 1990, the GOP party platform called homosexuality “biologically and morally unsound” and compared same-sex relationships to “necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, or incest.”

Paul von Wupperfeld, a gay man who lived in Austin at the time, considered himself politically right of center and in favor of limited government. Gay Republicans were hard to come by back then — many had become disillusioned with the Republican Party due in part to President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.

Inspired by other Log Cabin chapters that had formed more than a decade earlier, von Wupperfeld and others thought they could change the Texas GOP. He would serve as the first president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas. Today, he considers the effort an utter failure.

“We failed to moderate the Republican party,” said von Wupperfeld, now a 56-year-old Democrat who has not voted Republican since 2000. “I’m glad we tried, and I think we did the right thing by trying. We’re actually going the other way, faster and faster.”

Early on, the group had glimmers of optimism. In 1990, the Travis County GOP Convention was opened by a gay men’s chorus. Some of the GOP groups in major cities showed support for the Log Cabin Republicans.

But for every step forward, there was another fall backward.

Republicans started emphasizing social issues as religious conservatives took over the party. The Travis County GOP added language in its 1994 platform opposing “homosexual education” in public schools, according to a news article published after the change. The Galveston County GOP called for all HIV patients to be quarantined, a decision Log Cabin members said was intended to target gay people, who were disproportionately affected by the virus. The Houston Post wrote in a 1994 article that “The GOP — particularly in Texas — has become increasingly socially conservative, with the Christian right in firm control of the party apparatus.”

Inline article image
Dale Carpenter at the San Antonio GOP Convention in 1996. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

The religious right movement was emboldened two years earlier in Houston. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan gave a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention that would become known as “The Culture War Speech,” in which he warned that the nation was embroiled in a war “for the soul of America.”

“We stand with [President George H.W. Bush] against the amoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same standing in law as married men and women,” Buchanan said.

In 1995, von Wupperfeld had enough. He resigned as president of the statewide group.

“I didn’t believe it could succeed anymore,” von Wupperfeld said. “I sort of lost hope and got tired of the drama and the fighting internally and the fighting within the party.”

After von Wupperfeld left, Carpenter would take over the leadership role. He held the position for two years until 1997, until he too lost hope as his party was swallowed by social conservatives.

“We were just a few people in a few cities,” Carpenter said. “And we were up against thousands and thousands of very organized activists who really only cared about two things: abortion and homosexuality.”

The battle for a booth

The battle for a booth at the Texas Republican Party convention every two years has turned into a proxy war for acceptance within the state party.

To get a booth, a group submits an application to the party and then a committee of party officials votes on whether to approve the request. This year, Log Cabin came up short by one vote. Party chair Matt Rinaldi voted “present,” which meant he did not vote in favor or against, said Marco Roberts, the former state chair for Log Cabin who resigned in May.

Booths in the convention’s exhibit hall give interest groups and some elected officials a chance to meet with other politicians, delegates and members to advocate on issues. At this year’s convention, there were more than 75 booths at the exhibit hall, including ones for Texans for Vaccine Freedom and the anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.

Dale Carpenter faces the media at the Texas Supreme Court in June 1996.
Dale Carpenter faces the media at the Texas Supreme Court in June 1996. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

“Log Cabin were primarily interested in getting their message out to convention delegates in the hopes of having influence on the party itself,” Carpenter said.

Efforts to get a booth began in the 1990s, and the group came especially close in 1996. Kelton Dillard, a longtime treasurer for the state organization, had submitted a check to the state party to register for a booth. It cleared. But the party chair revoked the approval because they said the group was advocating for the practice of sodomy, which was illegal at the time.

The group sued the party. Days before the convention, a district judge ruled in favor of Log Cabin, ordering the state party to give the group a booth and print its advertisement in the convention handbook.

But the Texas GOP appealed to the state Supreme Court. In a ruling the day before the convention was set to begin, the court ruled the group could not have a booth at the convention.

The associate justice of the state Supreme Court who delivered the opinion was Greg Abbott.

He wrote that the decision to deny the group a booth was “an internal party affair rather than an integral part of the election process” and the Log Cabin group could not “maintain its state constitutional claims against the Party.”

Busby, the former Log Cabin member who left in 2016, said the party’s repeated refusal to grant a booth is “disheartening.”

