Gay and Trans Republicans expressed dismay after the DeSantis campaign’s rapid-response Twitter account, DeSantis War Room, recently released an attack ad that unabashedly promotes what it calls the “most extreme slate of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in history” and claims its policies “threaten trans existence.” The ad also goes after former President Trump, critiquing him for his purported support of Pride and the LGBTQ+ community — in spite of his anti-LGBTQ+ record. LGBTQ+ advocates have continually warned about the escalation of anti-trans attacks into broader anti-hostility, and LGBTQ+ Republican operatives are suddenly finding out the consequences of supporting such policies.
The ad itself has been described as one of the worst anti-LGBTQ+ attack ads ever, with one reporter calling it “the closest thing to what a Benito Mussolini TikTok ad would’ve looked like.”
Watch the ad here:
The backlash to the ad was swift. A number of gay and trans Republicans, who have in the past supported anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ+ policies, now found themselves criticizing the campaign for turning on them. Notably, Scott Presler, co-founder of “Gays For Trump,” publicly questioned the DeSantis campaign’s stance and asked what the campaign felt about a gay person like him. It’s worth mentioning that Presler had previously endorsed DeSantis’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including the contentious “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law, and has boasted about his voter registration efforts playing a role in DeSantis’s electoral success.
Richard Grenell, a prominent gay Republican political operative and former member of President Trump’s cabinet, also expressed consternation, labeling the ad as “undeniably homophobic.” It’s noteworthy that Grenell has a history of criticizing “wokeness” and “trans radicalism,” and has been an advocate for various anti-LGBTQ+ measures, including bans on gender-affirming care and the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law.
Caitlyn Jenner, a transgender Republican political commentator, stated that the candidate had “hit a new low.” It’s important to highlight that Jenner herself has been a consistent proponent of DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including some featured in the ad. She has often contended that supporting LGBTQ+ individuals in schools equates to “grooming,” backed drag bans, and previously expressed being a “big supporter of Ron DeSantis” specifically for his “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law.
Even the Log Cabin Republicans, the principal LGBTQ+ Republican organization, chimed in, denouncing the ad as “divisive and desperate” and labeling DeSantis’ policies as “naive” and “politically stupid.” Intriguingly, the organization had previously lauded Governor DeSantis for some of the very anti-LGBTQ+ policies featured in the ad. For instance, Log Cabin Republicans have participated in anti-drag protests and support bathroom bans. The official account has in the past accused “LGBTQ leftists” of attempting to “censor Ron DeSantis’ speech,” and commended him for the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law.
The conflict reached a fever pitch on Monday as heated exchanges erupted on Twitter between the aforementioned individuals and accounts associated with DeSantis campaign. Caitlyn Jenner, for instance, criticized the anti-LGBTQ+ organization “Gays Against Groomers,” and disclosed that the organization’s leader is on the payroll of DeSantis campaign. Meanwhile, Christina Pushaw, the Rapid Response Director for DeSantis’s campaign, addressed criticism by gay and trans Republicans by calling for an end to the federal recognition of Pride Month. Republicans who oppose LGBTQ+ rights and those who support some level of rights continued to argue throughout the day over what level of acceptance LGBTQ+ people should receive.
Ultimately, the distinction between Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis is one without much difference when it comes to LGBTQ+ people. While DeSantis’ ad stood out for its brazen display of anti-LGBTQ+ positions, Donald Trump has not fared any better. The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ+ rights organization, has labeled Trump “the worst president on LGBTQ+ issues ever.” Trump’s tenure was marked by policies such as the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, the nomination of Supreme Court justices who have since voted in favor of allowing businesses to deny service to LGBTQ+ individuals, and the denial of asylum to LGBTQ+ seekers. Moreover, Trump recently released a campaign ad advocating for sweeping curtailments of transgender rights “for any age” and prohibitions on gender-affirming care for trans youth.
Although LGBTQ+ Republicans may believe themselves to be reforming the party, the party itself continues to target them with harmful policies. It seems unlikely that those policies will change in the near future given the heated rhetoric coming out of Republican legislatures across the country targeting LGBTQ+ people. Increasingly, these individuals find themselves pushed further to the periphery as the American right-wing steams onward in policies designed around eradication.
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