The Phobies: Worst Homophobes of 2017
There were many to choose from, but Chechnya's Ramzan Kadyrov gets the title of Phobie of the Year.
December 21 2017 10:56 AM EST
December 20 2017 8:03 PM EST
There were many to choose from, but Chechnya's Ramzan Kadyrov gets the title of Phobie of the Year.
It has, unfortunately, been a year marked by homophobia and transphobia, with Donald Trump's administration undoing many of the LGBT nondiscrimination protections put in force by President Barack Obama. However, there have been some defeats for the phobes too, with Roy Moore failing to win a U.S. Senate seat and Bob Marshall, the most anti-LGBT member of the Virginia legislature, losing his seat to a transgender woman. And outside the U.S., there were the victories for marriage equality in Australia and Germany, and a path to equal marriage rights laid out in Taiwan. The worst example of homophobia also comes from overseas; as bad as the Trump administration is, it's not (directly) killing people. The Advocate's 2017 choice for Phobie of the Year is Ramzan Kadyrov, president of the semiautonomous Russian republic of Chechnya, where gay and bisexual men, along with some transgender women, have been incarcerated and tortured in makeshift prisons that amount to concentration camps. An unknown number have been killed.
The independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published reports about the camps in the early spring, after rumors had been circulating among human rights activists for months. The initial article said at least 100 had been rounded up and three killed; later reports put the number killed at 26, and it may be far greater now. Chechen law enforcement authorities have targeted many of the victims through social media sites and apps, arranging "dates" at which the men ended up being arrested. The officials also often forced the men to give up names of their friends under threat of being outed to their families. Homosexuality is deeply frowned upon in Chechnya, where many residents follow a very conservative form of Islam.
Inside the camps, the men have been subjected to beatings and electric shocks. "They turn the knob, electric current hits you, and you start shaking," a survivor told Human Rights Watch of the electroshock torture. "And they keep turning the hellish machine, and the pain is just insane, you scream, and scream, and you no longer know who you are. ... Finally, you faint, it all goes dark, but when you come to your senses, they start all over again." Survivors are sometimes released to the custody of their families -- with the families receiving instructions to kill their gay and bisexual members.
The U.S. has reportedly visas to survivors of the camps, but some have found refuge in Canada and elsewhere. Congress has passed a bipartisan resolution condemning the persecution in Chechnya, and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has spoken out, as has Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but Trump has remained silent on the situation. His favorite foreign leader, Russian President Vladimir Putin, at first dismissed the reports as "rumors" but eventually agreed to look into the matter. Kadyrov, however, has denied that LGBT people, or "devils," as he calls them, even exist in Chechnya.
"We don't have those kinds of people here," he told an HBO reporter. If there are, they should be exiled to Canada "to purify our blood," he continued. When the reporter pushed him about reports from survivors, Kadyrov responded, "They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people."
Finally, in December the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Asset Control issued sanctions against Kadyrov and Ayub Katayev, a Chechen law enforcement officer, for "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights," including the antigay purge. They will be subjected to financial and travel restrictions. LGBT rights groups praised the move but said it is only one of many necessary actions. Kadyrov, meanwhile, has said he wants to step down as president.
Read on for information about the runners-up to Kadyrov.
Jeff Sessions was one of the most anti-LGBT members of the U.S. Senate, and since he became Trump's attorney general, he's been doing most of the dirty work of oppressing LGBT people. Under Sessions, the Department of Justice has rescinded Obama-era guidelines on accommodation of transgender students (a joint action with the Department of Education); reversed the Obama administration's stance that existing federal civil rights law bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity -- and made pro-discrimination arguments in court; also argued in court on behalf of Trump's plan to reinstate the ban on military service by transgender people (now blocked by three federal courts); and released an infamous "religious freedom" guidance document, providing a broad license for federal contractors and government employees to discriminate against LGBT people or anyone else who offends their religious beliefs. Shortly before Sessions put out that document, he gave a closed-door speech to the Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-LGBT legal group that argued in the Supreme Court that client Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had the right to turn away a same-sex couple because of his Christian beliefs. A Justice Department lawyer argued on Phillips's side as well. Sessions did make a statement denouncing the murders of trans people and sent a DOJ lawyer to help prosecutors in one case, which Lambda Legal called a publicity stunt. When a Justice Department intern confronted him about transgender rights at an event this summer, his halting statement of "You can be sure we'll protect transgender and all people in their civil rights" rang hollow. The only good news is that Sessions's term in office may be shortened, due to the fact that he lied under oath about contacts with Russian officials while he was involved in the Trump campaign.
