Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, the new speaker of the House, is little-known nationally, but he’s as anti-LGBTQ+ as any of the more prominent members of his party — perhaps even more so. The Human Rights Campaign calls him “the most anti-equality speaker in U.S. history.”
Johnson was elected speaker Wednesday, winning 220 votes to Democrat Hakeem Jeffries’s 209. The speaker is usually drawn from the House’s majority party, although he or she does not have to be, and sets the agenda for the House, which can do no business without a speaker.
Johnson, in his fourth term representing a northwestern Louisiana district, has received a zero on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard in every term. He voted against the Equality Act, the Respect for Marriage Act, and numerous other pro-equality bills. He has introduced legislation inspired by Florida’s “don’t say gay” law and led a hearing in opposition to gender-affirming care for minors.
Before entering politics, he was an attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit law firm dedicated to promoting causes championed by the religious right, especially opposition to LGBTQ+ equality and abortion rights. While at ADF in 2006, he touted the so-called Day of Truth, the far right’s response to Day of Silence, which is a protest against bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. Day of Truth, he said, is “another perspective on the homosexual lifestyle, which many people believe is morally wrong and physically dangerous.”
In 2004, he had written an editorial for a Louisiana newspaper opposing marriage equality. “If we change marriage for the homosexual activists, we will have to do it for every deviant group,” he wrote. “Polygamists, polyamorists, pedophiles, and others will be next in line to claim equal protection.” And in 2003, as an attorney with ADF, he represented clients who sued the city of New Orleans in an effort to stop it from providing domestic-partner benefits. He also defended Louisiana’s ban on same-sex marriage before the state’s Supreme Court.
ADF filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of sodomy laws, which the high court ended up overturning in the Lawrence v. Texas ruling in 2003. When the decision came down, he wrote an editorial criticizing it in the Shreveport, La., Times, saying, “States have many legitimate grounds to proscribe same-sex deviate sexual intercourse.” The editorial was unearthed by CNN.
Between ADF and the U.S. House, he served one term in the Louisiana House. “He dedicated his one and only term to rolling back LGBTQ+ rights.,” HRC notes in a press release. “In 2015, he authored House Bill 707, a License to Discriminate bill that would have prevented the state government from enforcing nondiscrimination provisions when professionals or businesses discriminate against same-sex couples based on religious beliefs.”
In the U.S. House in 2022, he introduced a bill called the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act of 2022, which would have prohibited the use of federal funds “to develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually-oriented program, event, or literature for children under the age of 10, and for other purposes.” Inspired by Florida’s “don’t say gay” law, it would have banned discussion of topics related to identity as well as more explicit content. It went nowhere, as the House then had a Democratic majority.
This year, he led a hearing on gender-affirming care for minors. It was titled “The Dangers and Due Process Violations of ‘Gender-Affirming Care’ for Children.” In his opening statement, he said, “We see adults inflicting harm on helpless children to affirm their worldview: that is, that gender is fluid, sex can be surgically altered, and that there are no lasting consequences as a result of these gender transition procedures. … Something has gone terribly wrong, and today we hope to shed light on what that is and how we can address the problem.”
During the speaker vote, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, a Minnesota Democrat, clapped back against Johnson’s opposition to marriage equality by shouting “Happy anniversary to my wife!” Craig is the first lesbian mother in Congress and the first out LGBTQ+ Congress member elected from her state.
Johnson is also, like most House Republicans, opposed to abortion rights and supportive of gun rights. And he voted against certifying the results of the last presidential election. He is a close ally of Donald Trump.
Johnson will succeed Republican Kevin McCarthy of California, who was ousted as speaker this month. His election came after several other Republican House members, including Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, and Tom Emmer, were nominated as speaker and ended up being voted down or withdrawing. They were almost universally anti-LGBTQ+, although Emmer did vote for the Respect for Marriage Act, which wrote marriage equality into federal law. For that, Emmer was criticized by some conservatives. Johnson’s comment on whether Emmer’s vote should be an issue was “You know how I voted on it. Everybody votes their conscience but I’ve always been very resolute on that issue,” according to Punchbowl News.
LGBTQ+ groups denounced Johnson’s elevation to speaker. “From his more than a decade working as an attorney for the virulently anti-LGBTQ+ hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, to his stint as an archenemy of LGBTQ+ equality in the Louisiana legislature, and through his tenure as a hard-right bomb-thrower in Congress, Mike Johnson has a scorched earth history as someone who seeks to drive people out of our society purely on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” says HRC’s press release.
“The MAGA House majority has selected the most anti-equality speaker in U.S. history by elevating Mike Johnson — this is a choice that will be a stain on the record of everyone who voted for him,” HRC President Kelley Robinson said in the release. “Johnson is someone who doesn’t hesitate to express his disdain for the LGTBQ+ community from the rooftops and then introduces legislation that seeks to erase us from society. Just like Jim Jordan, Mike Johnson is an election-denying, anti-LGBTQ+ extremist, and the lawmakers who appeared to stand on principle in opposing Jordan’s bid have revealed themselves to be just as out-of-touch as their new leader.”