What U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s appointment means for LGBTQ2S+ people

OPINION: The Republican, who once tried to introduce a national “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” should worry all queer and trans Americans

The U.S. House of Representatives has a new Speaker—and he’s a nightmare for LGBTQ2S+ Americans. After a complicated, weeks-long process in which several candidates failed to obtain enough votes to secure the position of speaker of the house, Rep. Mike Johnson, a previously obscure Republican from Louisiana, finally emerged victorious yesterday afternoon. His success came as a surprise to some: politicians both in the U.S. and abroad have admitted to having to google him. Still, Johnson’s rise from relative unknown to Speaker should serve as a warning to LGBTQ2S+ people in the U.S.

The country right now is on a precipice when it comes to queer and trans rights. Political progress has been made throughout much of the country over the last 20 or so years, but recently, ugly and public bigotries have reared their heads, threatening to drag down public opinion against queer and trans people once again.

Every step of the way, Johnson has devoted his much of his work to making things worse for LGBTQ2S+ people. Before he got into politics, he was an attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group. While there, he worked on a number of anti-equality cases, at one point stirring up controversy for derogatorily labelling an opposing attorney as “a homosexual.”

He has also said he supports criminalizing gay sex.

Johnson spent some time in the Louisiana state legislature before getting elected to Congress. Once there, he became one of the chief architects for national political attacks on LGBTQ2S+ rights. Last year, he introduced a nationwide “Don’t Say Gay”-style bill that would have banned any discussion of gender identity, gender dysphoria, “transgenderism” or sexual orientation in schools. He has not reintroduced the bill yet this year.

Johnson chaired the first-ever congressional hearing on gender-affirming care earlier this year, which I previously documented for Xtra. In the hearing, he called gender-affirming care “barbarism.”

He was also a co-sponsor on Marjorie Taylor Greene’s bill attempting to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth, which would have made it a class C felony for doctors, pharmacists, nurses and even parents to assist people under 18 in getting puberty blockers, hormones or surgery. Johnson similarly co-sponsored a bill seeking to amend Title IX to wipe away any educational civil rights claims LGBTQ2S+ people might make in both sports and in the classroom—as well as the “Old Glory Act,” which would have prohibited flying any other flag than the U.S. flag at foreign U.S. facilities like embassies or military bases. 


Perhaps most pettily, Johnson voted for Rep. Lauren Boebert’s amendment to a Department of Defense appropriations bill that would have reduced the salary of Shawn Skelly, the highest-ranking trans person at the DoD.

His voting record is solidly opposed to the liveability of trans and queer lives: he voted against the Equality Act, against the Respect for Marriage Act, against the LGBTQI+ Data Inclusion Act, against the Global Respect Act, and even against a military non-discrimination amendment. Johnson’s record is a homophobe and transphobe’s fever dream.

His politics don’t get much better once we leave his special interest in stamping down LGBTQ2S+ lives. He was one of the chief promoters of the unfounded conspiracy theories that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection. In 2015, he told a then MSNBC reporter that he blamed abortion for school shootings.

And now he’s second in line to the president.

In his first speech on the House floor since being elected Speaker, Johnson spoke of his belief that God puts people in positions of power for a reason, inferring that his speakership was ordained by God.

At this point in my life, I’m a political cynic. Nothing happens without a reason and I think the reason Johnson is speaker today is because of his anti-LGBTQ2S+ record. The process for finding a new speaker was awful, with over a dozen failed votes. Well-known GOP rep after well-known GOP rep jumped into the race and immediately dropped out before Johnson finally emerged.

Incredibly, he was voted in unanimously where all other competitors fell short even of a majority of the caucus. Ask yourself why. Why were moderate Republicans comfortable putting an insurrectionist two steps from the presidency? Many of them will now lose their seats in the House over this decision.

What is it that would unite the entire caucus, from moderates to the extremes of the extremists? To borrow phrasing from the Clinton era: it’s the transphobia, stupid.

Transphobia is an extremely effective uniting issue for modern American conservatives. Look at the hundreds of state bills introduced and passed at the state level this year. Look at the near constant production of conservative media and social media content aimed at demonizing trans people. Democrats better be ready for the onslaught of transphobia Republicans are going to sling in next fall’s election. They need something to distract from the unpopularity of their abortion policies and their solution is transphobia.

It seems like transphobia is the reason some conservatives get out of the bed in the morning, and Johnson—this no-name from Louisiana who once got in an altercation for calling his opposing counsel a homosexual, who has led the charge attacking life-saving trans medicine—is their champion.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

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