North Carolina’s Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, under fire for making derogatory comments about LGBTQ people, says he won’t be resigning — and Republicans in the General Assembly are standing behind him.
In a survey this week from The Charlotte Observer, some Democrats said they think Robinson should resign from office but not one Republican who responded agreed.
Party unity isn’t surprising, but support of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric appears to conflict with a notable shift in public opinion about gay and transgender rights in recent years. Even among Republicans, support for gay and transgender people are more widespread than ever.
But even with strong support for many LGBTQ issues among most Republican voters, the political risk-and-reward calculus may still lend itself to comments like Robinson’s — or, at the least, does not encourage Republicans to condemn them.
The Observer emailed every member of the North Carolina General Assembly asking whether Robinson should resign. Of the 170 members, just 35 responded. Of those, 26 (all Democrats) said he should resign, while eight said he should not.
One Democrat, Rep. Charles Graham, who is running for Congress, condemned the language but did not give a clear answer as to whether Robinson should resign.
The responses aligned mostly with party affiliation. One Democrat, Sen. Dan Blue, agreed with Republicans that Robinson’s comments were not enough to warrant a retreat from office.
“Short of committing a crime or violating the oath of office, it is up to the voters to decide whether they want a demagogue serving them,” Leslie Edwards, Blue’s spokeswoman, said in an statement.
“But, as a Christian, he thinks Robinson should ask for forgiveness for the hate in his heart,” she added.
What Robinson said
Recently-released video showed Mr. Robinson telling a crowd in June: “There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality, any of that filth. And yes, I called it filth.”
In August, he told a religious gathering: “If there’s a movement in this country that is demonic, and that is full of anti-, the spirit of Antichrist, it is the transgender movement.”
Robinson said during a press conference on Tuesday that his personal views about gay and transgender issues are separate from his role as lieutenant governor.
“I will fight every day as lieutenant governor to make sure that people’s Constitutional rights, both state and federal, are protected — even if I disagree with those ... lifestyles on a personal or spiritual level,” he said.
Responding to criticism from Democratic lawmakers, Robinson said his comments about children being exposed to “filth” were about books that are available in some public schools.
Specifically, he has referred to “Gender Queer: A Memoir” by Maia Kobabe, “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison and “George” by Alex Gino.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools did not confirm in time for this story whether any of these books were available in its school libraries. The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported Wednesday that two high schools in Wake County have a copy of “Gender Queer” available in libraries, and it is listed in library catalogs for an Orange County high school and CMS’ East Mecklenburg High. Robinson claims the books in question are also available in schools in at least seven other counties, the N&O reported.
During his press conference, Robinson showed sexually explicit images from “Gender Queer: A Memoir,” which is available in at least some school libraries. It is unclear whether any of the books are actually used in school curriculum, rather than just being available in some libraries.
Some Republicans who responded to the Observer’s survey said they believed that Robinson was only referring to what books should be available in schools.
“I assume he was referring to pornography and/or obscenity that could steal a student’s innocence; therefore, he should not resign,” Rep. Kelly Hastings said in a statement. “As a Christian, I believe we are all sinners and can be forgiven by God.”
Rep. Jake Johnson said in a statement that he believed Robinson was referring to “the display and promotion of explicit images being shown to young children, and any social agenda being pushed onto students.”
“Most parents I have spoken to agree that children are in school to learn to read, write, do math and learn basic social skills,” he added. “Not to be inundated with any social or political agenda.”
Of the Mecklenburg County delegation, most told the Observer that Robinson should resign. Reps. Kelly Alexander, John Bradford III, Carla Cunningham, Carolyn Logan, as well as Sens. Mujtaba Mohammed, Jeff Jackson and Joyce Waddell did not respond to the survey.
Both Jackson and Cheri Beasley, two candidates running for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seat, have called on Robinson to resign.
For Democrats, though, calling out Robinson is relatively painless.
“It doesn’t matter what Democrats say about Mark Robinson, it matters what Republicans say about Mark Robinson,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University who studies the role of gender in politics.
Why Republicans won’t call for resignation
So far, Republicans haven’t said much. N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore told the News & Observer that he also believed Robinson was referring to books, not to LGBTQ people themselves.
Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas who studies public opinion and LGBTQ rights, said there has been a “dramatic shift” in public opinion on gay and lesbian rights since the 1990s. In more recent years, transgender rights have also seen a swell of support.
Support for things like gay marriage and adoption rights for gay couples have more than doubled since the 1990s, according to an analysis of polling by the UCLA’s Williams Institute. While there is much less polling on attitudes toward transgender people, the Williams Institute found two surveys that indicate that public approval increased by 40% between 2005 and 2011.
Much of that shift has come with the natural progression of time, Miller said. As members of one generation grow old and die, their children, who are generally more liberal, take up a larger piece of the public-opinion pie. Still, the polling indicates many Americans have simply changed their minds, in favor of LGBTQ acceptance.
Although that shift has included many Republicans, it is less apparent among white evangelicals — a major force in GOP politics, Miller said. Even among many Republican voters who wouldn’t approve of Robinson’s comments, LGBT issues are not among their top issues when they go to the polls, he said.
“If I’m a Republican in the North Carolina legislature, then I’m thinking: What do I risk or what do I gain by condemning his comments?” Miller said. “I don’t see a lot of gain in that because I’m sticking my neck out on a low-priority issue.”
Along with that, they would risk alienating evangelicals who do prioritize so-called “culture war” issues.
“For Republicans to publicly call for Robinson to resign, I suspect, would be seen as akin to liberal cancel culture mobs,” Greene said.
Robinson’s comments, even if they are not enough to cause backlash from his own party, are unusual in their tone.
During the House Bill 2 era in 2017, where North Carolina lawmakers blocked a nondiscrimination expansion in Charlotte and barred people from using bathrooms that do not align with their sex at birth, officials framed the issue as protecting women and children. Politicians had, by then, generally abandoned using words like “filth” and “Antichrist” when discussing LGBTQ issues.
“I don’t think it’s fair to characterize his comments as limited to … school curriculum,” said Adam Polaski, the communications director for the Campaign for Southern Equality. “He said transgender people are demonic. It’s not a limited policy debate: This is about dehumanizing people.”