Vice President Mike Pence is, of course, another of the Trump administration's enablers of anti-LGBT hatred, just as we expected he would be. Shortly before Trump announced the trans military ban, there were reports -- denied by Pence -- that the vice president and his staff were lobbying to undermine the policy of open service by trans troops by at least denying funding for transition-related procedures. Then, after Trump's announcement came out, it was revealed that, natch, Pence was one of the ban's champions. "The White House senior official source -- who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity -- said Vice President Mike Pence is the driving force behind the ban," the Los Angeles Blade reported in August. "In fact, he has been spearheading the trans ban reinstatement since last May, at the behest of conservative leaders such as Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, and scores of retired anti-LGBT military officers." Pence has also been at the forefront of efforts, so far failed, to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with legislation that would provide fewer services for women, LGBT people, and the poor.
And then there's the top man himself. Some gay conservatives were in denial about Donald Trump's agenda because, big woo, he didn't want LGBT people to be killed by terrorists and because he said "LGBTQ" at the Republican convention last year. But his actions in office have left no doubt that he's all about appealing to the religious right. There's the trans military ban, the withdrawal of the trans student guidance, the issuance of the "religious freedom" guidance, the undermining of Obama's antidiscrimination policy for federal contractors, the reversal of the LGBT-inclusive interpretation of federal civil rights law, the failure to speak out on the antigay purge in Chechnya, and the horrible choices for federal judges, Cabinet secretaries, and agency heads. He endorsed Roy Moore (then, after Moore lost, pretended he hadn't). And he became the first sitting president to address the Values Voter Summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group. Before the election he said to "ask the gays" which candidate would be better for them. Most of us knew the answer wasn't Trump.
There are many anti-LGBT organizations in the U.S., but one that's been particularly active this year is the Alliance Defending Freedom. The legal group was in the Supreme Court in December, arguing for a Colorado baker's "freedom" to discriminate against a same-sex couple who wanted to order a wedding cake. The Masterpiece Cakeshop case, on which the court will issue a ruling in 2018, stands to have broad implications for religious exemptions from antidiscrimination laws. The ADF has also asked the high court to review a similar case, this one involving Barronelle Stutzman, the Washington State florist contending she also had the right to deny goods for a same-sex couple's wedding, based on her religious beliefs about marriage. The ADF claims that antidiscrimination laws "have been used to trample religious freedom by forcing individuals and business owners to promote messages, ideas, and events that violate their deeply held religious convictions." The ADF has close ties to the Trump administration. A Justice Department lawyer argued alongside ADF attorney Kristen Waggoner in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave a closed-door speech to the group last summer and sought its input on the administration's "religious freedom" guidance. ADF's misdeeds also include helping to craft anti-trans "bathroom bills" in several states and the broad "license to discriminate" law enacted in Mississippi in 2016; it's now helping defend the Mississippi law in court. Alliance Defending Freedom? More like Alliance Defending Oppression.
Among Trump's many terrible nominees for federal judgeships, which are lifetime appointments, perhaps the worst was Jeff Mateer. Mateer, who was nominated to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, had been recorded in 2015 calling transgender children evidence of "Satan's plan" and saying recognition of same-sex marriage would lead to polygamous unions and people marrying their pets and inanimate objects. He's also a supporter of "ex-gay" therapy. There was widespread outcry against Mateer's nomination, which was subject to confirmation by the Senate. Mateer finally proved too much even for conservative Republican Chuck Grassley, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee. In December he urged Trump to reconsider Mateer's nomination, and a day later the White House announced the nomination had been withdrawn.
