It’s not every week that Congress hits a historical milestone. But this week, Congress did just that — in the worst possible way.
In both the Senate and the House, Republicans members engaged in the kind of open anti-LGBTQ hostility that hasn’t been seen in Congress for more than a quarter century. Not since the heyday of the notorious Sen. Jesse Helms and the noxious Rep. William Dannemeyer have Republicans been so willing to engage in naked displays of bigotry.
There were two ostensible causes for the vicious behavior. The first was the House vote on the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The other was the Senate hearing for Dr. Rachel Levine, the Pennsylvania surgeon general nominated to be the Biden administration’s assistant secretary of health, who is herself transgender.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Trumpiest of the newly elected Republicans in the House, helped set the tone for the GOP response to the Equality Act with a transphobic rant. She then amplified the hatred by forcing a vote to shut the House down so it wouldn’t consider the measure. The attempt failed, but just a handful of Republicans refused to support her.
Then Greene, who seems to have found her calling after a checkered past that includes accusations of multiple infidelities, fired off a series of tweets that called the Equality Act “evil.”
As if that wasn’t enough, Greene wasn’t done with the hatred. When Democrat Rep. Marie Newman put a trans flag outside her office, which is near Greene’s in support of her trans daughter, Greene retaliated with a hateful sign: “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. ‘Trust The Science!’”
Of course, Greene was hardly alone in her open bigotry. During the debate on the Equality Act, Rep. Greg Steube quoted the Bible, and said that God “detests” LGBTQ people for their “rejection of God’s design.”
Rep. Lauren Boebert used the debate to brand all gay men as feminine. She said she is raising her four sons “to be men” and she is “proud of that,” according to Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson.
Just to prove that the GOP is marching backwards, only three House Republicans voted in favor of the Equality Act. When the bill came up for a vote less than two years ago, eight did. On the five remaining in Congress, two — Mario Diaz-Balart and Elise Stefanik — changed their votes.
The ostensible reason for objection among conservatives is the supposed lack of protection for people who object on religious grounds. (No other protected class has such exemptions.) But the argument falls flat in the face of the vocal attacks by Republicans who object on the grounds of who the bill protects, not who it fails to protect.
“If you look at Biden’s appointments [of] Cabinet members, suing nuns and others, this really seems like an onslaught against freedom of religion. For girls’ sports as well,” Kevin McCarthy, the feckless leader of House Republicans, said in a press conference. “Now the Democrats have even taken it further.”
Some Republicans like McCarthy wish that the bigotry were more polite. But even then, in his coded attack on trans athletes, McCarthy is simply using baseless fears to stoke opposition to the bill — and those it protects.
Of course, not everyone is as subtle as McCarthy. In the Senate, Rand Paul undertook a vicious attack on transgender people — and by extension, Levine herself.
Paul called transgender surgery “genital mutilation” (which is an entirely different thing) and insisted that underage children were being subjected to hormone therapy. “You give a woman testosterone enough that she grows a beard,” Paul said, “you think she’s going to go back to looking like a woman when she stops the testosterone?”
Paul is himself a physician — an ophthalmologist — but one who refuses to accept the views of major medical groups. He even set up his own board to certify himself as an ophthalmologist instead of submitting to the accepted medical board. (Paul’s board eventually flopped.)
When he was senator, Jesse Helms called Roberta Achtenberg, a Clinton nominee to an administration position, “a damn lesbian.” Dannemeyer fumed that gay rights would “plunge our people and, indeed, the entire West into a dark night of the soul that could last for hundreds of years.”
Both of them would have felt right at home in Congress this past week.