Busby became involved in GOP politics in Texas in the 2000s. He helped reestablish the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston — after it previously had gone defunct — then became a precinct chair in Harris County and was the president of Houston Young Republicans.

Christopher Busby at City Hall in downtown Houston on Monday, July 11, 2022. Busby left an active role supporting the Republ…
Christopher Busby, at City Hall in downtown Houston on July 11, left an active role supporting the Republican Party and now considers himself more moderate. Credit: Annie Mulligan for The Texas Tribune

Busby left the Republican party largely because of former President Donald Trump, he said, but the state party’s stance on LGBTQ issues “didn’t help.”

“We are human, and humans have a need to feel welcomed into the social groups with which we identify,” said Busby, 33. “And for a long enough time you’re told you are not welcome, most people will hear those words and leave no matter how strongly they might want to identify with a group, no matter how strongly their values align. When you’re told you’re not part of the group, over and over again, eventually you reassign your identity values.”

Victories and losses

In more recent years, the Texas GOP has softened some of its homophobic language.

By 2012, the Texas GOP had abandoned a platform condemning sodomy. The Supreme Court had legalized sodomy nine years earlier, superceding Texas’ law banning it, which has still not been repealed.

In 2016, it removed its explicit endorsement of “reparative therapy,” a debunked and harmful treatment that claims to turn gay people straight, but still made a point of citing its availability “for self-motivated youth and adults.” The state party also retained the official position that said “homosexuality is a chosen behavior that is contrary to the fundamental unchanging truths that has been ordained by God in the Bible.”

Roberts, the first openly gay person on the Texas GOP platform committee, led the charge to remove the language in 2018. Texas Values, a conservative Christian organization, initially worked against him to preserve the plank.

Ultimately, the party delegates voted to soften the language while retaining the opposition to same-sex marriage — even as the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage three years earlier.

It was seen as a win — a sign that the party was slowly but surely moving forward on the issue. That optimism evaporated this year.

Log Cabin members at Austin's Hate Crimes March in April 1998
Log Cabin members at Austin’s Hate Crimes March in April 1998. Credit: Photo courtesy of Dale Carpenter

The addition of the anti-LGBTQ language in this year’s platform caught many people off guard.

As the platform committee was wrapping up its work, Matt Patrick, the committee’s chairman, proposed an amendment to add the language that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Patrick did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Houston resident Jason Vaughn, a member of the platform committee who is gay, immediately objected to the change.

“This is meant to be insulting language, it does nothing for policy,” Vaughn, 38, said to the committee.

Vaughn’s objections were unsuccessful. The committee approved the change 17-14.

Two days later, the entire floor of delegates voted on the platform. One member of the platform committee, David Gebhart, called to remove the language, saying the Texas GOP “is not the Westboro Baptist Church.” He was booed. The platform plank passed overwhelmingly.

Roberts, who is now the interim chair of the Texas Conservative Liberty Forum, said he thinks this year’s change happened because Log Cabin wasn’t as involved in the platform process.

But he also sees some Republicans hardening their anti-LGBTQ stances, as anti-trans rhetoric becomes mainstreamed in the Texas GOP.

Dale Carpenter poses for a portrait outside of his home in Dallas, TX on July 8, 2022. In the 1990s Carpenter was the state …
“I do not believe that we made any progress. In fact, I think the party got worse,” Dale Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as the state’s Log Cabin president. Credit: Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune

“Some of the events that were very prominently featured in the news upset people, and gay people are associated with that, unfortunately, which is unfair, but it just is the case,” Roberts said.

Roberts is hopeful the party will remove the language at its next convention. Vaughn is less optimistic.

“There’s been a lot of progress if you get down with people actually having conversations,” Vaughn said. “If you want to talk about basic rhetoric, no, there’s not been a lot of progress.”

Dillard, the longtime treasurer of the state Log Cabin group, said there was some progress in his time with the group. He helped run the group’s political action committee and said that funding helped stop anti-gay legislation. He’s still a Republican but doesn’t support Trump.

He’s not too worried about the state of gay rights in the country. But he acknowledged the state party’s executive committee “has kind of gone back to being almost as nutty as they’ve ever been.”

Carpenter agreed that the Texas GOP’s views on LGBTQ issues are wildly out of touch.

