The wave of recent anti-LGBTQ+ bills launched across the US is unlikely to win over voters who are more focused on practical issues such as health and education, said a trailblazing Black gay lawmaker.
The spate of conservative-sponsored legislation from anti-trans bills to drag queen bans is a backlash against the growing support for LGBTQ+ rights, said Pennsylvania state representative Malcolm Kenyatta, as polls show rising acceptance among Americans.
“People only fight you when you’re winning,” Democrat Kenyatta, 32, told Openly.
“When people are given an option between somebody who’s going to lower your healthcare costs, who’s going to help your kid go to a good school … versus somebody who’s picking on drag queens. I mean, give me a break.”
In 2018, Kenyatta – the grandson of renowned 1960s civil rights leader Muhammad I. Kenyatta – became the first openly LGBTQ+ person of colour to win election to the Pennsylvania state legislature.
He ran for the Democratic nomination for US Senate in 2021, aiming to become the country’s first Black gay senator, but lost to John Fetterman, who went on to win the seat.
The documentary film “Kenyatta: Do Not Wait Your Turn”, which followed his senate run, was released last month at the annual BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival.
Kenyatta is now running for Pennsylvania auditor general, which would see him oversee the state’s financial accounts.
He spoke out as debate raged over LGBTQ+ issues in the US, pitting conservatives citing family values against activists pushing to protect and expand rights.
Republicans in various states have pursued a wave of laws directed at LGBTQ people – limiting transgender participation in sports, access to gender-affirming medical care and teaching subjects related to gender identity or sexual orientation.
LGBTQ+ rights group Human Rights Campaign in February said it was tracking 340 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced by state legislators, 150 of which were specifically aimed at trans people.
Last year, Florida banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for many young students, while Tennessee lawmakers in February attempted to restrict public drag shows with a bill that has since been blocked by a judge.
“What’s happening in Florida and in Tennessee is emblematic of a real strain of hatred and bigotry in the body politic that has found real champions and national leaders,” Kenyatta said.
However, he said he has learned not to get rattled by those who seek to undermine sexual and gender minorities’ rights.
“A part of what hateful folks want you to do is to be sad, is to be angry,” Kenyatta said.
“You don’t have to conform … I think the most powerful thing you can do is to just live your life.”
Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh.
GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.