Before becoming speaker on Wednesday 25 October, Mr Johnson was relatively unknown in Congress as the vice chair of the Republican conference, so much so that some other members of Congress had to Google him following his ascent.
An anti-abortion evangelical Christian and a lawyer who has backed creationist projects, Mr Johnson’s record on gay rights is one of relentless opposition. He has pointed to his faith as the source of his beliefs.
His activism and anti-LGBT+ work has included restricting gay marriage and access to healthcare services, as well as anti-gay activism at colleges.
More than a decade and a half ago, he was a lawyer and spokesperson for the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which advocates for Christians. During that time, he described gay people as “sinful” and “destructive” and argued that supporting gay rights could lead to supporting paedophilia, a longtime anti-gay trope. In opinion pieces, he argued that gay sex should be criminalised, ABC News notes.
In 2003, Mr Johnson wrote in a column in The Shreveport Times: “There is clearly no ‘right to sodomy’ in the Constitution, and the right of ‘privacy of the home’ has never placed all activity with the home outside the bounds of the criminal law”.
‘If someone’s trapped in a homosexual lifestyle, it’s dangerous’
During Day of Silence protests across the US in 2005 organised to push back against anti-gay biases in education, Mr Johnson and the ADF launched a counterprotest that they called “Day of Truth”.
Mr Johnson claimed at the time that they were “sharing the truth out of love and compassion”. He said that the “truth” came from a strict view of Bible teachings, meaning that “if someone’s trapped in a homosexual lifestyle, it’s dangerous,” according to ABC.
At the counterprotest, the ADF gave out t-shirts stating “The Truth Cannot be Silenced” as well as cards to students, sharing their view that they couldn’t support “detrimental personal and social behaviour” in reference to being LGBT+.
‘You can call it sinful or destructive, ultimately it’s both’
Mr Johnson said at the time that he hoped that the event would be “peaceful and respectful” but also said, “You can call it sinful or destructive, ultimately it’s both,” about being gay, the Associated Press wrote in April 2005.
The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network blasted the ADF and Mr Johnson for taking aim at gay students. Mr Johnson told the press: “No one is for bullying and harassment. But that’s cloaking their real message, that homosexuality is good for society.”
He also claimed that being gay was “morally wrong and physically dangerous”.
Before he joined Congress, Mr Johnson was a talk radio host, wrote columns, worked as a college professor, and was an instructor at constitutional law seminars. He also spent two years in the Louisiana state legislature.
Elected in 2016 at the same time as former President Donald Trump, Mr Johnson defended Mr Trump in both of his Senate impeachment trials. He also voted against legislation backed by both parties to codify same-sex marriage.
Mr Johnson played a major part in drafting the Stop the Sexualization of Children Act late last year, but the bill was never taken to the floor. It would have stopped the use of federal funds to “develop, implement, facilitate, or fund any sexually oriented program, event, or literature” for children under the age of 10. Those pushing the bill argued that it would keep inappropriate materials away from children while critics said that it was a push to prevent gay representation.
‘Someone who doesn’t hesitate to scream his hatred for the LGBTQ+ community,’ HRC president says
Kelley Robinson, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, tweeted on Wednesday: “Mike Johnson is someone who doesn’t hesitate to scream his hatred for the LGBTQ+ community from the rooftops while introducing legislation that seeks to erase us from society and history. Everyone who voted for him will have a stain on their record.”
Records show that Mr Johnson first worked for the ADF in 2002, according to ABC. The Southern Poverty Law Center has said that the group has “supported the recriminalisation of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the US and criminalisation abroad”.
The centre noted that the group argued that what they called the “homosexual agenda” would “destroy Christianity and society”. The group holds a number of views aimed at restricting the lives of LGBT+ people.
ADF senior counsel Jeremy Tedesco told ABC that the group is “one of the nation’s most respected and successful US Supreme Court advocates working to preserve the fundamental freedoms of speech and religion for all Americans”.
He also claimed that the “end game” of the Southern Poverty Law Center is “tyranny, not tolerance”.
While working as a lawyer for the ADF, Mr Johnson pushed for a state ban on gay marriage in Louisiana, a measure backed by voters in 2004. It was one of many similar restrictions passed that year.
Pushed to remove healthcare from gay couples
He also filed a lawsuit in 2003 against a New Orleans law that afforded benefits to the same-sex partners of individuals employed by the city, but a state court backed the city.
"The state has spoken clearly that municipalities shouldn’t have the right to enter into this arena – the redefining of the family," Mr Johnson said at the time.
As he argued against same-sex partners being included in the health plans of city employees, Mr Johnson said: "When you tear down the taboos, the doors open up for everything. That’s the danger”.
“We are not trying to tie homosexuality to paedophilia, but when you tear down one barrier, others fall. ... Let’s stop here and draw the line here, because then it leads to sexual anarchy,” he claimed, according to ABC.
‘Homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy’
In another column for The Shreveport Times, published in February 2004, Mr Johnson wrote: “Pro-family advocates are often asked these days, ‘Why should you care? Why is same-sex marriage a threat?’ The answer is simple: because we tamper with God’s created order at our peril.”
“If activist judges can reject thousands of years of history and legitimize homosexual marriage, then trans-sexual and group ‘marriages’ of every sort must logically follow … Experts project that homosexual marriage is the dark harbinger of chaos and sexual anarchy that could doom even the strongest republic,” he added.
The Independent has reached out to the office of Mr Johnson for comment.
Mr Johnson defended Louisiana’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage in front of the state’s supreme court in the mid-2000s.
“The amendment has one purpose: to protect marriage from attack,” he told the justices, according to ABC, citing news reports from the time.
During his time in the state house between 2015 and 2017, Mr Johnson put forward a bill that backers argued would protect people from having to diverge from their religious beliefs but which critics argued would make it easier to discriminate against LGBT+ people.
Quoting a Democrat, Mr Johnson told The Times-Picayne “I’m not a ‘despicable bigot of the highest order,’” in 2015.
“I know that I brought this bill for the right reason,” he added. “Defense of liberty is never easy. It always comes at a cost.”
The bill did not become law.