“[The party’s] views have not changed, but the wider cultures have. That’s a very striking thing to me,” Carpenter said. “They are like a fossil from another age. And it’s on everything. I don’t believe they support a single thing that’s happened over the last 25 years.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

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MAGA GOP nominee for Arizona secretary of state opposes LGBTQ rights

Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies & the far-right. Before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers

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Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection. (Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

PHOENIX – Mark Finchem, a Republican Arizona state representative who won his party’s nomination in the race for Arizona Secretary of State, with the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, is a self-proclaimed member of the far-right extremist group the Oath Keepers.

Finchem is also completely opposed to LGBTQ rights and has endorsed allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues also known as conversion therapy.

Finchem has a long record of activism in far right extremist groups and political circles. While he has served since January of 2015 as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives representing District 11, he has also been actively engaged as a member of several far right groups and also has embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory.

His political positions on the equality rights of LGBTQ+ Arizonans is dismal. In a 2022 survey conducted by the Center for Arizona Policy, a vehemently anti-LGBTQ+ conservative lobbying group run by Cathi Herrod, who is among Arizona’s most anti-LGBTQ lobbyists.

Center for Arizona Policy
2022 Survey Questions For Arizona Candidates
Position Sought: Secretary of State
Question 2: Adding “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” or “gender expression” to the protected classes of race, religion, age, sex, and ancestry in nondiscrimination law.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose.
Question 4: Allowing biological males that identify as transgender to play on female sports’ teams.
Candidates’ Position: Oppose
Question 8: Allowing parents to seek professional counseling for their minor child with same-sex attraction or gender identity issues.*
Candidates’ Position: Support
Question 9: Protecting individuals and businesses from being required to provide services or use their artistic expression in a manner that violates their moral or religious beliefs.**
Candidates’ Position: Support.
*  This is in reference to the dangerous and disproven “Reparative Therapy”.
**Discriminatory “Religious Freedom” laws.

In March of 2020 Finchem voted yes in support of Phoenix Republican Nancy Barto’s “Save Women’s Sports Act” bill (HB 2706), which would prohibits transgender female students from sports designated for females. The language specified that it requires any interscholastic or intramural athletic team or sport sponsored by  an educational institution in Arizona to be designated by one of the following based  biological sex: Males, men, or boys; Females, women or girls; co-ed.

On several social media websites linked from his since-deleted former Twitter account Finchem has also embraced and asserted former President Donald Trump’s lie about the 2020 being “stolen.”

Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem (L) with former Georgia Republican House Rep. Vernon Jones taken in Washington D.C. on January 5, 2021, the day prior to the Capitol insurrection.
(Photo via the now deleted Twitter account of Rep. Finchem)

Finchem has been a self-identified as a member of The Oath Keepers since 2014, the anti-government, far-right militia composed of former and active military and law enforcement that purports to defend the U.S. Constitution.

CNN reported the group is perhaps best known for providing security for the January 6, 2021, “Stop the Steal” rally preceding the Capitol riot. Eleven members, including its leader, were charged by the Justice Department with “seditious conspiracy” related to the Capitol attack.

According to CNN, Finchem’s most extreme content came on the social media platform Pinterest, which allows users to save, categorize and share posts called pins into digital mood boards. While Finchem has some light-hearted and conventional boards on food, fashion and dogs, he also has a board titled “Treason Watch List,” featuring photos of Jesse Jackson, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and former Secretary of State John Kerry.

In February of this year, Finchem along with Kelli Ward the osteopathic physician who has serves as the chair of the Arizona Republican Party were subpoenaed  by the U.S. House Jan. 6 Committee, regarding documents over actions reportedly taken among the Donald Trump supporters involved in sending slates of so-called “alternate electors” to Congress to be included in the electoral votes cast for president in the 2020 election.

In June in published reports by the Arizona Republic and Politico, Ward and her husband, Michael, received grand jury subpoenas from the Department of Justice regarding their involvement in a scheme to send fake electors to Congress on Jan. 6, 2021.

Also in February, Finchem filed HCR 2033, which says that is it is the “justifiable position of the Arizona State Legislature that we set aside the results of the Maricopa, Pima and Yuma County elections as irredeemably compromised and reclaim the 2020 Presidential Electors.”

The lawmaker is also a rabid anti-vaxxer spreading dangerous misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic sharing a story last August riddled with misinformation on the coronavirus and vaccine on the platform Gab — a social media network popular with conservatives, the alt-right and some extremists.

