This afternoon on CNN, Anderson Cooper interviewed Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. You know how these things generally go. The host asks the guest a few questions, the guest regurgitates some talking points, the host tries to pin the guest on a point, the guest evades, everyone laughs, and we go to a commercial. But today would be different!
At some point during the interview, Cooper asks Bondi an uncomfortable question: How, after the massacre in Orlando, can she position herself as a champion of LGBT people when her own office argued vigorously against allowing Florida’s gay citizens to marry? This kicks off a protracted back-and-forth in which Bondi attempts to thread a Constitutionalist needle: She doesn’t really think gay marriage would harm the state of Florida, she just had to argue that in order to do her sworn duty to protect the state’s constitution.
Cooper then asks Bondi how she can trumpet the help line set up by the state for the victims of the Pulse shooting while also having argued against a law that would have granted their partners access to their health information? Bondi responds by obfuscating, saying that today is “about the victims.” Okay.
When Cooper tells Bondi that he has “never really seen [her] talk about gay, lesbian, and transgender people in a positive way” she argues that on her website she has “hands clasped together, all different colored rainbow hands.” If you can find that image, let me know. Bondi’s office did not respond to a request for comment on what she was referring to.
Perhaps most tellingly, after being boxed in by Cooper, Bondi pivots to the sort of statement you would expect to hear from a conservative politician: “The only thing I’m championing is human beings whose lives were lost.” When Cooper asks if she will be a champion for Florida’s gay residents she says, “They are citizens just like anyone else, of course.” Bondi’s yearning to obscure the identity of the shooting’s victims—to not admit that they were targeted for being gay—is predictably becoming a popular move for some Republicans.
As my colleague Rich Juzwiak wrote yesterday, the shooting at Pulse presents an interesting dilemma for the right. They are trained to thunderously denounce mass murder, of course, but also to keep gay people at arm’s length. You can see Bondi being pulled in both directions, and conservative thought leaders are flailing as they try and solve this conundrum. Here, Mollie Hemingway, a writer for the Federalist, tweets about the interview:
CNN claims it’s hypocritical to believe marriage is a union of man and wife and not want gay people killed by ISIS.— Mollie (@MZHemingway) June 14, 2016
But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? To commit mass murder of gay people, one must see us as less than human. To deny gay people the basic human right of marriage, one must also necessarily see us as sub-human. There is no other way to interpret the belief that a class of people deserves a fewer amount of rights because of the way in which they were born.
Like sexuality itself, the way an individual views gay people is not a binary but a spectrum. On one end is Omar Mateen, on the other end are gay people themselves. Everyone else falls in between, and what you’re seeing here are conservatives itching with discomfort over their degrees of closeness to the former.