Mike Johnson and the "homosexual agenda": Trump's ally in Congress has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ hate

The Republican House Speaker has for decades lobbied against efforts to extend legal rights to the LGBTQ+ community

Published June 5, 2024 4:05PM (EDT)

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., and Vice chair Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, left, conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center after a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., and Vice chair Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, left, conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center after a meeting of the House Republican Conference on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

As a lawyer in Louisiana and then as an elected politician, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., has spent most of his life trying to save America and the world from the "destructive" influence of gay culture, which he apparently believes is more harmful to democracy than helping Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election.

Now speaker of the House, the Louisiana Republican is for the first time presiding over the chamber during Pride Month, an occasion he has not noted in any public statement. Critics would argue his record speaks for itself.

Johnson's vehement opposition to anything gay puts him on the far right of even the current Republican caucus, which includes members who claim to be welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community. But he's also the Republican leader at a time when his party has stepped up its attacks on trans people, in word and deed. As someone who has worked to thwart "the homosexual agenda's assault on the traditional family" since his time as a young lawyer, Johnson is not likely to moderate his stance now — and his ascendancy suggests that Donald Trump's GOP is okay with that.

After graduating from law school, Johnson worked as a counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a socially conservative advocacy organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group. There, his expertise appeared to be centered on the legal punishment of homosexuality. Before the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that laws prohibiting private, consensual sex between adults were unconstitutional, Johnson helped write an amicus brief to oppose such a decision. And when the battleground shifted to marriage, Johnson followed, backing Louisiana Amendment 1 in 2004, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, against legal challenges that he warned would "open the floodgates to chaos and anarchy."

The "chaos and anarchy" that Johnson referred to included, in his view, polygamy, pedophilia, and bestiality. "If we change marriage for the homosexual activists, we will have to do it for every deviant group ... there will be no legal basis to deny a bisexual the right to marry a partner of each sex, or a person to marry his pet," he wrote in a 2004 Op-Ed. Johnson's escalating alarm over gay rights extended to the foundations of American democracy, which he said in the same piece would be "destroyed" if same-sex marriage were officially recognized.

Johnson's record of opposing gay rights is matched by his enduring association with Christian fundamentalist groups, some of which have hosted advocates of executing people for homosexual acts. He has also embraced Christian Nationalist tenets, claiming America's founders, despite their expressed opposition to mixing church and state, "followed the biblical admonition on what a civil society is supposed to look like." And he has worked to impose his own retrograde interpretations of biblical law, such as by suing New Orleans for giving health care benefits to gay city workers and their partners, offering pro-bono representation to clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, writing a memo to Louisiana government officials detailing how they can defy the Supreme Court's ruling to legalize same-sex marriage, and opposing the anti-bullying Day of Silence, claiming its real purpose was to suggest "homosexuality is good for society."

"There is an agenda ... where the homosexual viewpoint is being — students are being indoctrinated," he told Fox News' Bill O'Reilly in 2006.

We need your help to stay independent

As a state legislator, Johnson made it a ritual to introduce anti-LGBTQ+ bills that generally died in committee, though his allies have sometimes found ways to shoehorn its policies into other bills or, in the case of a much-ballyhooed 2015 bill to block the state of Louisiana from prosecuting businesses for discriminating against gay people, through executive action, courtesy of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal.

"I'm not sure why it would upset anyone," Johnson said at the time of the so-called "Louisiana Marriage and Conscience Act."

What Johnson couldn't accomplish in the Louisiana House of Representatives, he applauded when others  succeeded.

"We commend you for standing by constitutional principle [sic]," he and 16 other GOP legislators wrote to then-Louisiana Attorney General (now Governor) Jeff Landry for blocking state contracts that include anti-discrimination measures protecting LGBTQ+ individuals from firing and harassment.

After just two years in the state legislature, Johnson ran for the U.S. House in 2016 and won. Seven years later, he ran to replace Kevin McCarthy as speaker, making an issue over his rival's vote in favor of the federal government recognizing same-sex marriage. Now trying to mold a persona under the national spotlight, Johnson has more recently said he does not remember some of his more strident rhetoric.

At least some openly gay Republicans appear to have been placated. Charles Moran, the president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said that he would give Johnson "the benefit of the doubt" after hearing reassurances from his office.

Democrats are less trusting.

"While Trump and MAGA Mike push an unpopular anti-freedom, pro-discrimination agenda, President Biden is fighting for LGBTQ+ rights so that every American can be who they are and love who they love," DNC spokesperson Emilia Rowland told Salon.

Indeed, Johnson has often shown himself to be unrepentant. At the end of 2023, he sent out a fundraising email warning that "1 in 4 high school students identifies as something other than straight — what are they being taught in school?" and accusing the LGBTQ+ community of perpetuating a "filth that passes for popular culture these days."

"Let's face it — we live in a depraved culture," he wrote. "I didn't want to believe it at first, but I fear God may allow our nation to enter into a time of judgment for our collective sins."

To mark the start of 2024, Johnson appeared at an event hosted by an "anti-LGBTQ+ hate group," per the Southern Poverty Law Center, where he spoke about "cultural upheaval" at the behest of pastor Jonathan Cahn, who himself declared that LGBTQ+ and other forms of activism are a form of "demonic repossession."

Johnson alone won't be able to exorcise America of gay rights. But he does have a friend in Trump, who has praised him as "doing a very good job" in Congress — and is hoping to work with him again come 2025.

By Nicholas Liu

Nicholas (Nick) Liu is a News Fellow at Salon. He grew up in Hong Kong, earned a B.A. in History at the University of Chicago, and began writing for local publications like the Santa Barbara Independent and Straus News Manhattan.

MORE FROM Nicholas Liu

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Mike Johnson