These GOP candidates could go to Congress — and threaten LGBTQ peoples' rights

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Three Republicans are challenging some of the most vulnerable Democrats in Congress.

Three GOP candidates with records of opposing LGBTQ rights as lawmakers, making transphobic or homophobic statements, or receiving the support of anti-LGBTQ groups are eyeing the seats of vulnerable Democrats in Congress.

In New Mexico, state Rep. Yvette Herrell is running against Rep. Xochitl Torres Small for her seat in the state's 2nd Congressional District.

Tommy Tuberville, a former university football coach, is running against incumbent Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama.

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And in Michigan, John James, a businessman, is running against incumbent Sen. Gary Peters.

Experts watching the campaigns have said these Democrats are in tight races and could possibly lose their seats without enough voter turnout.

Herrell has a history of voting against protections for LGBTQ children and has been endorsed by an anti-LGBTQ group. In 2017, she voted against a bill to ban "conversion therapy" for minors in New Mexico. The discredited practice is intended to change one's sexual orientation or gender. The legislation passed over Herrell's opposition and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

 "Conversion therapy, or so-called, is an absolutely discredited practice that is tantamount to abuse against minors, and so the fact that she is willing to support that kind of action is deeply concerning," said Lucas Acosta, national press secretary of campaigns for the Human Rights Campaign.

In 2017, Herrell also voted against a bill that allowed transgender people to change their birth certificates without a statement from a doctor that they had had surgeries. The bill passed, but was pocket vetoed by Martinez.

In an interview in April, Herrell complained about drag queen story hours, events at which drag queens read books to children at libraries and schools: "What kind of message are we sending? We're confusing our kids. These are conversations that ought to be happening at the dinner table. ... These kids should not be learning about sexual orientation and LBGT community."

She has also been endorsed by the anti-LGBTQ Family Policy Alliance.

Although Jones' campaign in Alabama had $9 million in cash on hand at the end of June, a Morning Consult poll conducted in late July and early August among likely voters found that Tuberville had a sizable lead in the Senate race. FiveThirtyEight has forecast a high chance of Tuberville beating Jones in November.

Tuberville said in February that he is against transgender athletes playing on teams according to their actual gender, telling a group gathered in Jasper, Alabama: "But I tell what, on one thing, I am against this transgender, guys turning into women, and winning all these state championships all over the country."

After the fast-food restaurant chain Chik-fil-A stopped donating money last year to some groups known for anti-LGBTQ views, Tuberville criticized the decision on Facebook: "Isn't it horrible when liberal activists ruin something good?" He added, "What a shame it is that our Christianity is under attack."

Tuberville has called Trump's presidency, which has launched at least 174 attacks on LGBTQ rights, "a gift from God."

James has been quieter than Tuberville on LGBTQ issues but has received a lot of support from anti-LGBTQ groups.

David Dulio, a professor of political science at Oakland University in Michigan, said the race between Peters and James is "tight."

"[James has] raised a bunch of money, and that has enabled him to keep pace with the Peters campaign. ... They're in a tough battle," Dulio said. He added that Republicans were excited about Peters' low name recognition.

In June, the Michigan Democratic Party released a video of James telling supporters in 2018: "I talk about being pro-family, marriage being between one man and one woman."

Asked in 2018 whether the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, a Michigan state law that includes protects against "discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status" should be changed to protect gay people from discrimination in the workplace, he said wasn't familiar with the specifics of the law and that he wouldn't take a stance on the issue because it was a state law.

Anti-LGBTQ groups and individuals have enthusiastically supported James' bid. He has been endorsed by the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council Action PAC.

A super PAC funded by Richard Uihlein, a Republican businessman, has spent nearly $1 million in support of James. The American Principles Project, which has spent money on ads opposing the Democratic incumbent Peters, has said it plans to air anti-trans ads against Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president.

"What we need is a vocal ally. What we don't need is someone who is going to be there and say they'll tolerate our existence but someone who will actively advocate for our community at every opportunity that they have," said Human Rights Campaign's Acosta.

While Tuberville and Herrell have enthusiastically backed Donald Trump, James has taken a more cautious approach.

Trump has endorsed all three candidates.

All three of the incumbent congressional Democrats these candidates are running to unseat are important supporters of LGBTQ rights and needed in eventually passing the Equality Act, which would provide sweeping nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans, Acosta said. Torres Small voted for the act in the House last year; Peters and Jones are needed if the Equality Act is ever to pass the Senate.

"Mitch McConnell has been single-handedly blocking the bill from going on an up or down vote, and we know that when we keep Gary Peters and Doug Jones, we have a very short path to get that majority we need to pass the Equality Act," Acosta said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.