When Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee came under fire earlier this month for making a transphobic joke at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in February, he claimed the outcry was only a liberal media ploy — but this week one Canadian nonprofit showed him that his words have more consequences than he bargained for.
In direct response to Huckabee's remarks and the subsequent outcry among Canadian LGBT rights and Jewish advocates, the Jewish National Fund of Canada canceled a speech Wednesday Huckabee was scheduled to give in October at Ottawa's Negev Dinner to benefit autism research in Israel, reports the Canadian Jewish News.
Two weeks ago, a change.org petition began circulating that outlined activists' concerns with Huckabee's tongue-in-cheek claim — which he has has reportedly repeated at least three times since 2013— that he wished he had been a transgender teenager so he could have snuck into his high school's girls' locker rooms. The petition read, in part:
"There is a serious shortage of services in Ottawa in support of [transgender people's] medical, psychological, social and spiritual needs. This is a segment of our community that needs your support, not the appearance of yet further rejection and abuse, as clearly promoted by your announced speaker, Mr. Huckabee.
"Given the recent high profile international publicity on the realities of transgender people, by Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono and Israeli Eurostar winner, Dana International, I caution you that the timing of having a speaker who holds the disrespectful views and insensitivity of Mr. Huckabee, will not be a positive reflection on the Ottawa Chapter of the Jewish National Fund.
In response, the Fund's CEO Josh Cooper told Canadian Jewish News that the petition, which gathered only 30 signatories, had no effect on the nonprofit's ultimate decision to cancel Huckabee's apperance. Still, Cooper explained in a statement last week that "the media spotlight has recently focused on Mr. Huckabee's comments about issues that bear no relevance to JNF or autism," and they are now seeking a new guest speaker.
Huckabee was originally chosen to appear at the JNF event because "he is a staunch supporter of the State of Israel" who has "never wavered from his position," according to Cooper.
Michael Gennis, a Jewish LGBT activist who co-wrote the petition, as well as writing protest letters to both JNF's regional Ottawa and national offices, told Canadian Jewish News that he thought JNF's initial invitation to Huckabee was "a typical knee-jerk reaction from a Jewish organization bringing a speaker that supports Israel ... without doing a lot of research about what people like [Huckabee] stand for."
The petition also condemned Huckabee for "publicly supporting" Josh Duggar, the 19 Kids and Counting reality star who has admitted to sexually abusing several girls, including a number of his sisters. Huckabee has also previously drawn ire from LGBT activists for opposing marriage equality.
Huckabee's office has not publicly commented on the former Arkansas governor's ouster from the JNF dinner.
He did, however, double down on his transphobic joke several days before JNF's announcement, telling right-wing radio pundit Steven Deace that "I take nothing back from that speech. I’m kind of glad it’s posted because people, if they watch the whole clip, what they’re going to see is that I’m giving a commonsense answer to the insanity that’s going on out there."