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Kelley Robinson Says, ‘We’re Here, We’re Queer, and We Are Voting!’

Kelley Robinson Says, ‘We’re Here, We’re Queer, and We Are Voting!’

This week, a new co-host is announced and Daniella sits down with Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson to discuss how the fast-growing LGBTQI+ voting bloc might shape future elections.

Part of a Series

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson joins the show to discuss the impacts of state abortion bans and anti-trans legislation; ways to safeguard against attacks from radical MAGA legislators and the Supreme Court; and what a growing LGBTQI+ voting bloc means for the future. Daniella introduces a new co-host to “The Tent,” Colin Seeberger. And Daniella and Colin talk about gun violence prevention in the wake of recent California mass shootings, as well as why MAGA Republicans have taken the U.S. debt ceiling hostage.


Daniella Gibbs Léger: Hey everyone, welcome back to “The Tent,” your place for politics, policy, and progress. I’m Daniella Gibbs Léger and, listeners, I have a big announcement. Joining me this week is our brand-new co-host, Colin Seeberger. [Cheering sounds] The crowd goes wild!

Welcome, Colin.

Colin Seeberger: Thanks, Daniella. It’s great to be here. Excited to join the conversation.

Gibbs Léger: We’re so happy to have you. I was gonna say, tell listeners a little bit about yourself.

Seeberger: Sure, yeah. My name is Colin Seeberger. I’ve been at CAP and CAP Action for about five years now. I am from Texas, so I’m sure you’re gonna love all of my hot Dallas Cowboys takes, my thoughts on Democrats’ prospects in the new South, and so much more. So, I really can’t wait to be part of this project.

Gibbs Léger: And like I said, we’re so happy to have you. So, I interviewed Kelley Robinson from the Human Rights Campaign this week on threats to abortion access, attacks on LGBTQI+ rights across the country, and ways states and voters can protect those rights. It was a fantastic, eye-opening conversation. So, please stick around for that. But first, Colin, you know we’ve got to get to some news.

So, I wish we were starting off your first episode with us on a happier note. But unfortunately, we’ve got to talk about the multiple horrific mass shootings this week, several across the country, but two in particular in Monterey Park, California, and Half Moon Bay, California.

Seeberger: Yeah, so far, we know that 11 people died in the attack in Monterey Park, which took place at a dance hall where the community was celebrating the Lunar New Year. And so far, seven have died in the shooting at Half Moon Bay at a mushroom farm. And here’s what I want to say. The phrase “enough is enough” has been used so many times, I don’t even want to say it. I’m just so disheartened anytime something like this happens and we still cannot agree on ways to prevent gun violence. And at the same time, you’ve got Republicans not just saying, “We’re not going to consider the solutions that we know work,” but they’re even moving in a more extreme and corrosive direction.

Gibbs Léger: It’s true. These are unimaginable tragedies, and my heart goes out to all the communities and families impacted, as it does every single time this happens. But this past year, we did see the only subsequent piece of gun violence legislation in the past 30 years move through Congress, and it was a good first step. But clearly, as we saw earlier this week, it’s not enough. We need strong commonsense gun laws at a national level. And the thing that irritates me the most about what you just said about Republicans is that they’re going against what the majority of Americans want. The majority of Americans agree that we should ban assault weapons. The weapon that was used in Monterey Park was an assault weapon—the kind that actually was banned in this country from, you know, 1994 until 2004 in a measure that directly contributed to fewer incidents of gun violence. You can look at any chart and it will show you what has happened since then. And the gun used in Monterey Park was banned in California. But, as many have said when a Republican tries to point out, “Oh, well, California has tough gun laws,” your gun laws are only as strong as the states around you. So, you can’t enforce such laws when neighboring states are just a few hours away by car and you can just go there and pick up a gun, basically, at a convenience store. So, in the wake of these tragedies, President Biden has renewed calls for an assault weapons ban. We know we also need universal background checks to ensure that guns don’t fall into the hands of the wrong people. Now, are MAGA Republicans going to vote for commonsense legislation the American public widely supports? I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.

