Meet an anti-LGBTQ Senate candidate: Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin

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The Republican incumbent has been a consistent voice against equal rights.

From his first Senate campaign in 2010 to his current re-election bid, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) has almost always come down against protecting LGBTQ rights, earning him a 0 score from the Human Rights Campaign.

While Johnson's campaign site makes no mention of his position on equality, a review of his votes and statements over the past 12 years makes it clear that he does not believe in equal rights for LGBTQ Americans.

Opposing civil rights laws that protect LGBTQ people

Last year, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, a major piece of LGBTQ rights legislation. The bill, which would expressly add protections for LGBTQ people to existing civil rights laws, has stalled in the Senate — where a 60-vote supermajority is required to advance most bills — thanks to opposition from Republicans including Johnson.

"I don't have time to get into all the potential problems with that," Johnson told a Janesville, Wisconsin, radio station last March while speaking about the bill. "I don't think it has a chance in the Senate, which is a good thing for America. By the way, I'm all for equality. I'm just not for their version of equality."

Asked last June at the Milwaukee Press Club's virtual roundtable whether he supported the bill, he answered, "No. I think it'd have horrible unintended consequences."

This is hardly the first LGBTQ civil rights law that Johnson has opposed.

In 2015, he voted to allow service providers to discriminate against LGBTQ homeless and runaway youths.

In 2013, Johnson voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would have explicitly barred businesses from discriminating against job candidates and employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a press release, he said the bill "creates new burdens on employers through vague and undefined terms, increases the federal government’s interference in labor markets, and provides for a religious exemption that is too narrow."

Asked about the legislation, Johnson told ThinkProgress, "I don't particularly like the federal government telling anybody to do anything."

Fighting against marriage equality

Johnson ran in 2010 as a strong opponent of same-sex marriage. "I'm a pretty traditional guy. I believe in a culture of life and I believe marriage is between one man and one woman," he said on his campaign website.

Four years later, as the Supreme Court prepared to make same-sex unions legal across the nation in 2014, Johnson reaffirmed that belief and said he would leave the question of equal rights up to a popular referendum. "I'm a pretty traditional guy. I'm, you know, almost 60 years old," he told CNBC. "I think marriage is between a man and a woman. But again, if the voters decide that they want gay marriage, I'm not going to oppose it."

"When courts inject themselves in social issues they often deepen cultural divisions rather than resolve them," he added in a press release. "Better to let voters in the states decide these issues through a democratic process."

Once the Supreme Court issued its landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling guaranteeing all adult couples the freedom to marry regardless of their sexes in 2015, Johnson repeatedly joined unsuccessful efforts to grant special legal protections to anti-LGBTQ bigots who disagreed with the decision.

Refusing to say 'LGBTQ'

In 2016, Johnson drew national attention for failing to acknowledge that the deadly Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, was a hate crime against the LGBTQ community.

Minimizing the AIDS epidemic

Last year, he claimed that America's top epidemiologist, Dr. Anthony Fauci had "overhyped" both the COVID-19 pandemic and the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. "He created all kinds of fear, saying it could affect the entire population when it couldn't," Johnson said of HIV/AIDS, a disease responsible for more than 36 million deaths globally — many of them gay men. Johnson has frequently pushed disinformation about the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines.

Blocking an openly gay judge

Earlier this year, Johnson blocked openly gay federal judicial nominee William Pocan after recommending him to President Joe Biden. The judge's brother, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), slammed Johnson for demonstrating "increasingly homophobic behavior."

Blocking transgender girls and women from sports and bathrooms

Johnson has been open about his transphobia. At a March 2022 virtual town hall, he argued that transgender girls and women should not be able to participate in sports or use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

"You shouldn't allow biological males to compete against girls. I mean, it's just disheartening to the girls," he said, using an offensive term. "We shouldn't allow biological males to be going into women's bathrooms. It's creepy. It's just not good."

A zero on LGBTQ issues

After once receiving middle-of-the-road ratings from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's most prominent LGBTQ rights group, Johnson earned scores of zero for both the 115th and 116th Congresses — indicating that he voted against equal rights at every opportunity. In contrast, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) — Wisconsin's openly gay junior senator — has a perfect 100 score from the LGBTQ rights organization.

Johnson did, however, receive a 100% rating from FRC Action, the political arm of the Family Research Council. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated that group as an "anti-LGBTQ hate group."

Recent polling has shown Johnson is facing an uphill battle for re-election, with approval ratings in the low to mid-30% range.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.