Athens GOP leader goes on anti-gay rant on Pulse anniversary

A prominent Athens GOP leader wrote a series of anti-LGBTQ Facebook posts on Tuesday — the two-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting. 

Joan Gilbert Rhoden is president of the Conservative Republican Women of Northeast Georgia, the wife of Athens GOP chair Gordon Rhoden and — along with her husband — part of the leadership team for the campaign of Houston Gaines, who is running for the District 117 seat in the Georgia House.

Mrs. Rhoden began the morning by sharing a photo post from someone showing a Pride-themed clothing section at an unidentified Target location. The original post said, “Tell me again how homosexuals are not after your children in school and at Target.” Rhoden added her own message, writing, “This is NOT about equity, it’s about propaganda of an alternate lifestyle that is a clinically diagnosed disorder. Are we supposed to be okay with this? Are you?”

The American Psychiatric Association partially stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973, later completely removing it as a disorder in 1987.

Rhoden continued posting throughout the day Tuesday, including sharing stories from anti-LGBTQ groups and media outlets, decrying a New York City bill that would add a third gender option to birth certificates and continually referring to being LGBTQ as a “lifestyle choice.” Rhoden also shared a video from a rally against a California bill that would strengthen laws against “gay conversion therapy,” writing that LGBTQ people are “dispatched to annihilate free speech and dismantle the established facts of biology.”

Neither of the Rhodens responded to questions from Project Q Atlanta.

'We need to stand up to bullies like this'


Rhoden’s posts first came to light after being shared on the Facebook page of Richie Knight, a gay business owner who ran unsuccessfully in last month’s Athens mayoral race.

“Daily, [Rhoden] takes to social media to demonstrate her hatred towards members of the LGBTQ community. Including recently singling me out for no reason,” Knight wrote. “I've spent the last week commenting on each of her posts, but today this was the last straw for me. We need to stand up to bullies like this. In no world is there a God that supports the rhetoric of a deranged woman like this.”

Rhoden then shared Knight’s post and called Pride displays like the one at Target, “bully tactics being levied on the American public.”

Athens is represented by U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a virulently anti-LGBTQ pastor who once alleged that the gay community has a secret plot to recruit and sodomize children. He also compared same-sex relationships to bestiality and incest.

Gaines, a Republican, faces Democratic incumbent state Rep. Deborah Gonzalez for the Athens-area House District 117 in November. Gaines did not respond to a request for comment on Rhoden’s posts. The Rhodens are two of the 15 members of Gaines’ campaign leadership team.

Karen Schwind, the 10th Congressional District GOP chair, and the Georgia Republican Party also did not respond to requests for comment on Rhoden’s posts.

UPDATE | Jamie Ensley, president of the Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, told Project Q Atlanta in response to this story, "Love your neighbor as yourself. Eight times in the Bible we are told to love our neighbor — it’s one of the Bible's most repeated commands."

UPDATE | Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, called Rhoden's posts "hateful, biased speech."

"It is hateful, biased speech that perpetuates stereotypes of the LGBT community that are known to be inaccurate and have been condemned and rejected by health professionals and organizations across the political spectrum. For her to take these actions on a day that specifically commemorates a day when 49 people were murdered because they were members of the LGBTQ community should be especially appalling to anyone who has a family member, friend, coworker or neighbor who is LGBTQ. We work everyday with Republicans whom we know do not espouse those views. The post itself should be soundly rejected by her fellow Republicans.  Those who are silent on the issue need to realize that their silence will be seen as support."

UPDATE | Houston Gaines has removed Joan Rhoden from his campaign leadership committee, per an update of the list on his website

UPDATE | Gaines spoke with Flagpole on Rhoden's leaving his campaign's leadership committee.

"Recently, we've seen local campaigns—including my opponent's—run on divisiveness and symbolism instead of focusing on the hard work our constituents deserve," Gaines told Flagpole. "The statements made by Mrs. Rhoden are not reflective of my campaign, and we agree that her stepping down from my leadership committee will prevent any distractions from accomplishing our singular goal of winning back this seat."

Rhoden’s posts — which remain public on her Facebook page as of this writing — are below.