LGBTQ advocates are condemning a recent television ad in a Michigan congressional race that they say unfairly attacks an openly gay candidate by relying on tropes of gay men as sexual predators — one of several ads that seek to portray Democratic candidates as supportive of sex offenders or insensitive to issues like child trafficking.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which seeks to get LGBTQ people elected to office, has condemned an ad from the Congressional Leadership Fund, a conservative Super PAC designed to help elect Republicans. The ad attacks Jon Hoadley, the Democratic candidate running against Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District, savaging Hoadley for off-color blog posts he wrote in 2004 as a college student.
In the blog post, Hoadley referred to straight people as “breeders” and made fun of their dancing skills. In 2005, he discussed going to a gay bar to “learn about crystal meth” — referring to an informational meeting about the drug’s impact on the LGTBQ community — ultimately concluding the post by telling his readers to stay away from the drug. He jokingly referred to men he had hooked up with as “victims,” and in another post wondered whether “gay men desire to be flower girls,” including a snide remark from one of his friends about a “four-year-old wearing a thong.”
Hoadley dismissed the blog entries as “bad college poetry” and apologized for writing them in the first place. But Republicans’ campaign arm, the National Congressional Campaign Committee, has repeatedly referred to him in blog posts as a “pedo sex poet,” seeking to cast him as sexist, “creepy,” and with bad judgment. The CLF ad references the blog posts, ending with the tag line: “Sending Jon Hoadley to Congress? That’s bad judgment.”
Hoadley’s allies have previously sought to push back against the attacks, which they say rely on anti-gay tropes. For instance, the comment about the “four-year-old wearing a thong” was part of a satirical discussion in which Hoadley’s friend said he had “no desire” to see such a thing, a condemnation of the hyper-sexualization of children. But the NRCC and CLF, they claim, have taken the quote out of context to imply Hoadley is a pedophile.
Upton’s campaign told The Detroit News that is has “nothing whatsoever” to do with the attacks against Hoadley, and that there is no coordination between the campaign and independent outside groups. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, even defended Upton last month, saying Hoadley “knows better than to describe children and women so dismissively” and alleging that the “catty gay” persona he assumed when writing the blog simply relies on harmful, outdated stereotypes of gay men.
But LGBTQ Victory Fund has accused Upton of “running the most homophobic campaign in America” by refusing to condemn such inflammatory language, thereby sending a message to Republican allies to attack Hoadley on his behalf while he maintains plausible deniability.
Annise Parker, the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said Upton’s “refusal to denounce these Trumpian tactics makes his self-righteous calls for ‘civility’ look absurd.”
“[Upton’s] silence cued supporters to invest more than $500,000 in misleading attack ads that purposely perpetuate the ugliest of anti-gay stereotypes,” Parker said in a statement. “Fred is so embedded in Trump-land that he can no longer differentiate between the typical rough and tumble of campaigning and the politics of hate he claims to deplore.”
See also: Two Florida politicians involved in anti-gay controversies lose primaries
She also encouraged LGBTQ people and allies to back Hoadley against these attacks, rather than running away and abandoning him out of fear, saying they should stand against normalizing or overlooking anti-gay bigotry.
Michael Isikoff, a correspondent for Yahoo News, noted in a recent piece that Hoadley is not the only Democrat being cast as “soft on crime” or linked to pedophilia, quoting some political observers who believe the NRCC and its allies are weaponizing elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory to gin up turnout among their base while tarring Democrats as dangerous to children.
The QAnon conspiracy theory alleges that President Trump is fighting against a global cabal of illuminati-type leaders (including prominent celebrities) who are Satan worshippers and pedophiles who routinely engage in the trafficking of children. Part of the theory encourages Americans to take action by killing liberal politicians, as well as people within the “deep state” and any other Americans who enable or refuse to take a stand against this secret cabal. At least two Republican candidates who have embraced the theory have won primaries, with one nominee in Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, all but guaranteed to hold a seat in Congress.
As examples, Isikoff has pointed to an ad attacking U.S. Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) of trying to “make it easier for predators to hide in the shadows,” citing his work for “a radical group that opposed the National Sex Offender Registry.” In Florida, the NRCC has attacked Democrat Margaret Good for voting against a measure to ban the sale or possession of child-like sex dolls — a vote that the candidate says was due to an error that changed a vote on the wrong bill.
In Missouri, U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner (R) has run an ad attacking Democratic challenger Jill Schupp for votes for and against various proposals to reform the State’s sex offender registry. And in California, the NRCC has blasted Democrat Christy Smith, running against U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia, for not voting on a proposed revision to the state’s sex offender law that would bring penalties for LGBTQ people in line with those for heterosexual people. The sponsor of that bill, Scott Wiener, has been subjected to online harassment and threats after people misrepresented what his bill was intended to do. But Smith is being attacked for not voting “no” and publicly condemning Wiener.
Michael McAdams, a spokesman for the NRCC, rejected the idea that the ads are designed to appeal to QAnon followers, telling Isikoff: “Trying to excuse Democratic candidates’ decisions to lobby on behalf of sex offenders, blog about ‘4-year-old-girls in thongs’ and vote against legislation protecting children from sex offenders because of an online conspiracy theory is truly pathetic.”
But Wyatt Ronan, a press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ group, has accused the NRCC of employing QAnon conspiracy theories, along with a healthy dose of homophobia, to make tenuous connections between sex offenders and Democrats running for Congress.
“The NRCC’s willingness to support candidates affiliated with QAnon, a group the FBI has labelled ‘conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists’ and a ‘domestic terror threat,’ is a danger to our democracy and its institutions,” Ronan said in a statement. “It’s equally alarming that the NRCC is amplifying the same messages as QAnon, a group that dangerously promotes anti-semitism, homophobia, transphobia, white supremacy and false information that minimizes the COVID-19 pandemic’s threat to public health as a hoax.
“Unfortunately, the NRCC is following President Trump’s lead by peddling lies and conspiracies to create division, fear, and chaos,” Ronan added. “The American people are sick and tired of the hate and divisiveness that plagues our politics. This is why it’s incumbent on all of us to vote on or before November 3 and elect leadership that will unite us.”
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