Finchem labeled the vaccine a “crime against humanity,” implying it was a “bio-weapon” and wrote “It ain’t a vaccine!!! Call it what it is, a crime against humanity.”

In December of 2021, journalist Jake Dean at the Tucson alternative newspaper, the Tucson Weekly, in a lengthy political commentary laid out a synopsis of reasons Arizonans should not vote for the far-right lawmaker to become Arizona’s Secretary of State:

“Finchem is no stranger to conspiracies and the far-right. In fact, before heading to the Arizona Legislature, he had already joined the Oath Keepers—who played a leading role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the militia group is “founded on the belief that the federal government is part of an evil conspiracy intent on stripping Americans of their natural rights and freedoms.” Its members have encouraged violence in opposition. The founder of Oath Keepers has previously encouraged the murder of elected officials, including in 2015 openly calling for the late Sen. John McCain to be put to death by hanging.”
[…]
“He previously served as the Arizona coordinator for the Coalition of Western States—a group of legislators and activists who supported the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. He also signed a letter of support to pardon arsonists who burned federal government land.”
[…]
“Following the horrific events of the 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, Finchem denied any far-right involvement in the event—claiming that mainstream media was lying and that it was a Deep State PSYOP to construct a political narrative for Democrats. It was not. He also falsely accused contemporary Democrats as being the true members of the Ku Klux Klan who joined the rally.”
[…]
“Mark Finchem also parrots far-right conspiracies on vaccines. Sure, Finchem got COVID-19 himself. And yes, his mother lost her decades long battle with cancer soon after contracting the virus. But on his official Twitter in July, he warned President Joe Biden to take his “tweet as Arizona’s statewide ‘no trespassing sign.’ You and your vaccine henchmen have been forewarned.” I am unsure what exactly he is threatening here, but I believe you can read between the lines.”
 
“Finchem’s supply of money also comes from the right-wing extremists. One of his leading campaign funders is Daniel Brophy, a Wyoming-based political megadonor and brother of former State Sen. Kate Brophy McGee of Phoenix. According to a local legal group, Sen. McGee herself once described her brother as having alt-right political views after he gave money to her political rival. When a woman who has proudly touted her anti-LGBTQ+ bonafides and was painted as a bygone example of the Arizona GOP by English newspaper The Guardian calls you alt-right, I am going to have to take her word for it.”
 
“Rep. Finchem also attended the premiere of a “documentary” called The Deep Rig about an alleged conspiracy in the 2020 election. The film featured Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan (who confirmed himself as “Anon” in the movie), former Secretary of State Ken Bennett, and other leaders of election conspiracies in Arizona. Finchem supported the film despite the fact that its director has a history of baseless conspiracies—including the dedication of an entire film to the argument that extraterrestrials were the cause of the Sep. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers”
[…]
“Given his evident belief in the conspiracies of the far-right, of course Finchem was at the insurrection on Jan. 6 himself. Despite claiming that he never made it closer than 500 yards to the Capitol building, footage of the event clearly shows the politician in attendance himself. He also tweeted in praise of the insurrectionists. Plus, the prominent “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander identified Finchem as the starting point of the anti-democratic movement in Arizona.”
 
“Not only was he there, but he then spread more conspiracies after the fact. In his newsletter following the attack in D.C., he claimed (falsely) that facial recognition technology had identified masses of leftist activists in the crowd. He also accused Antifa of responsibility for violence at the Capitol building, despite having no evidence for such claims. Further, even in the face of proof of him attending the event, he has repeatedly threatened to sue anybody attempting to connect him to the events at the Capitol.”

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Monkeypox

Right-wing media exploit monkeypox- retread anti-vax misinformation

These anti-vax talking points are intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people by framing promiscuity as the primary driver of the disease

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Graphic by Andrea Austria for Media Matters

By Mia Gingerich | WASHINGTON – As monkeypox presents an ever-increasing threat to Americans, predominantly gay and bisexual men, conservative media figures are exploiting the global health emergency to stoke fears of the COVID-19 vaccine and related health measures and to attack queer men. 

These anti-vax talking points are often invoked alongside AIDS-era rhetoric intended to stigmatize LGBTQ people by framing promiscuity as the primary driver of the disease and gay and bisexual men as culprits in — rather than victims of — the growing outbreak. This stigmatization has already reportedly resulted in violence against gay men.

