The older I get, the more reminders I see that Maya Angelou was right: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Take the new House speaker, Mike Johnson, for instance.
He’s been showing who he is since 1998, when he graduated from law school and started going after the LGBTQ+ community every chance he could. And I’m not just talking about trying to stop same-sex marriage, because let’s face it, many progressives were against it back then as well. But Johnson was extreme by comparison — advocating for laws that banned two adults from having consensual sex in their own home.
So, to anyone who considers themselves an ally of the LGBTQ+ community, know this: Same-sex marriage and other protections are not safe.
Johnson (R-La.) has made attacking the queer community a huge part of his life’s work. We don’t yet know his style as a leader in the House, but we know exactly where he intends to go.
And judging from how the speaker selection process played out over the weeks after the ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the Republican Party looks more than willing to go after the queer community with him. Of the three speaker nominations before Johnson’s, the fastest one to collapse was that of House Majority Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota. It lasted barely four hours. One of the key issues cited by his opposition: his support of same-sex marriage.
“I told him it wasn’t between he and I,” said Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.) about why he opposed Emmer. “It was between he and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
For some reason, I don’t think Allen meant “love your neighbor as yourself.”
No, conservatives like him and Johnson tend to use Christianity as justification for anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination. The powerful players within this huge wing of the Republican Party do not, however, seem to take great issue with other “sins” such as adultery.
Author Jeff Sharlet has written multiple books on the inner workings of a collective of powerful Republican politicians, some of whom share a town house in Washington that was the site of not only prayer groups but also apparently extramarital affairs. The New Yorker dubbed it a “frat house for Jesus.” It takes a very special reading of the Bible to land on “jail gay people” and “extramarital affairs are OK” at the same time.
“The Family,” as the group is called, is also tied to the passage of anti-gay legislation in Romania and Uganda, which now sentences LGBTQ+ people to death and imprisons anyone who fails to report a queer person to the government.
I am not sure how the “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” crowd will process all of this information come the 2024 election, especially if there’s a promise of tax cuts bundled up with the distasteful discrimination. However, given how this nation continues to struggle with not only LGBTQ+ rights but also racial and gender equity, I’m not too optimistic.
In 2021, not long after the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, Johnson gave a talk to a group of congressional staffers as part of the Faith and Law lecture series. The bipartisan organization is like a think tank for Christians working on the Hill. Johnson, a Trump ally who tried to overturn the 2020 election on his behalf, listed “the rule of law” second among his seven core conservative principles.
He listed “individual freedom” and “limited government” as first and third — despite wanting laws to ban sex between two consenting adults in their own home.
Beyond his run-of-the-mill doubletalk, the line that caught my attention most was this one: “I’m doing the same thing I used to do back in the late ’90s.”
Remember he graduated from law school in 1998. That is also the year a young gay man in Wyoming, Matthew Shepard, was brutally beaten, tied to a fence and left to die. That tragic story dominated the news for months. And Johnson started his legislative crusade against LGBTQ+ people in the wake of that tragedy.
That is what Johnson was doing back in the late ’90s. He may not be a household name yet, but he is not an unknown. He showed us exactly who he was the first time.
So take Maya Angelou’s advice and believe him.