Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images PHOENIX, ARIZONA - AUGUST 01: Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake greets supporters after speaking at a campaign event on the eve of the primary, attended also by U.S. senatorial candidate Blake Masters at the Duce bar on August 01, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. Lake, who has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, is facing Karrin Taylor Robson, who is being backed by former Vice President Mike Pence.
Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Lake has said she would not sign a hypothetical bill to protect gay and trans people under Arizona’s existing discrimination laws.

Kari Lake, one of Arizona’s top Republican candidates for the upcoming gubernatorial election, has recently fallen into hot water when it turned out that her words condemning drag shows did not align with her previous actions. A Phoenix drag queen revealed that he and Lake had been longtime friends, and that she had even invited him to perform at her house.

Lake is at the forefront of Republicans who have disparaged drag shows, as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in schools, as part of the party’s latest moral panic. She recently tweeted: “They kicked God out of schools and welcomed the Drag Queens. They took down our Flag and replaced it with a rainbow. They seek to disarm Americans and militarize our Enemies. Let’s bring back the basics: God, Guns & Glory.”

Fabricated Moral Panic

Kari Lake claims that the LGBTQ pride flag is undermining American culture. But in a June 20 interview on KFYI radio, she claimed that she receives regular support from gay people across Arizona – and that these gay people are “fed up” like she is.

“[Gay people] don’t want it,” Lake said. “They want their rights, and they want to be left alone to live their lives.”

This all comes as part of a widespread political attack on LGBTQ rights over the past year. Right-wing groups have stirred up a moral panic that paints gay and trans people as “groomers” – playing on archaic and bigoted stereotypes that these people are pedophiles who prey on and corrupt children. 

The result: in 2022 alone, more than 240 bills meant to target the LGBTQ community have been filed in state legislatures across the country, usually under the false guise of protecting children. Most of them attempted to bar trans people from playing sports, using the bathroom that aligns with their identity, or accessing gender-affirming healthcare.

Dragged Through the Mud for Political Points

Drag shows have been the latest target in the right-wing culture war, with politicians and pundits claiming that the shows have inappropriate content that “sexualizes” children. While performances are occasionally risque, there is rarely explicit sexual content.

“[Kari Lake is] friends with drag queens,” Richard Stevens, who performs under the stage name Barbra Seville, told The Arizona Republic. “She’s had her kid in front of a drag queen. I’ve done drag in her home for her friends and family. She’s not threatened by them. She would come to shows constantly. To make me be the bogeyman for political gain, it was just too much.”

During Pride Month, fearmongering around drag shows reached a fever pitch. Some venues hosting drag events were met with threats of violence. In California, a group of men stormed a Drag Queen Story Hour event at a local library, reportedly shouting homophobic slurs as they “attempted to escalate to violence.”

A lawyer representing Lake has sent Stevens a “cease and desist” letter. Lake went on to deny these allegations, saying she will sue Stevens for defamation. She also attempted to discredit Stevens himself, calling him a “radical left-wing activist.”

“Our paper here in town takes his word, his lies that he threw out, and treats them as gospel. It’s outrageous,” Lake said.

Railing Against Anti-Discrimination Policies

Recently, Lake accused President Joe Biden of promoting “grooming,” claiming that he is “withholding National School Lunch Program Funds from schools that don’t adopt his perverted sexual agenda.” In reality, what happened is that the Department of Agriculture released guidance that would prohibit anti-LGBTQ discrimination in any program that receives federal nutrition money, including many school lunch programs. Notably, the guidance only applies to those specific programs; schools that follow the guidance in those programs while discriminating against LGBTQ students in other ways would continue to receive funding.

Lake has frequently stated her opposition to LGBTQ inclusion in schools. In a March interview on KNST radio, she blasted schools that teach students about gender identity, claiming that they are promoting “confusion.”

“This is why it is so important, and maybe the most important, for people to run for school board, some people with sanity who aren’t going to push this on our children,” said Lake. “Can you imagine back while we were going to school if a teacher would have been talking about all of this crazy stuff? Gender identity? It’s just so lunatic.”

‘I Have a Lot of Gay Friends’

According to Lake, her disparagement of “gender identity” has earned her support among working-class gay people. In the June 20 interview, she used this alleged support to further attack the so-called “radicals,” who she compared to the mafia.

“Not a week goes by that I don’t have a gay man or woman come up to me and say, ‘I’m with you all the way,’” Lake said. “Sane, hardworking gay men and women are fed up with being held hostage by the alphabet mafia.”

This is not the first time Lake has claimed that certain gay people stand with her against the overall culture. In February, she said that as governor, she would not sign a hypothetical bill to protect gay and trans people under existing Arizona discrimination law, and claimed that her “gay friends” would oppose such a bill, too.

“I worked in the media; I have a lot of gay friends. They’re appalled by what’s happening,” Lake said. “They want their rights, and they don’t want to have — most of my gay friends are appalled with the ‘BTQ+’ [bisexual, transgender, and queer] everything they keep adding to it.”

Republican Candidates in Agreement

Karrin Taylor Robson, who is currently Lake’s leading opponent in the GOP primary, also said she would not sign such a bill.

Lake and Robson’s refusal has become starkly more relevant with the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, leaving individual states to decide the legality of abortion. Justice Clarence Thomas has written that he wants the court to “reconsider” other landmark civil rights rulings. This includes Obergefell v. Hodges, which guarantees marriage equality for same-sex couples, and Lawrence v. Texas, which protects the right of consenting adults to engage in same-sex intimacy in the privacy of their homes. 

If the Supreme Court overturns these rulings, then these issues will be decided on a state level, as with abortion. Several states still have laws on the books that could be reactivated in that event. In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is a Republican, said that he would defend a currently-defunct law banning “sodomy” should Lawrence be overturned.

Arizona once had a similar law banning non-procreative sexual acts, but it was repealed in 2001.

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