During the last week of July, the U.S. reported both the fastest rise in and highest number of monkeypox cases worldwide, leading the Biden administration to declare a public health emergency on August 4. The virus, which is endemic in certain African countries, is usually rare in Europe and the U.S. However, the virus recently found its way to men who have sex with men (MSM), where it has proliferated primarily through sexual contact. The gay community has emphasized the need to warn about the risk the virus poses to MSM while not feeding into anti-gay rhetoric that depicts gay sexuality as immoral. 

Despite this plea from those most affected by the ongoing health crisis, right-wing media quickly responded to the spread of monkeypox with homophobia – recalling the vilification that gay men experienced during the AIDS epidemic. In addition to being impacted by the latest right-wing media smear campaign risking targeted violence against LGBTQ people, queer men are also less likely to seek medical care for monkeypox in countries where their sexuality is stigmatized.

Conservative media figures invoke COVID-19 conspiracy theories and criticism of health measures in coverage of monkeypox

From early on in their coverage of the monkeypox outbreak, right-wing media figures used the story to renew efforts to sow vaccine hesitancy and undermine COVID-19 health measures. Some far-right figures have even spread conspiracy theories that falsely assert the COVID-19 vaccine is directly responsible for the monkeypox outbreak. 

On May 24, The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens said on her show that “the first person who lines up to get a monkeypox vaccine, I’m going to laugh in your face.” Owens then suggested the World Health Organization, Bill Gates, and Dr. Anthony Fauci were involved in the spread of both diseases as part of “attempts at authoritarianism” and “globalism.” This claim coincides with the recent conservative conspiracy theory claiming the U.S. was ceding power to the WHO.

From the May 24, 2022, edition of Daily Wire’s Candace

Fox News’ Sean Hannity brought anti-vax conspiracy theorist Dr. George Fareed onto the August 8 edition of his radio show, where Fareed falsely claimed “the mass vaccination with these gene therapies, COVID vaccines, have the ability to weaken the immune system and make people more vulnerable to viral infection,” suggesting the vaccine could precipitate the spread of monkeypox. 

Far-right blog American Greatness posted an article on August 3 promoting the work of Shmuel Shapira, an Israeli scientist pushing similar claims as Fareed. The article claimed “Twitter censored Shapira” after the platform flagged a tweet of his as misinformation. Shapira’s tweet read, “It is well established the mRNA vaccines affect the natural immune system. A monkey pox outbreak following massive covid vaccination: Is not a coincidence.”

Right-wing media figures have also taken advantage of the recent health crisis to reignite their crusade against public health measures implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic. Conservative commentators claim that a double standard exists between government reactions to monkeypox and COVID-19, ignoring differences in how the two diseases spread. 

Podcaster Steven Crowder, amid a longer homophobic rant suggesting gay men were engaging in bestiality, claimed on August 2 that COVID-19 health measures were “politically motivated” and that masking and social distancing “didn’t make any difference whatsoever.” Crowder then contrasted those measures with the fact that Pride events still took place this year despite the spread of monkeypox, saying, “They won’t even cancel their gay San Francisco fuckfest.”

From the August 2, 2022, edition of Louder with Crowder, streamed on YouTube

An article for The Federalist titled “Americans Lost Fundamental Freedoms During Covid — But Halting Gay Orgies To Stop Monkeypox Is Too Far?” bemoaned COVID lockdowns and claimed, “We shut down the world for a virus that had no traceable transmission, it was entirely random. It really isn’t too much to ask for gay men to stop engaging in orgies and public sex events for their ‘mental health,’ their ‘self-esteem,’ and to continue ‘having fun.’”

On Twitter, right-wing personalities expressed a similar sentiment. 

Alt-right troll Mike Cernovich tweeted his criticism of public health advocate Dr. Gregg Gonsalves:

Far-right YouTuber Ian Miles Cheong continued his online anti-gay tirade on monkeypox:

Right-wing radio host Dan O’Donnell similarly tweeted:

Gay men are targeted with violence while right-wing media continues to depict them as threats

After the first cases of monkeypox were found among children in the U.S., LGBTQ advocates reported right-wing figures were using the news to falsely claim that gay men were guilty of abuse. This was a part of a larger attempt by right-wing media to use the monkeypox outbreak to depict LGBTQ people as a threat to society. By attempting to evoke the sort of stigmatizing rhetoric pushed during the AIDS epidemic that frames the MSM community as vectors of disease, right-wing media is feeding a culture of prejudice that has already resulted in violence against gay men. 

