On the day of his primary earlier this year, the campaign of Malcolm Kenyatta, a Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania state legislature, found fliers all over the streets of North Philadelphia featuring a picture of him and his ex-husband.
A copy of the flier obtained by The Daily Beast shows the couple partially obscured by a red prohibited symbol, with a caption below them taken from an anniversary message Kenyatta once wrote: “Thank you for loving me just as imperfect as I am.”
“Say no!!!!” the flier urged, in red capital letters.
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the anonymously posted fliers were made using a Facebook photo of the former couple, in a clear attempt to capitalize on any anti-gay sentiment among the voters—but Kenyatta won his primary anyway. The 27-year-old candidate told the Inquirer that the fliers were nothing but “bigoted political games.”
Those same anti-LGBT games have been played all across the country this election cycle. With more LGBT candidates running for office in 2018 than at any other point in history—a phenomenon that the advocacy group Victory Fund has dubbed a “rainbow wave”—it is perhaps no surprise that there has been a smattering of the homophobic and transphobic attacks that LGBT candidates are often subject to.
But their baseness is still shocking: In Pennsylvania, as the Pittsburgh Current recently reported, a mailer distributed in the days before the election by “Friends of Daryl Metcalfe”—a Republican incumbent in the statehouse—went to great pains to point out that his Democratic opponent Daniel Smith Jr. is a gay man.
Images of the mailer obtained by The Daily Beast show that it features a photo of Smith Jr. at Pittsburgh PrideFest, as well as a picture of Smith Jr. with another man above a caption that reads “Smith Jr. and the man he calls his ‘husband.’”
Victory Fund, which endorsed Smith Jr., confirmed to The Daily Beast that the man in the second photograph is, in fact, Smith’s actual husband—no scare quotes necessary.
That attack comes just months after a fundraising message from the Metcalfe campaign said that Smith had “already attracted national attention because he is a homosexual,” as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted. Neither the Smith Jr. nor the Metcalfe campaigns immediately responded to The Daily Beast’s request for further comment.
Victory Fund president Annise Parker—who herself faced homophobic attacks when she successfully campaigned to became Houston’s mayor as an out lesbian in 2009–says that anti-LGBT moves at this stage of the game are often a last resort.
“As desperation grows, opponents of LGBTQ candidates too often resort to homophobic and transphobic attacks to stir-up the most prejudiced among us,” she told The Daily Beast in a statement. “But anti-LGBTQ attacks are delivering diminished returns, with fair-minded voters increasingly alienated by attacks on a candidate’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these attacks will backfire and reflect horribly on the candidates who use them.”
There have been other LGBT-related attacks as well, Victory Fund told The Daily Beast.
Mailers sent out in Houston by the Conservative Republicans of Harris County asked voters to “remember when the Democrats wanted to allow men to enter into women’s public bathrooms”—a fallacious reference to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, a since-repealed law that extended public accommodations protections to LGBT people.
The mailer also warned that “Democrats Support A Drag Queen Story Hour (For Kids)” with a photo of a crying baby captioned “Help me!”
The Houston Public Library does indeed host a “Drag Queen Storytime”event, where performers—as the website notes—“help to instill a sense of love and acceptance in our children while encouraging them to be true to themselves.”
But the mailer complains that “tax dollars are paying to fund this program” and that it’s “targeted at children ages 3 [to] 10”—a clear effort to imply that drag queens reading children’s stories would somehow be inappropriate.
Earlier in the cycle, a flier distributed by “Citizens for Common Sense & Rational Behavior” smeared openly gay man Neil Rafferty, who is running for the Alabama House of Representatives, by pointedly listing his “Relationship Status” as “Male Partner.”
More recently, there have even been reported acts of vandalism against LGBT candidates.
As KOVR reported in September, Turlock, California mayor Gary Soiseth, who is gay and running for re-election discovered that the homophobic slur “fag” had been spray-painted onto a campaign yard sign.
In mid-October, Jason Galisatus—an openly gay city council candidate in Redwood City, California—found the word “gay” spray-painted on a fence outside his apartment when he came home one afternoon, as the Bay Area Reporter reported.
Galisatus told the LGBT paper that the local incident was reflective of broader national trends, saying, “The divisive rhetoric coming from the highest level of government is empowering people to act on their hateful sentiments.”
The many transgender candidates running this cycle haven’t been immune either. Just as groundbreaking Virginia state legislature candidate Danica Roem had to endure misgendering on her opponent’s campaign material last year, Amelia Marquez, a candidate for the Montana House of Representatives, has been misgendered by her opponent Rodney Garcia, as The Daily Beast reported in August.
The attacks have not stopped. Copies of an attack mailer recently sent out in the 52nd district show that the Garcia camp accused Marquez of supporting the statement, “Men should be allowed to use the women’s restrooms.”
The back of the flier also seems to present a fairly banal observation about transphobia from Marquez as self-evidently bad: “My opponent says it is ‘stigmatizing’ for trans-gender individuals who are ‘outed’ everytime they have to do their business.’”
Garcia did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the mailer. Marquez, in a statement, told The Daily Beast that Garcia is “showing his true colors” with the attack mailer, adding, “He continues to try and stray the issues away from the working class and make the focus on him.”
Marquez, much like the other LGBT candidates, seems unfazed by these attacks.
After learning that the slur “fag” had been spray-painted on a campaign sign, for example, Soiseth told KVOR, “This gives me more resolve, I’m ready to sprint to the finish line.” And after the Kenyatta camp found the fliers, the winning primary candidate told the Inquirer that voters had “chose[n] vision over vicious politics.”
That kind of focus, says Parker, is not unusual for LGBT candidates, many of whom would set precedents of one form or another in their races: Kenyatta would be the first openly gay black state legislator in Pennsylvania. Galisatus would be the first LGBT person on his city council. And Marquez would be the first openly transgender Montana state legislator.
Parker told The Daily Beast that “it takes courage to run as an openly LGBTQ person and fortunately our people are not easily intimidated. They were under no illusion that to be a trailblazer would be easy.”