GOP candidates spew anti-trans rhetoric at Iowa fundraiser

Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence speaks on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Indianapolis.
Republican presidential candidate and former Vice President Mike Pence speaks on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Indianapolis.
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Some candidates for the Republican nomination for president vilified transgender Americans at a fundraiser for the Iowa Republican Party that was held in Des Moines.

“We are hungry for a cause, we are hungry for a purpose and meaning and identity at a time in our national history when the things that used to fill that void — faith, patriotism, hard work, family — these things have disappeared and that leaves a moral vacuum, a black hole in its wake,” said Vivek Ramaswamy, 37, a businessman who presented himself as the voice of a generation during the Lincoln Dinner. “And when you have a black hole that runs that deep, that is when the poison fills the void: wokeism, transgenderism, climatism, COVIDism, globalism, depression, anxiety, fentanyl, suicide.”

The annual fundraiser is often a platform for political candidates. It receives greater attention during national elections. Thirteen candidates for president spoke during the July 29 event, with each candidate given just 10 minutes to make their pitch. That crowded field and short time prompted some to give inflammatory speeches that typically said America was in disastrous condition. Their remedies were little more than a collection of fixes that Republicans have been selling for years or decades.

In a speech that assumed that Ramaswamy would win the presidency in 2024 and a second term in 2028, he promised to eliminate the US Department of Education, a conservative goal since the agency was created in 1979, and the federal Centers of Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), the FBI, the IRS, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). Eliminating those agencies would require approval by Congress. Ramaswamy concluded with a series of rhetorical flourishes that included “[T]here are two genders.” 

Donald Trump, who spoke last, began his 10 minutes by telling the crowd about the cash and policy wins he had delivered for Iowa and farmers. He reminded them that his three appointees to the US Supreme Court had tipped the balance there and produced the 2022 decision that ended the right to abortion. Democrats, Trump said, are “willing to kill babies even after birth.” He used the same racist and false line that opened his 2015 campaign, saying he will “stop the invasion of criminals, in many cases, coming through our border.”

Referring to a second term, Trump added, “On day one, I will sign an executive order to cut federal funding for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender insanity, and other inappropriate racial, sexual, or political content on children. I will keep men out of women’s sports…And I will sign a law prohibiting child sexual mutilation.”

No one in the LGBTQ community has ever advocated for “child sexual mutilation.” With a few exceptions, the community has consistently supported and trusted transgender teens and children, their parents, and medical providers to make decisions about their healthcare. The current attacks on transgender people are driven by a small number of stories, which may or may not be true, about supposed failed treatment of transgender kids and adults. 

Surprising no one, former vice president Mike Pence said President Joe Biden’s “assault on life, religious liberty, and traditional values threatens the wellbeing of our children.” The former vice president said he would “end the political correctness at the Pentagon, including reinstituting a ban on transgender personnel in the United States military.” He also promised to sign a “15-week ban on abortion under federal law.” Pence is a conservative evangelical with a lengthy anti-LGBTQ record.

What was a surprise was the constrained tone adopted by Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor. Under his direction in 2022, that state banned discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools in kindergarten through third grade. Florida’s Department of Education has since extended that ban through 12th grade. Florida banned healthcare for transgender people this year.

DeSantis made only an oblique reference to the ban on LGBTQ content, saying that Florida had enacted a “parents bill of rights.” In 2022, those who opposed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill were labeled by a DeSantis spokesperson as pedophiles or “groomers,” as the spokesperson said. Discussions of critical race theory are also banned. He did say that Florida has “eliminated critical race theory in our K through 12 schools.” Critical race theory is taught in law schools. The DeSantis administration has since approved a school curriculum that describes American slavery as a benevolent institution in some ways. American slavery was a singularly brutal and immoral practice.

Other candidates also insulted transgender people in their speeches. Senator Tim Scott, who represents South Carolina, said, “If God made you man, you play sports against men.” Perry Johnson, a businessman who said he was “ultra conservative, pro-life, anti-woke, anti-China,” promised three actions if elected: He would “Freeze the [federal] budget and cut two cents out of every dollar of discretionary spending,” eliminate the US Department of education, and fight against gender-affirming care.

Will Hurd, a former House member who represented a Texas district for six years, showed how stale the Republican Party has become when he referred to the “new cold war that we are in with the Chinese government.” Anyone who lived through the US cold war with the USSR knows that there is no comparison. But Hurd was willing to confront the Republican Party’s adoration of Trump.

“The reason that Donald Trump lost the election in 2020 is he failed to grow the GOP brand in areas like women with a college degree in the suburbs, like Black and brown communities, and people under the age of 35,” Hurd said. “Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison…If we elect Donald Trump, we are giving Joe Biden four more years in the White House and America can’t handle that.”

Hurd exited the stage to loud boos and jeers.