The above-mentioned article from The Federalist fearmongered that “as gay men spread the virus within their population at startling rates, the chances of it escaping into the mundane world through close contact in stores, crowded streets, or buses increases,” claiming that gay and bisexual men were spreading the disease through “truly selfish behavior [that] is endangering the rest of us.”

Right-wing talk show host Erick Erickson tweeted, “‘My orgy doesn’t affect you,’ said the man who spread monkeypox to the lady who worked at the gas station. Two weeks of no orgies to stop the spread is just too much to ask.”

On Hannity’s August 8 radio show, guest Dr. Brian Tyson said the virus would “spread to the heterosexual community if we don’t get a handle on the gay community to stop the transmission,” and claimed “the CDC and the NIH, they’re afraid to come out and tell the gay community to stop having intercourse until this pandemic goes away.”

On the August 5 edition of his show, Turning Point USA’s Charlie Kirk characterized the government response to monkeypox as an attempt to avoid offending “the alphabet mafia” of the LGBTQ community, saying, “You can’t go after the gay community for maybe doing something they shouldn’t be doing,” before declaring he would “not live through another lockdown or an erosion of our civil liberties by a corrupt or usurpatious government because we’re afraid to offend people. Don’t care, and you shouldn’t either.”

From the August 5, 2022, edition of The Charlie Kirk Show, streamed on YouTube   

The effects of right-wing media’s misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccine put their audience at serious risk. However, these conservative figures are now jeopardizing the health of millions of LGBTQ Americans as well by seeking to stigmatize their sexuality during a public health crisis.

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Mia Gingerich is a researcher at Media Matters. She has a bachelor’s degree in politics and government from Northern Arizona University and has previously worked in rural organizing and local media.

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The preceding article was previously published by Media Matters for America and is republished by permission.

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Politics

Florida school removes posters of Black heroes, teacher resigns in protest

“DeSantis’s culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price”

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O.J. Semmes Elementary School, Pensacola, Florida/Facebook

PENSACOLA – A career special education teacher in Escambia County, Florida resigned this past week just as classes were scheduled to start after a Escambia County Public School District staffer removed posters and pictures of historically significant Black Americans from his classroom.

Michael James, 61, who has taught special ed classes for the past fifteen years told Pensacola News Journal reporter Colin Warren-Hicks in an interview this week that he had emailed a letter to Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and Escambia County Superintendent Tim Smith in which he wrote that a district employee removed the pictures citing the images as being “age inappropriate.”

Images that were removed from the bulletin board at O.J. Semmes Elementary School included depictions of Martin Luther King Jr., Harriett Tubman, Colin Powell and George Washington Carver, James said.

Michael James
Courtesy of Michael James

“It really floored me,” James told the News Journal. “I’ve been teaching special education for 15 years, and it just really floored me when she did that.”

James chose the board’s theme because the majority of the students and the residents in the neighborhoods that surround O.J. Semmes are Black, and he wanted to motivate his students with inspirational leaders they could easily look up to and see themselves.

The Pensacola News Journal reported that Escambia County Public Schools Superintendent Tim Smith  said that “teachers are permitted to decorate their classrooms with educational materials and he was unaware of any policies that would prohibit a teacher from displaying pictures of inspirational American heroes on their walls.”

Smith said a full investigation of the incident, which he called an “anomaly,” has been launched.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, (D-FL 13th District) who is running to secure the Democratic Party nomination to oust DeSantis in the November elections took aim at the sitting governor in a Facebook post:

On Wednesday afternoon the Congressman expanded his remarks saying:

“This is the sad reality of Ron DeSantis’ Florida — a teacher, in a predominantly Black community, comes into their classroom to see posters of historically Black American heroes, including President (Barack) Obama, taken down for being ‘inappropriate,’ Crist said in a statement. “DeSantis’ culture wars are infiltrating every corner of our state, and it’s Florida’s students who are paying the price.”

Florida Politics reported that the controversy comes as the first Florida schools, including Escambia County schools, begin their first academic year under legislation signed by DeSantis that targets “critical race theory.”

Among other rules, the law prohibit lessons teaching students that they are inherently racist, sexist or oppressive because of their race, color, sex or national origin. It would also ban instruction that they are personally responsible and should feel guilty for the past actions of members of their race, color, sex or national origin.

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