Seeberger: Yeah, I’ll just add one more to that list, Daniella. You’ve got Republican counties, Republican cities that are passing bills to classify themselves as Second Amendment sanctuary cities, basically saying that they are going to be lawless cities and counties. They’re not going to comply with federal gun laws. And so, spare me the lecture about who’s the party of law and order when the Republican Party won’t even comply with our own federal gun laws. So, I just wish with incidents like these that we could shake politicians—particularly on the right—from their inaction on gun violence prevention. There are policy solutions—like you mentioned, the assault weapons ban—out there that we know work. And it’s frustrating and it’s heartbreaking to see gun violence continue to proliferate nonetheless.

Gibbs Léger: For sure. Now, one more thing I want to talk about today: the debt ceiling. So, Colin, can you explain what’s going on and what MAGA Republicans are up to here? And maybe talk a little bit about why this matters?

Seeberger: So, I wish I could explain this. And it’s absolutely crazy. So basically, the U.S. has officially hit its debt limit at about $31.5 trillion. And unless Congress acts before the summertime, we’ll be unable to pay off our obligations, so stuff that Congresses controlled by Democrats or controlled by Republicans have already agreed to. And the result—if we don’t pay our bills—is going to be economic catastrophe all across the globe. It means millions of Americans would lose their jobs. Every American would face increased inflation. The cost of getting a mortgage if you want to buy a house; or if you’re a small business trying to get a small business loan; or you’re a student who needs to take on student loans in order to go to college, the rates that you pay on those—what you’d pay out of pocket—would unnecessarily skyrocket. Investors and businesses large and small would get the rug pulled out from underneath them. And it would destroy the creditworthiness of the U.S. economy for years to come. But MAGA Republicans simply—they seem not to care. They’re using this as a political bargaining chip. In particular, Tony Romm at The Washington Post reported yesterday that they’re looking at making extensive cuts to Social Security and Medicare. So basically, they’re threatening global economic collapse in order to rip away benefits that the American people have worked for their entire lives.

Gibbs Léger: Seems like a bad plan. I don’t know, doesn’t seem like a great idea.

Seeberger: It seems like a bad plan. That’s right. I wish I could make this make sense, Daniella. But it’s pretty nuts. It’s nonsensical. It doesn’t make sense and unfortunately really just shows, last year and for decades, honestly, Republicans have been putting abortion rights in the crosshairs and, unfortunately, it seems that this year, it’s the American people’s benefits that really are just underscoring just how extreme the Republican Party has become. And it’s one hell of an introduction House Republicans and Speaker [Kevin] McCarthy (R-CA) are making to the American people as they as they take control of the House.

Gibbs Léger: Yeah. And since it looks like they’re not going to be doing anything about this anytime soon, I’m sure we’ll be talking about this and the House of chaos for a long time to come.

Seeberger: I know that’s right, Daniella. Well, that does it for us on news today. If there’s anything else you’d like us to cover on the pod, hit us up on Twitter @TheTentPod, that’s @TheTentPod. And please let us know what you think of the show. You can rate and review us wherever you’re streaming from, and [we] definitely appreciate your feedback.

Gibbs Léger: And stick around for my interview with Kelley Robinson in just a beat.

[Musical transition]

Gibbs Léger: Kelley Robinson is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, and the first Black queer woman to lead the organization. She previously served as the executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She has been leading progressive campaigns and programs for over 15 years. She began her career as a community organizer for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign in Missouri. Kelley, thanks so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Kelley Robinson: Thanks for having me.

Gibbs Léger: So, I want to start off big picture. While we’ve seen some progress when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights, like the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act last year, we’ve also seen some major steps backwards. So, what is the state of the community as we start this new year? And what will the Human Rights Campaign be focused on in 2023, both from a policy and an advocacy perspective?

