Worst of 2016: Picking the year's 10 biggest anti-LGBT foes wasn't easy

It's been a challenging year for LGBT rights, from North Carolina's fight over HB 2 to Mike Pence as VP-elect

Published December 31, 2016 10:30PM (EST)

 (Getty/Brendan Hoffman/Tom Pennington/Drew Angerer)
(Getty/Brendan Hoffman/Tom Pennington/Drew Angerer)

2016 was a challenging year for LGBT rights. A year after the Supreme Court legalized equal marriage 5-4 vote, an unprecedented number of bills targeting queer and transgender people were introduced to state legislatures. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than 200 anti-LGBT bills were debated by states across the U.S., including Massachusetts, Illinois, Louisiana, and Montana. Many failed, unable to make it out of committee or vetoed by state governors. Others passed.

The 10 public figures listed below were those most active in creating a climate of bigotry and hate this year, in which a backlash to LGBT equality flourished. If 2017 is just as bad of a year for queer folks as the last one was, you’ll have these people to blame.

1. Pat McCrory, Governor of North Carolina

Pat McCrory, the embattled governor of North Carolina, earned his spot at the top of this list by passing House Bill 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” that targets the trans community for discrimination. HB 2 forces transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate, not their gender identity. The law was protested by over 200 companies, including Apple, Microsoft, and Google, and cost the state an estimated $5 billion each year in lost revenue. Despite the immense damage HB 2 inflicted on the state, McCrory stood by the bill again and again and again. Voters responded to his decision to defend hate by voting him out of office, the only Republican governor to lose his bid for reelection.

This monster McCrory created, though, lives on in his absence. The GOP-controlled legislature failed to strike down HB 2 in late December during a special session of the General Assembly called specifically to repeal it.

2. Mike Pence, Vice President-Elect

Mike Pence’s track record of opposing LGBT rights at every level is nearly unparalleled. While running for Congress in 2000, Pence’s platform was a death sentence for the LGBT community. He advocated diverting the resources from the Ryan White Care Act, which provides life-saving HIV funding, to conversion therapy programs that seek to “change” the orientation of queer youth. During his 12 years in the House of Representatives, Pence voted on multiple occasions in favor of a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as a union exclusively between one man and one woman. He also opposed employment protections that would prevent LGBT workers from being fired.

As the governor of Indiana, Pence went even further. He signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 2015 bill that would allow businesses to deny services to customers based on “sincerely held religious belief.”

His policies are a nightmare for queer people, and as the vice-president elect, Pence will be able to do unprecedented damage to LGBT equality. Emboldened by Donald Trump’s incoming administration, Republicans hope to pass the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill that’s nearly identical to the one Pence pushed through last year. Pence, who Trump promised would be the “most powerful vice-president in history,” has already stated his support for FADA.

3. Ted Cruz, Texas Senator and 2016 Presidential Candidate

One of the biggest proponents of anti-trans bathroom legislation in 2016 was Sen. Ted Cruz, the Tea Party favorite who made anti-LGBT hate a cornerstone of his failed presidential campaign. Cruz, who advocated states ignore the Supreme Court ruling, came out in firm support of HB 2, which he claimed was a “reasonable determination” for North Carolina to make. “Men should not be going to the bathroom with little girls,” he added.

Cruz continually beat the drum for HB 2 on the campaign trail as a way to drive a stake into the heart of his opponent, Republican Donald Trump. Trump initially opposed HB 2, stating that the bill was unnecessary. The billionaire told NBC’s “Today” show in April that people should be able to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” (He later flip-flopped on his stance, siding with North Carolina.) Calling Trump’s initial stance “political-correct nonsense,” Cruz would later advocate that trans people use the restroom at home. The White House hopeful talked about bathrooms so much that political observers speculated it hurt his campaign.

The Texas Senator’s newest crusade will be pushing through the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Cruz is hopeful that this effort will be successful, given that Trump and Pence will occupy the Oval Office. “The prospects for protecting religious freedom are brighter now than they have been in a long time,” he told BuzzFeed News.

4. Dan Patrick, Lieutenant Governor of Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, even the bigots. One of Cruz’s biggest supporters is Lieutenant Dan Patrick, who made headlines following the Pulse nightclub massacre, in which 49 people were gunned down in an Orlando gay bar. Fifty-three more were injured in the June 12 attack, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. The morning of the tragedy, Patrick — currently the lieutenant governor of Texas — tweeted a Bible verse from Galatians 6:7: “A man reaps what he sows.”

Patrick, who claimed “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson’s 2013 rant linking homosexuality to beastality was “God... speaking to us,” is a notorious homophobe. Patrick was called out by his far-right views by The New York Times editorial board after he applauded the failure of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, which allowed trans people equal access in public accommodations, including bathrooms. “Sometime in the near future, a transgender teenager in Texas will attempt suicide — and maybe succeed — because vilifying people for their gender identity remains politically acceptable in America,” The Grey Lady wrote.

The lieutenant governor has been equally busy this year. His legislature recently pushed a bathroom bill, Senate Bill 6, that would bring HB 2-style discrimination to Texas. Patrick has claimed that the legislation, which only applies to transgender women, is a “top priority” for 2017. Next year, Texas lawmakers will also consider a bill that could force teachers and school staff to out LGBT students to their parents.

5. Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council

Tony Perkins is a textbook bigot. Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council, a national anti-LGBT organization formally recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. Throughout his long career of opposing equality, Perkins has claimed that gay men are more likely to be pedophiles, compared homosexuals to drug addicts and terrorists, and blamed sexual assault in the armed forces on the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” He also opposes the adoption rights of same-sex couples and believes that the “It Gets Better” project, whose goal is to prevent LGBT suicide, is a plot to indoctrinate children.

