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Paul Ryan Is No Friend to LGBTQ People

House Rep. Paul Ryan announced last week he will not seek re-election to U.S. Congress. Instead he plans to step down as Speaker of the House when his term expires in January, a post he has held for three years.

Since the news broke, Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo has hailed Ryan as an ally to the LGBTQ community in Congress. Angelo claimed the Wisconsin conservative “always had an open door” to the national gay GOP organization. He further credited Ryan for voting in favor of an LGBTQ non-discrimination bill and appearing at a gala in 2014 to benefit the LCR.

“Your leadership will be missed but never forgotten!” Angelo exclaimed.

This really never should have needed to be said, but Ryan is no friend to the LGBTQ community. His tone may be softer than some of his colleagues, but he is the very definition of complicity.

When Ryan was a freshman Congressman from Wisconsin back in 1999, he voted against allowing same-sex couples in Washington, D.C. to adopt. When he eventually came around14 years laterit was with this patronizing caveat: “If there are children who are orphans who do not have a loving person or couple, [a same-sex couple] who wants to love and raise a child ought to be able to do that.”

In Ryan’s view, sure, gay people can raise childrenbut only as a backup plan. It implicitly sends the message that having two moms or two dads is less than ideal.

This was a moot point anyway: Same-sex adoption was legal in the nation’s capital when Ryan made these remarks in 2013. At that time, however, a series of cases making their way through the federal courts eventually resulted in Obergefell v. Hodges legalizing same-sex marriage throughout the country.

What were his opinions on the merits of that case, one might ask?

“I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman,” Ryan said at the same town hall in which he was applauded for (kind of) supporting gay adoption.

It was an astounding political calculation. Here the conservative was attempting to present himself as a moderate while standing firmly against equality, acknowledging an issue not even on the table in order to avoid advancing LGBTQ rights. It was a way for Ryan to show he’s “evolved” on the issuemuch like President Obamawithout actually having to do anything to help out queer and trans folks.

It wasn’t the only time Ryan did something like this.

In 2010, the politician voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Clinton-era law prohibiting queer soldiers from serving openly in the military. Explaining why he voted against striking down the policy, Ryan said in 2012: “I talked to a lot of good friends of mine who are combat leaders… and they just didn’t think the timing of this was right to do this when our troops were in the middle of harm’s way in combat.”

Ryan never stated who his “good friends who are combat leaders” were, but they clearly didn’t include then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. Mullen, who supported ending DADT, told Congress in 2010, “I have served with homosexuals since 1968. Everybody in the military has.”

But Ryan appeared to have come around to Admiral Mullen’s view by 2012, a stance that many use to portray the legislator as friendly to LGBTQ rights. “Now that it’s done, we should not reverse [the ban],” Ryan said in an interview. “I think that would be a step in the wrong direction because people have already disclosed themselves.”

This is complacency disguised as compassion. It’s fairly similar to President Donald Trump calling same-sex marriage “settled” in a November 2016 sitdown, an apparent flip-flop after claiming he would rollback Obergefell if elected to the White House.

The seeming about-face didn’t stop Trump from appointing Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Courtan ultra-conservative jurist who opposed same-sex marriage in his dissertation. Since taking the late Antonin Scalia’s spot on the bench, he has done just what the president hinted at: chipping away at LGBTQ rights through the legal system.

Ryan’s LGBTQ rights doublespeak was on full display last year when President Trump tweeted out his ban on transgender people serving openly in the military. When asked whether he supported it, Ryan refused to answer directly. Instead he offered up a non-response about the Pentagon paying for trans healthcare, citing vague “concerns” among members of the House.

This refusal to comment wasn’t even the worst thing the House Speaker did regarding the trans military ban. As hinted in the WISN interview, Ryan allowed an amendment prohibiting funding for trans healthcare in a defense spending bill. He tried to hide behind House rules by claiming amendments are an “open process” and that he couldn’t block a representative from introducing them, but as the Human Rights Campaign sternly pointed out, he used the same procedural guidelines to block pro-LGBTQ riders.

While the anti-trans amendment was pushed through by the House leadership, out gay Representative Jared Polis proposed an amendment which would allow gay troops to donate blood. It was voted down by the same committee which approved the anti-trans language.

Ryan, though, is used to hiding behind the system to keep from disclosing his animus to queer and trans rights.

He again cited procedure in order to avoid supporting the Equality Act, a landmark piece of LGBTQ rights legislation that would have added gender identity and sexual orientation as protected characteristics in federal civil rights legislation. Ryan refused to bring the bill to the floor, claiming it wasn’t the way things are done. “I’m a regular order guy,” Ryan said. “My position has not changed. You got to get bills out of committee to get them to the floor.”

This sounds reasonable enough, but it’s also not true: The bill was referred to five different committees and had broad bipartisan support, but the Speaker wasn’t courageous enough to just come out and say he opposed it.

Apologists point to Ryan’s support of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) as evidence that he’s not the virulent bigot many would make him out to be. In fact, Ryan did vote for ENDA 11 years agowhich ThinkProgress deemed the “lone pro-gay vote” of his career. But there was a major caveat to his backing for the legislation: Gender identity wasn’t included in the 2007 bill. The conservative threatened to pull his vote if a trans-inclusive version were put forward.

“It makes it something you can’t vote for,” he explained, adding that transgender protections “changes the equation.”

He hasn’t changed in the decade since. In 2016, House Republicansled by Ryanvoted against a spending bill because the Democrats attached an amendment which would have prohibited discrimination against LGBTQ people in federal hiring. “It’s unfortunate because it’s a very good bill,” Ryan said, before blaming the Democrats for the bill’s defeat.

As others have pointed out, the LGBTQ rights records of the men standing in line to replace Ryan is no better.

Outlets like NewNowNext, The Advocate, and PinkNews have zeroed in on California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Ryan’s own choice to take over the gavel. The conservative boasts a zero ratingthe lowest possible gradeon the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), also said to be in the running, has continued to oppose queer and trans equality even after his life was saved by a lesbian cop.

Whoever succeeds him will be virulently homophobic, but make no mistake: So is Paul Ryan. He has voted against LGBTQ-inclusive hate crime laws, supported DOMA, and backed a constitutional amendment outlawing marriage equality several times during his tenure in Congress. Ryan has claimed the issue of same-sex marriage should be left up to the states to decide. Yup, that’s the same reasoning supporters of slavery used to stifle the abolition movement.

Like George W. Bush before him, queer people must not allow intolerance to become mistaken for decencyor who knows what we’ll accept as allyship next.

Photo via Win McNamee/Getty Images


Skylar Baker-Jordan

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance journalist covering the intersections of identities, media, politics, and public policy. He has previously written for The Independent, HuffPost UK, The Daily Dot, and elsewhere. He is based in eastern North Carolina. Follow him on Twitter @skylarjordan.

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