After more than three weeks of chaos and Republican in-fighting in the House of Representatives, a new Speaker was elected with the support of the entire Republican caucus, including Rep. Tom Kean Jr., who represents the 7th District of New Jersey
The drama unfolded at such a breakneck pace, that by the point that most Americans had heard of Rep. Mike Johnson for the first time, he had already been elected Speaker.
What we’re learning now about his background and record is troubling in a number of respects. He helped lead the effort to overturn the results of the 2020 election, he chaired the right-wing Republican Study Committee which has repeatedly tried to cut Social Security and Medicare, and he supports a federal ban on abortion.
But one aspect of his record that has flown mostly under the radar is his long history of anti-LGBTQ advocacy. Before being elected to Congress, Johnson worked for the Alliance
Defending Freedom, a radical anti-LGBTQ organization that was designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He has not only consistently opposed marriage equality, but called homosexuality “inherently unnatural” and “dangerous lifestyle”.
That Rep. Tom Kean Jr. would support someone with such bigoted and hateful views for the third highest office in the land is almost unimaginable. I say almost because Rep. Tom Kean Jr. has continually proven that he will say or do whatever he thinks he needs to do to appease the farthest right-wing elements of his party in order to hold onto his seat. Before voting for Johnson, Kean Jr. twice cast his vote for Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the most unrepentant election deniers in the House of Representatives.
As a candidate for Congress, Tom Kean Jr. claimed he regretted his 2010 vote against gay marriage. But after he was willing to so easily lend his support to someone who views LGBTQ Americans as less than human, it is only natural to question the sincerity of his regret. It seems far more likely that this was more shameless political pandering to the LGBTQ community from New Jersey’s most prominent nepo-baby.
One would hope that Rep. Tom Kean Jr. would have the decency to offer a public explanation for his vote and to speak directly with LGBTQ leaders in New Jersey and explain why he was so willing to put their civil rights at risk just so that Republicans could consolidate their power in Washington, D.C. Considering that he has yet to hold a public town hall and has avoided the press at nearly every opportunity, such an explanation seems unlikely.
Unfortunately, this two-step has become Rep. Kean Jr.’s modus operandi: pay lip service to “moderate” political values and sound as uncontroversial as possible, then enable the furthest right elements of the Republican Party behind the scenes and cast his votes for their extreme agenda, and finally refuse to speak with his constituents or the media to explain his hypocrisy.
It feels like after years of making incremental progress for full equality for LGBTQ Americans, we are going backwards in time. We see trans kids coming under threat, increased hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, and more and more anti-LGBTQ legislation coming out of state legislatures. LGBTQ rights feel more under attack than at any point in recent years, and rather than doing anything to fight back, the self-proclaimed “moderates” in the Republican Party have instead emboldened the most far-right bigots in their party.
We are living in a period of increased hate, where politicians like Rep. Tom Kean Jr. are willing to throw the LGBTQ community under the bus for their own political expediency. Luckily, these anti-LGBTQ views are far outside the mainstream of what most Americans believe. Now more than ever, those of us who believe in full equality need to be full-throated in our support for the LGBTQ community and fight back against the rising tide of hate.
Sue Altman is running for office on the Democratic slate to take back the New Jersey House of Representatives 7th district seat from Republican Tom Kean Jr.