ICYMI: Statement from Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson on First GOP Primary Debate of 2024 Presidential Election Cycle

by HRC Staff

MILWAUKEE, WI — Tonight, at the first GOP primary debate of the 2024 presidential election, extremist Republican candidates continued attacking and maligning transgender kids to score political points with the most extreme and radical portions of their base, while offering no solutions to fix real challenges facing students and families across the country.

We, the American people, are better than what we saw tonight. We saw the Republican field punching down on queer and transgender kids to score political points. Just to be clear: that strategy might work with the far right extremists, but it won’t get you to the White House. Voters are tired of distractions, lies, culture wars, and dog whistles — they’re looking for real leadership.

“It’s time for real solutions to address challenges in the education system, to solve the climate crisis — but instead, extremist candidates again pivoted toward attacking transgender students, amplifying the same tired, hateful, and divisive rhetoric we’ve seen time and again. While these extremists made it crystal clear tonight that they’re doubling down on running the same playbook they ran in 2022, we’re also making it clear that we’re ready to drive voter turnout that, once again, shatters records and shatters any delusions these extremists have of becoming president.

“This is the moment we need our allies to stand with us, to collectively make our voices heard. As LGBTQ+ people are living in a state of emergency, and as increasing hostility and violence continues threatening our community and allies like Laura Ann Carleton, it’s time to send a clear message that an extremist, hateful vision for America has no place in America.”

Kelley Robinson, Human Rights Campaign President

2024 Election Preview: What To Expect from Extremist Candidates

Below is a preview of what to expect in the 2024 presidential election cycle from the current crop of extremist GOP primary candidates.

➤ Homophobia and transphobia will front and center as candidates double down on anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.

The 2024 election cycle comes amidst an unprecedented spike in anti-LGBTQ+ state legislation, with more than 550 bills introduced in 43 states, and more than 80 signed into law—more than doubling last year, which was previously the worst year on record. The wave of harmful and discriminatory legislation—some of which was engineered and championed by extremist GOP candidates running for president and their allies—and the concurrent spike in anti-transgender rhetoric and violence prompted HRC to declare a state of emergency in June. Since then, the climate of hostility toward LGBTQ+ people has grown worse, as revealed by a new survey released last week showing growing fear amongst LGBTQ+ Americans tethered directly to the spike in gender affirming care bans cropping up in states across the country. Nearly 8-in-10 LGBTQ+ adults surveyed report feeling less safe as a result of gender-affirming care bans, and nearly half report that gender-affirming care bans impact the physical and/or mental health of themselves or their loved ones. GOP candidates have rallied in support of these discriminatory laws as a political wedge ahead of the 2024 election cycle.

We are seeing increased threats to our democracy — and an extraordinary rejection of the will of the people — not only through increased attacks on reproductive rights and transgender people, but in disregarding and overlooking the January 6 attacks on the Capitol.

➤ Candidates will continue punching down on queer and trans kids.

The current crop of GOP candidates include some of the most notorious anti-LGBTQ+ extremists like Ron DeSantis—whose fledgling “war on woke” has obsessively targeted queer and trans young people with assaults like the Don’t Say Gay or Trans law, gender affirming care bans, and anti-LGBTQ+ book bans. DeSantis isn’t the only politician who has prioritized attacking queer and transgender youth to score political points with their radical base:

  • Mike Pence — After costing Hoosier taxpayers more than $60M pushing an anti-LGBTQ+ “license to discriminate” bill, and becoming the most anti-LGBTQ+ vice president who Donald Trump said wanted to hang all gay people, Pence kicked off his 2024 presidential campaign by targeting schools that protect transgender children, and said if he were to become president he would support a federal ban on healthcare for transgender children.

  • Chris Christie — Despite signing into law several bills protecting LGBTQ+ people, Christie has a history of opposing same-sex marriage and twice vetoed bills that would have allowed transgender people to update their birth certificates to match their gender identity.

While anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric might score points with the radical right, it has a more profound backlash effect—energizing Equality Voters.

Candidates are already running the same transphobic and homophobic playbooks many of them and their allies ran in the 2022 midterm elections. But despite efforts by extremist candidates in 2022 to suppress and demoralize millions of LGBTQ+ people, women, and people of color, the midterm elections not only saw LGBTQ+ voters make up more of the American electorate than in any nonpresidential election prior, but also saw pro-equality, pro-democracy, and pro-choice voters drive historic victories—including electing a record-breaking number of LGBTQ+ candidates to public office. Obsessive attacks on LGBTQ+ people drove a wedge between extremist candidates and average voters—particularly the huge number of Equality Voters who made the critical difference up and down the ballot. In the 2022 midterms, Equality Voters (for whom LGBTQ+ equality is a motivating issue) represented 39 percent of the electorate—a number that reflects the growing political strength of this voting bloc, which totals 62 million nationwide and tends to be younger and more racially diverse than the electorate as a whole.

Attacks on gender affirming care and transgender participation in sports are political losers.

Polling released after the 2022 midterm elections found that less than 5 percent of surveyed voters identified gender affirming care for transgender youth or transgender participation in sports as issues motivating them to vote—last on the list of motivating issues. Despite this reality, many of the extremist candidates running for president and their allies have doubled down—not only supporting and actively pushing anti-trans sports bans and gender affirming care bans in states across the country, but also mirroring those efforts at the federal level, where extremist House Republicans recently staged a virtual dress rehearsal for the anti-trans disinformation voters will undoubtedly see more of throughout the 2024 election cycle.

While anti-LGBTQ+ messaging won’t bring candidates closer to the White House, the hateful rhetoric is fueling an unprecedented climate of hostility toward LGBTQ+ people and our allies.

While attacks on LGBTQ+ people are ineffective with the general electorate—and in fact repel swing voters—they still cause harm, including increasing stigma, discrimination, and violence against queer and transgender Americans and our allies. While reports of violence against transgender people are on the rise, allies are also increasingly being targeted, including people like Laura Ann Carleton—the owner of a retail store in San Bernardino, Calif.—who was recently shot and killed by a violent, anti-LGBTQ+ extremist for hanging a Pride flag in her storefront window. According to reports, the shooter (who murdered Carleton after yelling many homophobic slurs) had a well-documented history of attacking LGBTQ+ people on Twitter. This uptick in violence and hostility—fueled by anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and policies being pushed by many of the extremist politicians vying for the presidency—is what prompted HRC to officially declare a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in June. Following the declaration, HRC President Kelley Robinson said, “The multiplying threats facing millions in our community are not just perceived—they are real, tangible and dangerous. In many cases they are resulting in violence against LGBTQ+ people, forcing families to uproot their lives and flee their homes in search of safer states, and triggering a tidal wave of increased homophobia and transphobia that puts the safety of each and every one of us at risk.”

For more information, or to request an interview with an HRC expert about the 2024 presidential election cycle, please contact press@hrc.org.

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