Gov. Ron DeSantis is defending an anti-LGBTQ video his campaign shared online that attacks rival Donald Trump for his past support of gay and transgender people, despite some of his fellow Republicans calling it homophobic.
DeSantis, in an interview Wednesday on the podcast of conservative commentator Tomi Lahren, did not address accusations that the video was homophobic but said the intent was “identifying Donald Trump as really being a pioneer in injecting gender ideology into the mainstream where he was having men compete against women in his beauty pageants.”
“I think that’s totally fair game because he’s now campaigning, saying the opposite, that he doesn’t think that you should have men competing in women’s things like athletics,” DeSantis said.
His presidential campaign shared the video on Twitter last week, on the last day of June’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month, saying, “To wrap up ‘Pride Month,’ let’s hear from the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate it.”
The video was posted amid a growing conservative campaign against LGBTQ rights and celebrations. It highlighted some of Trump’s past statements supporting LGBTQ people, including saying he’d be OK with transgender women competing one day in the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump owned at the time of those remarks.
It also featured dark images of DeSantis with lightning coming out of his eyes, headlines that said he signed a “draconian anti-trans bathroom bill” and images of muscular shirtless men and clips of Christian Bale in the 2000 movie “American Psycho,” in which he plays a serial killer.
After the video was shared by the DeSantis War Room Twitter account on Friday, it drew immediate criticism. The Log Cabin Republicans, an organization dedicated to representing LGBT conservatives, called the video “divisive and desperate” and said it “ventured into homophobic territory.”
Republican Richard Grenell, who served as Trump’s national intelligence director and was the first openly gay Cabinet member in any administration, said the video was “undeniably homophobic.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, a Democrat who is openly gay, criticized the video during an interview on CNN on Sunday.
“I’m going to leave aside the strangeness of trying to prove your manhood by putting up a video that splices images of you in between oiled-up shirtless bodybuilders, and just get to a bigger issue that is on my mind whenever I see this stuff in the policy space, which is, again, who are you trying to help? Who are you trying to make better off?” Buttigieg said.
Steven Cheung, a spokesperson for Trump’s campaign, responded to the governor’s comments using a version of a derisive nickname Trump has been using for DeSantis, saying simply: “A desperate DeSanctus campaign, with a flailing candidate, in its last throes of relevancy.”
DeSantis’ campaign on Thursday declined to comment further or respond to the criticism.
The video comes as some conservatives have formed an increasingly vocal and hostile campaign against LGBTQ+ rights — from the backlash to corporations that have shown support for LGBTQ+ people to attempts to ban rainbow Pride flag displays, restrict drag shows, ban gender-affirming care for minors and restrict transgender athletes from competitive sports.
The movement has become a central point in the GOP presidential contest, with DeSantis in particular highlighting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation he’s signed and criticizing President Joe Biden for displaying the Pride flag at the White House.
Trump has pledged that, if elected to the White House again, he would sign executive orders that cut U.S. tax funding for schools pushing “transgender insanity” and health care providers offering gender-affirming care for minors.
Trump and DeSantis both frequently attack the participation of transgender women in women’s sports and label gender-affirming care for minors as “mutilation.”