Another anti-LGBT Trump nominee who went down was Mark Green, a Tennessee state senator who was nominated for secretary of the Army. In Tennessee he was the lead sponsor of a still-pending "license to discriminate" bill, aimed at keeping city governments or the state from requiring contractors to comply with antidiscrimination policies. He also backed a bill that would prevent transgender people from using public restrooms appropriate for their gender identity (it has not passed either) and urged the state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court's marriage equality ruling. He was also caught crudely criticizing the integration of transgender people in the military, writing on Facebook that "Mr. Obama supports transvestites in uniform but you cannot have a bible on your desk, saying it disrupts good order in the military." He once said, "Transgender is a disease," and mentioned trans rights and international terrorists in the same breath in an interview about the need to crush "evil." He later contended that "evil" referred to the terrorists and not trans people, and accused "the liberal left" of distorting his words. In late April he withdrew from consideration as Army secretary; he would have replaced the first openly gay person to hold that post, Eric Fanning. Fanning's tenure ended with President Obama's, and Ryan McCarthy is currently acting secretary.
In July, shortly before Trump announced his trans military ban, some Republicans in Congress tried to undermine transgender service members with an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, a defense spending bill, that would prevent the government from funding transition-related health care for troops. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri and was narrowly rejected by the House, with more than 20 Republicans voting against it. Not surprisingly, the Alliance Defending Freedom helped draft it, and Hartzler was armed with a report from another anti-LGBT hate group, the Family Research Council, which gave wildly inflated estimates of the cost of providing such health care -- after all, not all trans service members would seek it. Hartzler, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, had earlier proposed another amendment, this one to reverse the Obama administration's lifting of the ban on trans troops, but withdrew it while making a plea to Defense Secretary James Mattis "to take the steps to restore readiness and make sure we don't waste precious tax dollars" -- in other words, reinstate the ban, which Trump set out to do (the ban has now been temporarily blocked by three federal courts). Oh, and Hartzler is worried about cisgender (nontrans) military members showering with trans people. "Is it fair to recruit our sons and daughters to fight for the nation and -- instead of being able to focus on the enemy -- subjecting them to disturbing distractions of very personal privacy issue involving sleeping and showering with individuals born of the opposite sex? It is not," she said at a committee hearing in June.
Some of 2017's best news came out of Australia, where Parliament passed a marriage equality bill in December, just weeks after results came in from a national mail-in survey that showed a clear majority of citizens favored the move. One who did not, however, was tennis champion turned Pentecostal minister Margaret Court. "They want marriage because they want to destroy it," Court said in September of equality supporters. "There will be no Mother's Day, there will be no Father's Day, there will be no Easter, there will be no Christmas." (We think Australians are still planning to celebrate Christmas.) Earlier she had said tennis is "filled with lesbians" (like that's a bad thing) and that transgender children are brainwashed with techniques similar to those used by Nazi Germany and devil worshippers. (Hey, if she were American, Trump might nominate her for a federal judgeship!) Other famed tennis players slammed back at her, with John McEnroe suggesting a mass same-sex wedding in the arena named for her and Martina Navratilova tweeting that holidays were in no danger because "us gays love parties." Other good international news for marriage equality this year: Germany's Parliament passed a bill establishing equal marriage rights, and Taiwan's Constitutional Court ruled in favor of equality, giving the government two years to change the nation's marriage laws.
Bob Marshall earned the nicknames "Sideshow Bob" and "Bigot Bob" as the most anti-LGBT member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He's sponsored anti-trans bathroom restrictions, opposed marriage equality, said a gay man shouldn't be a judge in the state, and even objected to the flying of a Pride flag at the Federal Reserve in Richmond, calling it "an attack on public morals." He was first elected to the body in 1992, but his tenure ended this year, thanks to a transgender woman, Danica Roem, who defeated him in November's election. Roem ran a campaign focused on issues such as jobs and transportation, along with equal rights for all, but while she stayed high, Marshall went low. He used anti-trans rhetoric on the campaign trail, even refusing to recognize Roem as a woman. At one point he asked a reporter, "Did Danica's DNA change?" Even after the election, he wouldn't stop. "Virginians must wake up, not be intimidated and fight this radical transgender agenda for the sake of our children and grandchildren," he wrote in a letter published in The Washington Post the week after the election. Buh-bye, Bob.
