Election 2024

Here’s where the 8 GOP presidential debate participants stand on LGBTQ+ issues

An elephant divided cannot stand
Photo: Shutterstock

Eight Republicans – but not Donald Trump – will debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin this evening, and the Human Rights Campaign said they’re largely “expected to continue punching down on queer and transgender kids to make themselves look ‘presidential.’”

It’s a fair prediction, seeing as most of the candidates have histories of anti-LGBTQ+ comments and legislation, but here’s a primer on where each candidate stands on LGBTQ+ issues, leading into the Republican presidential primary.

Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis
YouTube screenshot Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)

The Florida governor is quite possibly the most rabidly anti-LGBTQ+ candidate of them all. He has refused to say if he supports basic LGBTQ+ marriage rights and shared a video boasting about all the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that he has passed during his governorship.

In May, DeSantis signed several anti-LGBTQ+ bills into law, including a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youths, restrictions on such care for adults, a ban on all-ages drag shows, a ban on trans people using facilities matching their gender identities, an expansion of the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, and a bill legalizing anti-LGBTQ+ medical discrimination.

He has lied to support his policies and claimed that anti-LGBTQ+ laws are required to protect kids from “genital mutilation,” to protect wives and daughters from “woke ideology run amok,” and to ensure that students learn “reading comprehension — not gender fluidity and pronouns.”

Nikki Haley

Shutterstock GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley

The former South Carolina governor and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Donald Trump has previously said that the government shouldn’t have to recognize same-sex marriages and that transgender youth should be barred from participating in sports. She also supports Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and believes it doesn’t go far enough because she thinks acknowledging the existence of LGBTQ+ people is the same as talking about sexual intercourse.

While serving as ambassador to the UN, the United States voted against a 2017 U.N. resolution condemning the death penalty for consensual same-sex relations.

Mike Pence

Mike Pence, LGBTQ issues, GOP debate, Republican debate
Shutterstock Mike Pence

The former Indiana governor and vice president under Trump has a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ positions. Throughout his political career, he has opposed marriage equality, LGBTQ+ military service members, and any expanse of LGBTQ+ civil rights.

Pence said he “fully supported” Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law. His group Advancing American Freedom launched a campaign attacking transgender-inclusive policies in Iowa schools. 

He has opposed federal guidelines to accommodate transgender students and soldiers, opposed needle exchange programs to prevent an HIV outbreak in his state, and signed a law allowing religious discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. He also opposed the 2009 Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act over worries that it would “silence” conversion therapy groups that purport to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Chris Christie

Shutterstock Chris Christie

The former New Jersey governor surprisingly has a long history of pro-LGBTQ+ advocacy despite his past stances against same-sex marriage and transgender rights as well as his recent comments denying the legitimacy of transgender adults.

While serving as New Jersey’s governor, he signed a comprehensive law protecting transgender students’ rights to participate in school as their gender identity. He also signed a law helping ensure continued access to trans-related healthcare. 

Christie recently voiced opposition to legislation that bans gender-affirming care for minors and prosecutes individuals who help access or provide such care. He has criticized DeSantis and other Republicans for their intense anti-LGBTQ+ focus on education and other fields, calling that focus “wrong” and an attempt to “divide” Americans further.

Tim Scott

Tim Scott, LGBTQ+ issues, politics, presidential candidate, Republican, south carolina, equality, adoption, same-sex marriage, gay marriage, civil rights, discrimination, anti-gay, anti-LGBTQ, bathrooms, gender-affirming care, adoption, discrimination protections, Don't say gay, schools, Columbia,,South,Carolina,-,February,10,,2016:,Tim,Scott,Gets
Shutterstock Tim Scott

The U.S. senator from South Carolina has consistently opposed same-sex marriage, LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections, and school accommodations for transgender students. He supported the military ban on out LGB military members known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and considers homosexuality “a morally wrong choice, like adultery.”

He was one of 21 Republican senators who signed a letter encouraging Republicans to oppose a congressional same-sex marriage bill. He introduced legislation that would’ve prohibited any states receiving federal funds from excluding anti-LGBTQ+ adoption agencies and foster care organizations from participating in state-run child welfare programs. He also introduced the Parental Rights Over the Education and Care of Their Kids Act (the PROTECT Kids Act), which proposed cutting federal funding to any schools that allow transgender students to use locker room facilities matching their gender identity. 

Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ramaswamy
PBS screenshot Vivek Ramaswamy

An entrepreneur, Ramaswamy considers trans identity to be a mental disorder and sees the LGBTQ+ rights movement as a “cult” demanding total submission to its “confused” beliefs. He has pledged to shut down the U.S. Dept of Education (DOE) because, under President Joe Biden, the DOE has said “local schools can’t stop boys from competing in girls’ sports.” In reality, Biden’s DOE said schools must create reasonable policies for trans-inclusion in some sports.

In a June 2023 tweet, he expressed his opposition to making bathrooms, workplaces, schools, and the military more trans-inclusive. In it, he wrote, “Leave our kids alone, don’t try to change our language, our bathrooms, our sports. Don’t mandate special ‘trainings’ in our workplace, our schools, our military. ‘You be you,’ but don’t force everyone else to bend the knee to your confused belief system.”

He said that he supports removing trans military service members from combat roles and would sign a federal bill banning minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare nationwide.

Doug Burgum

Doug Burgum
YouTube screenshot Doug Burgum

The North Dakota governor may not attend tonight’s debate due to a last-minute basketball injury. However, he has signed numerous anti-LGBTQ+ bills during his time as governor.

He signed bills that allow public school teachers and state government employees to ignore transgender people’s pronouns, a ban prohibiting trans females from joining female sports teams in K–12 and college, a bill criminalizing the provision of gender-affirming care to minors, a ban on all-ages drag performances, and a law permitting religious-based discrimination.

Despite this, he once opposed an anti-LGBTQ resolution in his state’s legislature that said, “LGBT practices are unhealthy and dangerous, sometimes endangering or shortening life and sometimes infecting society at large.” He called the resolution homophobic and divisive.

Asa Hutchinson

Asa Hutchinson
YouTube screenshot Asa Hutchinson

The former Arkansas governor signed a law allowing medical providers to refuse non-emergency treatment to others because of religious or moral objections as well as a ban prohibiting trans females from joining female sports teams in K–12 and college.

He did veto a law banning gender-affirming care for trans minors, but the legislature overrode his veto. In 2015, he said he believed that marriage should be defined as being between a man and a woman, but added that he recognizes that “when we talk about this issue, we need to talk about it terms of tolerance.”

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