Robinson: I’m so glad that you asked. The LGBTQ+ community, we have been resilient in ways we never should have had to. And I am proud to say that we have made some incredible strides forward. If you think about 20 years ago, we were at a moment when the U.S. Congress was voting to ban same-sex marriage, and now, you have the Respect for Marriage Act that’s the law of the land. That’s huge progress. But at the same time, there’s a truly intense backlash. It’s happening particularly at the state level. We have seen hundreds—hundreds—of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across more than nearly half of the states. We are seeing vicious attacks online with hateful and just straight nasty rhetoric. And we’re also not seeing people in our community step up and really protect all members of the community, particularly trans kids. So, this is one of those times where I think that we are going to have to come together and see this moment for what it is: a crisis that demands that all of us engage.

Gibbs Léger: So, I want to talk about this past weekend. It was the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. And I know you joined the Human Rights Campaign from Planned Parenthood. So, in light of this anniversary, could you talk about the impact that abortion bans are having nationwide, particularly on the LGBTQI+ community you’re working with now?

Robinson: You know, look. I always come back to those words of Maya Angelou: When someone shows you who they are, believe them. And our opposition has been on a relentless effort to discriminate folks based on gender for decades. And with the overturning of Roe v. Wade, what we not only saw was an attack on abortion rights, but we saw their first move in an overture to roll back rights that we’ve gained not just over the last 50 years, but over the last 400. I mean, Justice Clarence Thomas said in his concurring dissent, next they were going to come for marriage, next they were going to come for privacy, next they were going to come for our ability to love who we decide to love. So, we took their threats at face value. And we’ve been fighting back. And for me, especially coming from the reproductive rights movement, especially being a queer mom, it is so clear to me that our ability to decide if and when we parent is key to every community, particularly the LGBTQ+ community. I wouldn’t be able to have the family of my dreams without advances that we’ve made in reproductive health technologies; without the ability to get access to sex education; without the ability to choose if and when I parent. This is a big deal. So, we are mobilizing in service of our community. We’re also making it clear that this issue affects, yes, women but also nonbinary folks, also trans men, and ensuring that people know that when we’re talking about reproductive rights, we’re talking about human rights and that affects all of us, especially the LGBTQ+ community.

Gibbs Léger: So, I see many parallels between state attacks on abortion rights and also the wave of bans that we’re seeing on gender-affirming health care. What are these—particularly MAGA, Republican-led—states doing to try and limit access to gender-affirming health care? And what impact is it having on trans people in these states and trans communities more broadly? And how is your organization fighting back?

Robinson: This is particularly devastating to me. I’ve been in politics for a couple of decades now and we’ve seen tough state legislative sessions. We’ve seen bills that are harmful to our communities. But I have never seen the attacks on children and the attacks on families in the way that we are seeing this session. And these bans on medically necessary, age-appropriate, gender-affirming care, that’s exactly what it is. It’s stopping a parent’s ability to help their child who is in need. These bills discriminate against trans youth by taking away their access to basic mental health care, taking away their access to counseling, taking their away their access to safe and trusted adults. This is cruel. There’s no other way around it. And this is truly a political attack. And unfortunately, we are already seeing these bills move. In Mississippi, a bill to ban gender-affirming care has already passed the House. In Utah, a bill is moving. And I also have to say this: This is not a partisan issue. Even in Utah, as we saw their gender-affirming care ban move, the Utah governor, Gov. [Spencer] Cox (R), actually vetoed a similar piece of legislation because he knows that this isn’t political. It’s really about people’s lives. So, it’s a sad moment to me and really indicative of a cruel politic led by an extremist minority.

Gibbs Léger: And at the same time, we talked about the Supreme Court earlier. They are threatening these rights more broadly through the cases they’re hearing on discrimination, like 303 Creative [LLC v. Elenis], and you mentioned Justice Clarence Thomas’ opinion in the Dobbs [v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization] decision where he was like, “And we’re gonna go after this, and this, and this, and this.” So, while the Respect for Marriage Act that was signed into law last year is great, clearly more needs to be done to protect LGBTQI+ rights from these potentially disastrous Supreme Court rulings. So how should people be thinking about this and mobilizing around this?