Roy Moore is the homophobe who won't go away. He was removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to take down a Ten Commandments monument, returned to the court in 2012, and was removed again in 2016 for seeking to block marriage equality. He appealed and was removed for good this year, but then he ran for U.S. Senate from Alabama in a special election to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general. He won the Republican primary over the more "establishment" Luther Strange, who was serving as interim senator, and was expected to beat Democrat Doug Jones in the general election until several women came forward saying Moore had sexually abused them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. He claimed the allegations weren't true, but that combined with his history of anti-LGBT and other extreme-right stands -- and a great turnout for Jones, especially by black women -- to send him down to defeat December 12. As of this writing, though, he refuses to concede, and he's raising funds for an investigation he says will turn up widespread voter fraud. (It's unlikely to change the election's outcome, as Jones won by 20,000 votes.) During the campaign, Moore lived up (or down) to his reputation, saying that transgender people have no rights and that America was great in the first half of the 19th century even though slavery existed then, because "families were united," ignoring the fact that many African-American families were torn apart. He blamed LGBT people, Democrats, and "socialists" for the sexual abuse allegations. After the election he released a video laying out his refusal to concede and deploring modern society, saying, "We have forgotten God ... we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty. Abortion, sodomy, and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Roy, we'd be a lot happier if you'd just retire.
Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT Family Research Council, has been called the Republican Party's "hate whisperer," with good reason. He injected his homophobia into the party platform in 2016, and after Trump took office this year, Perkins found a receptive audience in the new administration. "I've been to the White House I don't know how many more times in the first six months this year than I was during the entire Bush administration," Perkins told The New York Times. He pushed for Trump's ban on military service by transgender people, and his group provided a report to Congress members containing grossly inflated estimates of the cost of providing transition-related care for service members. He was thrilled with the "religious freedom" a.k.a. "license to discriminate" guidance issued by Attorney General Jeff Sessions in October. "Another concrete step was taken toward undoing the anti-faith policies of the Obama administration," he said of the guidance. "While the Obama administration quarantined religious beliefs as if they are a plague -- the Trump administration is restoring our First Freedom to where it's belonged since the founding of our country." Shortly thereafter, Trump became the first sitting president to address the FRC's Values Voter Summit, where he called Perkins a "tremendous guy." Consider the source on that one.
The screeds that come from conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on his talk show and Infowars website are so deranged that it's hard to believe anyone takes them seriously, but some segment of the populace does. Jones has made many bizarre and deeply offensive claims, such as saying the massacre of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School was staged to build support for gun control (he eventually had to walk that back a bit). He denies being homophobic or transphobic, but his rhetoric shows his true colors. There were several examples this year. He called Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff a "fairy" who is "sucking globalist dick" and threatened to "beat [Schiff's] goddamn ass," all because Schiff is investigating Russian interference in the election that put Jones's hero, Donald Trump, in the White House. He later called his anti-Schiff rant an "art performance." He said that transgender women are just gay men who want to pick up more guys, which was mild compared to his later assertion that most trans women are "super ugly," "weigh 500 pounds," and are "sexualizing children." He said that spreading HIV "is a culture now in the gay community." And he rounded out the year with the statement that "most of these butch lesbians ... want to be the guy smacking the hot chick around," which he followed up by laying out an insane torture scenario that's too abhorrent to quote here.
Another tale of oppression overseas has come from Egypt, where there have been mass arrests of gay men this year. In one instance, dozens of men were arrested after some of them raised a rainbow flag at a concert in Cairo in September; they were charged with "promoting sexual deviancy" and subjected to forced anal exams to see if they'd had sex with men. Such tests are not only medically invalid but painful. "Forced anal examinations are abhorrent and amount to torture," said Najia Bounaim, North Africa campaigns director at Amnesty International. "The Egyptian authorities have an appalling track record of using invasive physical tests which amount to torture against detainees in their custody. All plans to carry out such tests on these men must be stopped immediately." Egyptian politicians are also preparing a bill criminalizing homosexuality, and a police unit is entrapping gay men online. Under government pressure, Egyptian media outlets have become complicit in oppression of gays. "The Supreme Council of Media Regulation has banned any media coverage supportive of homosexuality, and government-supported media personalities are railing against homosexuality, likening it to ISIS," Human Rights First's Shawn Gaylord wrote in a November Advocate commentary. "Egyptian authorities are exploiting homophobia to try to foment a society-wide moral panic, enlisting the help of both conservative Islamic and Christian leaders. This serves to obscure the government's myriad policy failings, including a 'war on terrorism' that has only fueled more terrorism." United Nations officials have condemned the actions in Egypt, but there's been a curious silence from the U.S. Gaylord called on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to unequivocally denounce Egypt's antigay repression, but he has shown reluctance to criticize the human rights records of nations that are considered U.S. allies. And his boss, Donald Trump, praises Egypt frequently.