In the week since Republicans voted unanimously to elect Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) the next Speaker of the House, LGBTQ legislators and civil rights advocates have criticized the eleven little-known congressman’s conservative record on same-sex marriage and transgender rights and questioned his ability to lead the House on LGBTQ issues with impartiality.
His background may allow a controversial bill to come to the floor.
As an attorney and former spokesperson for the conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, Johnson authored op-eds that advocated for the criminalization of gay sex and suggested that legalizing same-sex marriage could lead to people marrying their pets.
In Congress, Johnson, elected in 2016, voted against the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act and the Equality Act on several occasions. He later introduced legislation to prohibit federal dollars from being used to make “sexually-oriented” materials — including descriptions or depiction of “any topic” related to sexual orientation or gender identity — available to children under the age of 10.
Johnson last year, while unveiling the bill, said the measure was needed to stop a Democratic “crusade to immerse young children in sexual imagery and radical gender ideology.”
In March, Johnson co-sponsored — and later helped pass — a bill to bar transgender athletes from competing on women’s and girls’ sports teams at federally funded schools.
And in July, a House Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Johnson held a hearing to “examine and expose” the alleged dangers of gender-affirming health care for transgender minors. Johnson in his opening statement said children are being coerced into believing they are transgender by teachers and progressive media and “mutilated” by doctors.
“Something has gone terribly wrong, and deep down everyone in this country knows it,” Johnson said.
Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights and one of the hearing’s witnesses, said Johnson during the July hearing appeared unwilling to consider evidence in support of gender-affirming care, which is considered medically necessary for transgender adults and minors by every major medical organization.
“It didn’t seem like what anyone said on our side of the question made much of an impact on him,” said Minter, who is transgender.
In his only question to Minter, Johnson asked the 62-year-old to confirm that he began his medical transition as an adult in his mid-30s, rather than as a child. “That is correct,” Minter responded, “I wish I’d been able to do so earlier.”
“I’ve tried to make it personal,” Minter said of the interaction.
Johnson has sought to outright ban gender-affirming health care while in Congress and is one of 45 Republican co-sponsors of a bill to make providing puberty blockers, hormones and surgeries to transgender minors a Class C felony.
The bill, introduced in September by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), would additionally restrict access to care for transgender adults by prohibiting the use of federal funds for gender-affirming services, including in Affordable Care Act plans. Greene, in the weeks leading up to Johnson’s election, said her vote would go to a Speaker candidate who was considered passing the measure a priority.
Johnson co-sponsored an identical bill introduced by Greene in the last Congress, as well as a previous iteration of the current measure that was filed in March.
While former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and prior GOP Speaker nominees Reps. Steve Scalise (La.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio) have criticized youth access to gender-affirming care, none opted to co-sponsor Greene’s bill.
It could be a sign that Johnson may use his new position to bring the measure to the floor for the first time.
“There are rumors that he’s given the OK for that bill to advance,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus.
Johnson’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the status of Greene’s bill.
Pocan, in a statements released by the Equality Caucus following Johnson’s election, slammed Johnson as a “vehement opponent of LGBTQI+ equality” who has “dedicated his career to attacking LGBTQI+ people.” But in an interview with The Hill, Pocan said he is willing to give Johnson a chance.
“He’s fresh into his first week,” he said. “I think we need a little more time to know whether he’s going to lead with his extreme personal beliefs, or if he’s going to lead with things that pertain to the Republican majority.”
In an interview with MSNBC’s Jonathan CapehartRep. Angie Craig (D-Minn.), who wished her wife a happy wedding anniversary while casting her vote for House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-Minn.) during last week’s Speaker vote, told Republicans by unanimously electing Johnson had signaled that extremists had taken control of the party.
“It’s a complete takeover at this point,” she said.
Craig added, however, that she’s hopeful she and others in Congress will be able to reshape Johnson’s views on issues including LGBTQ equality.
“I hope we can work to change his views over time,” she said. “I really think that his view of him on this is outdated; “it’s wrong.”
Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), one of 10 openly LGBTQ members of the House, similarly said this week that Democrats are hopeful Johnson “will shed some of those positions, and hopefully come a little bit more to where the country’s at – a little bit more to the center.”
Most Americans, regardless of their political affiliation, support equal rights and nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, recent polling has shown, and support for marriage equality in the US stands at a record 71 percent. More than 7 percent of the nation’s adult population identifies as LGBTQ, according to a February Gallup poll.
Minter, with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said lawmakers who believe they can change Johnson’s views on LGBTQ people shouldn’t hold their breath.
“I think we would be very foolish to think that someone who has consistently held anti-LGBT views and beliefs and has consistently acted on them in the past is suddenly going to change course,” he said.
“We better be ready for the worst,” Minter said, “and hope that’s not what happens.”
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