His extreme policies would appear to make Perkins a fringe figure, but he’s surprisingly influential. At this year’s Republican National Convention, Perkins pushed to include language supporting conversion therapy in the official party platform. He was successful in doing so. The current GOP platform includes a thinly veiled reference to the discredited practice, which is opposed by the American Psychological Association: “We support the right of parents to determine the proper treatment or therapy, for their minor children.”

Perkins, who was particularly active in helping move Donald Trump to the right throughout the election, has further put pressure on the president-elect to use the White House as a platform for hate. In a message posted to the Family Research Council website, he advocated that pro-LGBT officials in the State Department be “ferreted out and . . . replaced by conservatives” opposed to equality.

6. Phil Bryant, Governor of Mississippi

Phil Bryant is Mississippi’s answer to Mike Pence. Bryant passed HB 1523 in April, a so-called “religious liberty” bill that legalized broad-based discrimination in the name of faith. The legislation protected businesses, employers, and individuals from litigation, which would allow, say, a county clerk to refuse to sign the marriage license of a legally wedded gay couple. Zach Ford of ThinkProgress also pointed out that the bill could hypothetically be used in a number of different ways — like to deny trans people healthcare and housing, keep same-sex couples from adopting, or even fire a female worker for wearing pants.

Bryant, when accepting the inaugural “Samuel Adams Religious Freedom Award” from none other than Tony Perkins, claimed he would rather be “crucified” than abandon the legislation. He didn’t have to. U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck down the bill in June. Although Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, refused to defend the law in court, Bryant has sought to overturn the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That case is still being debated.

7. Milo Yiannopoulos, Self-styled Alt-Right Spokesperson

Milo Yiannopoulos is a Senior Editor at Breitbart, an alt-right website that serves as a platform for homophobia, transphobia, and white supremacy. His boss, Steve Bannon, once referred to members of the Seven Sisters colleges as a “bunch of dykes.” Yiannopoulos, who is an openly gay man, shared Bannon’s antipathy toward lesbians, as well as seemingly all other women. He has claimed that queer women have are more likely to abuse their romantic partners, that they fake hate crimes, and that there “aren’t really any lesbians,” as Yiannopoulos claimed during a speech at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “You’ll be happier with a boyfriend, darling,” he told a lesbian professor in the audience.

Yiannopoulos, who has both claimed that he wishes he could “cure” his homosexuality and that being gay is a choice, has repeatedly lashed out at a trans student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Adelaide Kramer, in recent weeks after harassing her during a speech he gave at the college. Not satisfied by attacking Kramer while she was in the audience, he further called out the student at subsequent stops on his university tour. Kramer dropped out of school following the incident.

8. Roy Moore, Former Chief Justice of Alabama

When the chief justice of your state’s Supreme Court compares same-sex marriage to the Holocaust, you more or less know what you’re getting. In a 2015 interview with The Birmingham News, Roy Moore also compared the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling to the Dred Scott case, which ruled that African-Americans weren’t legally people and, thus, couldn’t sue in court.

Moore, who claimed during a 2015 speech that “America is under attack” by LGBT and pro-choice activists, ordered probate judges in January to refuse to issue licenses for same-sex couples after the passage of equal marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center would file an ethics complaint against Moore, charging that he was “encouraging lawlessness by attempting to assemble state officials and judges to oppose the federal court system.” The state’s Court of the Judiciary would find Moore guilty of the charge, suspending him from his position in September.

The former justice, who is currently running for a seat in the Senate, bristles the suggestion that he’s a homophobe, as he told Bloomberg Politics. Moore has “many homosexual friends.”

9. Trump’s Cabinet Picks

Donald Trump’s clown car of Cabinet picks, who await Congressional approval, is a “who’s-who” of anti-LGBT public figures. Ben Carson, who ran for the presidency before accepting a position as the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development, has referred to transgender people as “abnormal” and “the height of absurdity.” The family of billionaire charter school advocate Betsy DeVos, tapped to run the Department of Education, donated $100,000 to Michigan’s successful campaign in 2004 to add a Constitutional amendment limiting marriage to as exclusive to heterosexuals. She has also given money to anti-LGBT groups like Focus on the Family and the Tony Perkins-run Family Research Council.

There’s also Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who has voted against recognizing gender identity and sexual orientation under the state’s hate crime legislation, against the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and in favor of blocking marriage equality in the state with a Constitutional amendment opposing the Supreme Court ruling. He’s also a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, who will respectively serve as the ambassador to the U.N. and director of the CIA, both staunchly oppose marriage equality.

10. Donald Trump, President-Elect

Nearly every person on this list is connected to Donald Trump in some way. Mike Pence was his running mate in 2016, soon to be the second most-powerful person in America. Milo Yiannopoulos is a passionate Trump supporter, frequently referring to the billionaire as “Daddy.” Pat McCrory, out of a job in North Carolina, may find a job in Trump’s administration. Dan Patrick served as the chairman of Trump’s campaign in Texas. Phil Bryant, who advocated that Republicans unite behind the CEO, was reportedly in the running for a Cabinet appointment. Ted Cruz, his fierce opponent during the Republican primaries, even phone-banked for Trump during the general election.

Trump advertised himself as an LGBT ally throughout the 2016 race, saying that he would be a better “friend to the gays” than his Democratic challenger, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But even if the president-elect is as gay friendly as he suggests, Trump sure surrounds himself with a ton of bigots. This list speaks volumes about the reality of his presidency, which will be a disaster for the LGBT community.

By Nico Lang