On February 2, the Senate approved Pete Buttigieg for the Cabinet position of Secretary of Transportation. The final vote was 86-13, with one senator not voting. All 13 nay votes were Republicans, which resulted in cries of homophobia from some people. Is voting against a nomination all it takes for calling someone homophobic? If so, what about the 42 Democrats who voted against Richard Grenell’s nomination in 2016? Are they homophobic as well?
After the vote, author and political activist Don Winslow sent out the following tweet:
While Winslow doesn’t specifically say it, his underlying reason for publicizing the names is to shame them for their vote. Since Buttigieg is gay, the obvious conclusion is that those senators are to be shamed for being homophobic. After all, what moron would vote against a gay nominee?
Investigative journalist Jonathan Greenberg replied to Winslow’s tweet:
Unlike Winslow, Greenberg had no problem directly calling the 13 Republican senators homophobes. In fact, he’s already inducted them into “The 2021 Homophobe Hall of Shame!” Greenberg doesn’t even entertain the idea that there might be a reason for voting against Pete Buttigieg. Instead, it’s an automatic homophobic labeling.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell took notice of Winslow’s and Greenberg’s tweets. He pointed out two glaring omissions:
Seven of the above senators were in office in 2016. Were those seven senators homophobic when voting in favor of Richard Grenell? In 2019, ten of those senators were in office. That’s when they confirmed openly gay nominee Patrick J. Bumatay for a United States Circuit Judge position. Were those ten senators homophobic in that vote?
What about those who voted against Grenell and Bumatay? 40 Democrats and two Independents voted against Grenell. 39 and one, respectively, voted against Bumatay. Do Winslow and Greenberg believe those senators are homophobes? After all, they voted against gay nominees. Surely they want to be consistent in who they label as homophobic, right?
Applying the standards set by Winslow and Greenberg, this means we have a homophobic Vice President in office. In 2016, then Senator Kamala Harris voted against Grenell’s nomination. As did Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. None of them voted on Bumatay’s nomination in 2019. That may be because they were out on the campaign trail at the time. Though I’m sure both Winslow and Greenberg believe all three would have reinforced their homophobia by voting against Bumatay had they been on the floor at the time.
Sadly, the tactic taken by Winslow and Greenberg has become the norm for many people these days. Instead of taking those 13 senators to task for their actual reasons for voting against Pete Buttigieg, they simply label them homophobic and wash their hands of any real discussion.
We’re seeing this exact same labeling taking place today now that Neera Tanden’s Office of Management and Budget nomination is hung up in committee. After Senator Joe Manchin announced his opposition, he was immediately labeled sexist by many. Never mind his stated reason of her past tweets being an issue. Or his past votes in favor of female nominations. To many, the only reason he’s against her is his sexism.
Throwing out labels like homophobic and sexist simply for not having the same point-of-view as you is dangerous. It diminishes the true meaning of those words. It also makes it difficult, if not impossible, to later have an actual discussion on those topics when a real need to do so arises. By all means, take senators to task if they do something you don’t agree with. Just stop with the harmful labeling when you have nothing to support it.