Robinson: Yeah, with the Respect for Marriage Act, I can’t underscore how important I think it is. As a queer person, as a queer married person, seeing for the first time in my adult life a bipartisan piece of legislation move that affirmed my family, that affirmed our love, was really powerful. And we’re not just talking about a wedding party here. We’re talking about the ability to be safe and secure in your retirement; the ability to visit your loved ones in the hospital; the ability to build the family of your dreams. This is really important stuff.

But we also see, as you think in the broader picture, this real attempt to manipulate concepts around religious freedom, concepts around freedom of speech, to actually legalize discrimination. That’s what we’re seeing happen at the state level. So, it’s critically important that we start to put into place or move towards federal nondiscrimination against LGBTQ+ people. That’s the way to protect all of our families and our full lives in every way that we experience them in a truly meaningful way. So, there’s definitely still more work to be done. I applaud the advancements that we’ve made. But I’m laser focused on the reality of what it looks like, especially [for] folks that live in the Midwest and the South.

Gibbs Léger: We’ve seen a number of recent incidents of violence and threats of violence. Many are targeting the LGBTQI+ community, such as the tragic mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs and the recent rise of domestic extremists protesting drag shows. So, how should lawmakers and officials be protecting the community against these rising threats of violence? And are there groups or are there certain states that are actually doing good work here that maybe we should be lifting up?

Robinson: Absolutely. And we have to be clear, right, that these political attacks plus their extremist and violent rhetoric leads to real world violence. It does. We saw that in Club Q. We saw it in Florida when, as they were moving the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, there was a 400 percent increase in hate speech online targeting the LGBTQ+ community, particularly calling us “groomers.” This is truly a dangerous moment that we’re in. I think anybody looking at it, regardless of what your political affiliation is, should say this is immoral. This is not just. This is not who we are as Americans. So, I think that we’re at a moment where every politician should be held accountable for the statements that they’re making and for the policies that they’re pushing at a time where, as citizens, we have to shut it down and just say, “No.”

That said—like you said—there are some places where we are seeing some bright lights and some opportunities to move forward. I think with the White House, there’s a lot of good stuff that’s happened. You look at their administration and you can see Adm. Rachel Levine, you can see Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg, you can see Karine Jean-Pierre. Having these LGBTQ+ leaders in positions of power matters. Not only that, they’ve come out with strong statements and opposition to anti-trans legislation that’s moved in some of these states, and even gone as far as asserting that Title IX’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex does extend to trans kids in schools. These are big moves that the administration has made. I also think that we can start to look to the states. Look, elections matter. And when we put people in office that truly do carry the voices of the people, it makes a difference. That’s why in Michigan we’re expecting to be able to pass nondiscrimination protections that are truly at the forefront of what we need to do to our communities. And in Minnesota, we’re hoping to pass a conversion therapy ban. Again, these are just a couple of examples, among others. But this is what happens when the people take their power to the polls. We can start to make true legislative change that reflects the needs of our communities.

Gibbs Léger: So, speaking of polls and voting, the Human Rights Campaign recently released research that indicated that LGBTQ voters are a rapidly growing voting bloc and may make up 1 in 7 voters by 2030. So, what opportunities does this present to change for you?

Robinson: We’re here, we’re queer, and we are voting, alright? This is big. And when we think about the future of this country, when we think about the future of who we are, we have to understand these trends and also what it means for people’s lives. That’s a big deal. And I think our task is to not assume that demographics are destiny, but to engage folks. And I think that truly our biggest risk in this moment isn’t actually our opposition. It’s people that are with us on these issues feeling disengaged in politics, feeling disengaged in government. So, I think that we truly have an opportunity now, especially with young people, to give them meaningful actions to take that can make a difference in their lives, to show them that there is something that you can do, to show them that the core of our democracy is that when people speak up and make their voices heard, the world changes. And I’m excited about that opportunity, especially when we think about who the future of this country is.

Gibbs Léger: Well, I like to end these interviews on a hopeful note, and I think that was the perfect hopeful note to end our conversation on. Kelley Robinson, I want to thank you so much for joining us on “The Tent.”

