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'Very homophobic': Teachers' union leader Randi Weingarten says House hearing crossed the line

WASHINGTON — Congressional hearings are frequently acrimonious, but they rarely descend into the kind of personal attack that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., waged against teachers’ union leader Randi Weingarten at a House hearing last week on pandemic-related school closures, an issue that continues to excite strong passions.

Those passions were expressed in a “very homophobic” way by the outspoken congresswoman, Weingarten told Yahoo News last Friday. The hearing had taken place two days before, but she was still plainly rattled by the exchange.

During the hearing, Greene repeatedly noted that Weingarten is not a “biological mother,” a seeming reference to the fact that the 65-year-old American Federation of Teachers president is married to a woman, Sharon Kleinbaum, a rabbi at the world’s largest LGBTQ synagogue. She sat behind Weingarten during the hearing.

“She was just attempting to dehumanize me,” Weingarten said of Greene.

Weingarten told Yahoo News that she has been forced to travel with a security guard since November of last year, when former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called her “the most dangerous person in the world.”

And she said the exchange with Greene has resulted in a flood of “vile” emails, many of them homophobic or antisemitic.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, testifies during a House subcommittee hearing.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, during a House select subcommittee hearing on April 26. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

Weingarten was the sole witness at the hearing, which was conducted by a subcommittee of the Republican-controlled House Oversight Committee that is tasked with investigating the nation’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, had opened the hearing by pleading with members of both parties to focus on the topic at hand, which was whether the AFT unduly influenced Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on school reopenings.

Emails previously made public showed Weingarten asking for amendments in the guidance, a request the influential union leader said was not out of bounds and one of many inputs that the CDC considered.

Republicans disagreed, but none with more vehemence than Greene, a hard-right congresswoman with a penchant for controversy.

Greene said Weingarten should not have had any say in the reopening guidelines because she’s “not a medical doctor, not a biological mother and, really, not a teacher, either.”

Kleinbaum has two daughters from a previous marriage, as Weingarten noted, but that did not appear to satisfy Greene, who has made gender and race issues a centerpiece of her legislative career.

“Let me tell you, I am a mother, and all three of my children were directly affected by the school closures — by your recommendations — which is something that you can’t understand,” Greene said. (Her insistence on “biological” motherhood appeared to invalidate not only the experiences of LGBTQ parents but also of those who become parents through adoption or remarriage after divorce.)

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene speaks from a podium at a 2024 campaign rally for former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., at a campaign rally for former President Donald Trump in Waco, Texas, on March 25. (Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images)

“Somewhere, Ronald Reagan, an adoptive parent who gave conservatism a friendly face, is shaking his head,” former White House speechwriter David Kusnet wrote on Twitter of Greene’s assertion.

The congresswoman’s office did not return a request for comment.

Greene also produced a chart showing that diagnoses of gender dysphoria rose during the pandemic, a trend she attributed to time spent on social media platforms.

“There is one thing I do agree with her about,” Weingarten said on Friday, “which is that we need to do more to hold tech companies accountable, because the algorithms and these other things are actually making kids feel bad about themselves.”

Earlier this month, House Republicans passed a bill that would prevent transgender girls from joining school-based sports teams designated for women. Transgender rights have emerged as a top culture war issue for many Republican voters.

As Greene’s interaction with Weingarten came to an end, the lawmaker returned to her claim that the union leader is not a true mother. “People like you need to admit that you’re just a political activist, not a teacher, not a mother, not a medical doctor,” she said at the conclusion of her diatribe.

Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to have her attacks on Weingarten stricken from the Congressional Record, but Wenstrup said House rules would not permit him to do so.