Opinion | The sneaky, spiteful new way Republicans are working to undermine LGBTQ groups

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House Republicans are quietly trying to use a normally inconspicuous congressional budget process to make life for LGBTQ Americans as repressive as possible.

Under new rules set out last month by House Appropriations Committee Chair Tom Cole, R-Okla., members can no longer request funds for nonprofits in their districts under the Economic Development Initiative, a federal program designed to help these organizations provide needed social services to their constituents. While these requests are known pejoratively as “earmarks,” insidiously lumped together with corrupt or pay-to-play projects for special interests and wealthy donors, this social services funding is actually vital to communities and peoples’ lives. In the most recent budget, EDI earmarks provided hundreds of millions of dollars to YMCAs, Boys and Girls clubs, shelters for domestic violence survivors, and other important organizations.

But because Republicans want to block any of these federal funds from being used by organizations that serve LGBTQ people, Cole decided that no nonprofits will be eligible for these funds.

In negotiations for the most recent budget, House Republicans made multiple efforts to block funding to LGBTQ community service centers, first in committee and then again at the eleventh hour in the package of spending bills Congress passed to avert a government shutdown. Their efforts were met with limited success: The package did not include funding for Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center after it was targeted by the anti-LGBTQ social media account Libs of TikTok. Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., even compared funding the William Way center to funding the Ku Klux Klan.

But because Democrats control the Senate, other LGBTQ nonprofits’ earmarks were preserved. The spending package included $850,000 for The Pryde, an affordable housing project in Massachusetts for LGBTQ older adults facing skyrocketing real estate costs. It also allocated $400,000 to Briarpatch Youth Services, which serves homeless youth in Wisconsin, despite bad faith attacks by Republicans and their allies. Advancing American Freedom, an advocacy group founded by former Vice President Mike Pence, charged that the federal government should not be “subsidizing trans clothing for MINORS!” In fact, the Briarpatch funding is restricted to counseling and mental health services for homeless youth, not the organization’s LGBTQ services.

The presence of these earmarks put Republicans in a political bind. Rep. Robert Aderholt of Alabama, for example, who had secured $13 million in funding for a STEM education center for his district, nonetheless seized the opportunity to score points with the base. He voted against the final package, claiming the Senate had “taken liberties” with it. He compiled a laundry list of conspiratorial complaints about services to LGBTQ people, including that one funded organization had advertised a drag brunch. Other far-right GOP representatives blasted the bill for funding “shocking” programs like “gay senior housing.”

After the spending package passed, Pence’s organization spearheaded a letter to lawmakers, signed by other conservative leaders, attacking Congress for funding “organizations that indoctrinate children in gender ideology without their parents’ knowledge.” A few weeks later, Cole admitted that Republicans feared backlash from their base. “Some of these [projects] are unobjectionable, some of them create political problems for people,” Cole told reporters. “That’s just the reality of it. I shouldn’t have to have a political problem in my district because I voted for a bill that had your earmark in it.” He followed that with the change in rules that his Democratic counterpart on the Appropriations Committee, Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, called a “seismic shift” that would hurt all nonprofit social services organizations and Republicans’ own constituents served by them.

These appropriations battles might seem in the weeds and difficult to follow. But they are emblematic of today’s virulently anti-LGBTQ GOP. The modern Republican Party both creates and seeks out conspiracies about an imagined takeover of American families by “gender ideology,” a scare term that has replaced the supposed “homosexual agenda” the Christian right fear-mongered over in the 1980s.

Since then, there have been unparalleled advances in LGBTQ rights, fueling a homophobic and transphobic backlash on the right. Right-wing advocates have succeeded in convincing the Supreme Court that conservative Christians’ freedom of religion and speech are under siege by LGBTQ rights. During the Trump administration, Christian right activists dismantled hard-won transgender rights to nondiscrimination in health care, and they plan to reverse the Biden administration’s restoration of these rights if Donald Trump were to regain power. In the states, Republican legislators bent on implementing a “biblical worldview” strip trans people of their rights to health care.

And then there’s Congress, where Republicans, despite only controlling one chamber by the slimmest of margins, are resorting to the most cynical ways of immiserating citizens to pander to their base. As the next budget battle come into focus, Cole’s efforts could well be blunted by the Senate, or lawmakers could find other funding streams unaffected by Cole’s new rule. But one should expect the Republican attacks on the LGBTQ community to continue, as the Christian right, with its conspiratorial anti-LGBTQ vitriol, flexes its outsize power and clout within the GOP.

This article was originally published on MSNBC.com