Robinson: Thank you for having me.

Gibbs Léger: As always, thanks for listening. Be sure to go back and check out previous episodes. So, Colin, I have two things I need talk to you about. The first one …

Seeberger: Uh-oh.

Gibbs Léger: Look, you knew it was coming, and we both didn’t do very well this weekend when it came to football. The Giants just—the Eagles are a really good team. And they had our number this year, and boy did they have our number last weekend. We weren’t supposed to be there, OK? We were not supposed to be a good team. We were not even supposed to make the playoffs. So, I’m proud of my guys. I am proud of how far we came. And I think next year is going to be great. I don’t know what you have to say about them boys, though.

Seeberger: Yeah, D, I was hoping that you guys were going to do the dirty work for us, and we would be meeting you in Dallas, Texas, next weekend. But unfortunately, that does not seem to be happening; not in the cards this year. Yeah, where do I start? Dak Prescott: Talented guy but, man, the way he has struggled over the course of the past few months to put consecutive solid performances together, one week after the next, just is really alarming if you’re a Cowboys fan. And we gotta be real, the Cowboys are about to have to make a whole bunch of tough decisions. Are they going to keep Dak Prescott? Are they gonna sign CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs to a long-term extension? Is Michael Gallup actually going to be able to come back from his injury in the second year after tearing his ACL? There’s a lot of question marks for the Cowboys after this season. And we’ll see what happens next, but I will just say, hey, it’s not often I’m giving any credit to the Eagles, and anybody listening to this who’s a Dallas fan may have some thoughts, but, you know what, we did have three NFC East teams make it to the playoffs this year.

Gibbs Léger: That is something to be proud of.

Seeberger: Yeah, I think that we can pat ourselves on the back on this one.

Gibbs Léger: I agree with that. And to the Eagles fans who were immediately in my mentions like, “What, are you gonna root for the Eagles against the 49ers?” No!

Seeberger: Absolutely not!

Gibbs Léger: Get out of here, like what are you kidding me? Whatever, man. OK, next topic. I have to force myself to watch this new season of “The Bachelor” because Zach is so boring. The only person who really stood out to me this episode was … I think her name is Christine? She’s related to the Barbara Mandrell, which is fascinating to me. And she brought a party bus, so I thought that was cool. And I don’t know why she didn’t get the first impression rose. But what did you think of this episode?

Seeberger: It was the first party bus I have seen on a “Bachelor” premiere night before, so I was into it. It was fun. It was fresh. I’m just glad that he sent home—was her name Madison?

Gibbs Léger: Maybe? So much drama.

Seeberger: Yeah, she was a bit extra for me, and I was relieved that he did that. But agree with your main takeaway. He’s kind of a snooze fest.

Gibbs Léger: I mean, I’ll still watch it. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Seeberger: Yeah.

Gibbs Léger: Alright, folks, that’s gonna do it for us this week. We’re still in a pandemic. I know, I know—but we are, so please get boosted if you haven’t already. Take care of yourselves. Mask up when you’re around a whole lot of people so we can maybe have a decent spring. Let’s try to do that, alright? Thanks, and we’ll talk to you next week.

“The Tent” is a podcast from the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It’s hosted by me, Daniella Gibbs Léger, and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Erin Phillips is our lead producer. Kelly McCoy is our supervising producer. And Sam Signorelli is our digital producer. You can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts.

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.


Daniella Gibbs Léger

Executive Vice President, Communications and Strategy


Colin Seeberger

Senior Adviser, Communications

Erin Phillips

Broadcast Media Manager

Kelly McCoy

Senior Director of Broadcast Communications

Sam Signorelli

Policy and Outreach Associate, Government Affairs



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Politics. Policy. Progress. All under one big tent. Produced by CAP Action, “The Tent” is a news and politics podcast hosted by Daniella Gibbs Léger and co-hosted by Colin Seeberger. Listen each Thursday for episodes exploring topics that progressives are focused on.


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