The GOP tanked in the midterms. But LGBTQ rights are in more danger than before.
The message many in the Republican Party will take from 2022 is that they need to be more like Ron DeSantis
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The red wave never happened. Democrats surged to fight off the GOP.
The message to Republicans — and certainly President Biden made it clear in his speech this week — should be that embracing extremism, including Donald Trump, will only lose them elections. The president warned them on climate change, abortion, gutting Social Security and Medicare and other issues.
And some Republican politicians and Fox News pundits are already criticizing Trump. We’ll see where that goes, as they’ve tried to buck him in the past only to bow to him again when they see that the MAGA base in the GOP is 100% behind him.
But while Trump had a bad night Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida, unlike Republicans nationwide, had a great night — re-elected by a healthy margin — as did GOP candidates up and down the ballot in Florida. And this broke from much of the rest of the country, where Democrats over-performed the pollsters’ predictions.
There are a lot of reasons why this happened, including the fact that DeSantis and the Florida GOP ruthlessly gerrymandered districts, in a plainly racist way. And Democratic leaders pathetically gave up on Florida long before the election even got underway, refusing to invest much in the state and in candidates, including Val Demmings and Charlie Crist. But that’s all for another piece. Whatever the reasons, DeSantis and Florida are now the model for the GOP.
And of course, DeSantis won while pushing and heralding the heinous “don’t say gay” law.
Several weeks ago, I wrote about the Christian nationalist plan to mainstream anti-LGBTQ hate, via a bill introduced by Republicans in the House — a national “don’t say gay bill” modeled on Florida’s law.
I pointed out how 47 GOP House members had just previously voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, which would have the federal government recognize same-sex marriage and interracial marriage by law. That included even some hard right MAGA GOPers. Even in the Senate, some conservative Republicans flirted with support.
But this wasn’t a measure of the GOP coming to support LGBTQ rights as many in the media naively claimed; it was a measure of how marriage equality itself was now supported by the vast majority of Americans.
What DeSantis did was find an issue about which many people — even those who might say they support LGBTQ rights — might feel uncomfortable because it’s about their children and what they’re taught in school. And all you have to do is twist the truth enough to make people suddenly unsure, as unconscious bias and emotion take over reason.
As I wrote:
Most interestingly, at least two Republicans who voted for [the Respect for Marriage Act ]— New York’s Nicole Malliotakis and Utah’s Burgess Owens — are co-sponsoring the federal “don’t say gay” bill. And you should expect many more, if not all of them, to follow suit (along with the vast majority of the GOP that didn’t support RFMA).
That may seem odd and like a massive contradiction, but it represents Christian nationalists’ achievement, after a few years of struggling, in once again finding a new way to attack LGBTQ rights and get support from politicians who want to appease them — and get their money and votes — but who also want to appear more moderate…
The false, biased narrative [that children are being taught about sex or pressured to re-define their gender, when they’re only being taught about the mere existence of LGBTQ people and gay and trans identity] strikes an emotional chord with many parents who might not dig deeper, including even a few who might perceive themselves as accepting, because it’s about their children’s well-being.
And it provides cover for GOP politicians like DeSantis who can court Christian nationalists and the unhinged, conspiracy-addled MAGA minions while also believing he can bring in some suburban voters and others, or at least not alienate them…
Well, in Tuesday’s election the two representatives I referred to who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act but also co-sponsored the federal “don’t say gay” bill, dubiously titled the “Stop the Sexualization of Children Act” — Reps. Burgess Owens of Utah and Nicole Malliotakis of New York — won re-election in huge landslides in their swing districts. (They both had flipped these seats in 2020, taking them from Democrats who’d previously flipped them in the 2018 blue wave.)
These members showed GOPers they could vote for the Respect For Marriage Act and be seen as accepting and embracing, while still co-sponsoring the “don’t say gay” bill and not alienate those suburban voters too much while courting the Christian nationalists. And obviously DeSantis’ victory shows the GOP nationally the very same thing.
So even though the GOP was humiliated in a year it should have won big, it is still likely to take the House (votes are still being counted right now) even if with a small majority. And voting on the “don’t say gay bill” will be seen as an easy way to assuage the Christian nationalists while not seeming too extreme.
That’s why we’ve got to do everything we can to expose how horrifically dangerous the “don’t say gay” bill is to LGBTQ students, teachers and school administrators who will be forced into the closet. And students with gay, lesbian or trans parents will be forced not to speak about their family life. This is already happening all over Florida.
Republicans won’t be able make this bill become law without control of the Senate with a veto-proof majority and without a president who supports it. But they’ll just keep voting on it in the House until they do. Each time the GOP votes on it, the Christian nationalists get an opportunity to push more hate into the culture, and to build further support, as they make it a litmus test in GOP political campaigns
As I’ve noted, the LGBTQ movement must build a full-fledged campaign aggressively exposing the lies. The good news is that we’ve done it many times in the past in fighting homophobia and transphobia, in ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” diminishing “bathroom bills” and winning marriage equality. We’ve beaten back the hatemongers at the ballot box, and in the court of public opinion.
The midterms were a big relief, and it showed that democracy and abortion rights were front and center on voters’ minds, which gives us all a lot of hope. But we can’t let our guard down, as the Christian nationalist movement, using the GOP, will continue to try to mainstream hate.