September 18, 2020 at 9:00 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Exclusive: New $1.5 million HRC ad buy blames Trump for empty queer bars
A new HRC ad blames Trump for the economic downturn, including empty gay bars. (Screen capture via YouTube)

A new digital ad buy from the Human Rights Campaign takes President Trump to task for his response to the coronavirus epidemic and blames him for the economic fallout that has resulted in empty gay bars where LGBTQ people and marginalized communities once met to express themselves, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

The black-and-white ad, titled “The Empty Temple,” opens with images of a gay bar with overturned bar stools, vacant rooms and a sign saying “Black Trans Lives Matter.” (The empty venue is a real gay bar, Trade, a popular destination in D.C, a Human Rights Campaign spokesperson said.)

“This is a queer bar,” the narrator says. “It’s barely open. Here you would normally see people being themselves with their community, sometimes for the first time in their week, or for the first time in their lives — and no one knows when we will be able to come back and truly be ourselves.”

The male narrator, who appears on screen seated on a bar stool, places the blame for the empty bar squarely at the feet of Trump.

“Make no mistake, this happened because our most powerful politicians made bad choices, and they blame us and they continue to attack our community and make us feel less safe to be ourselves,” he says.

The Human Rights Campaign made an initial investment of more than $1.5 million in the digital ad, which seeks to target more than one million Equality Voters in 12 critical states — more voters than the nation’s leading LGBTQ group has ever targeted before, according to a statement. 

Images also appear of a health care worker and an individual shopping while wearing a face mask, as others who come on screen talk about suffering from the coronavirus in other ways, including the closure of restaurants and loss of jobs.

“We have a president who doesn’t care about us,” the narrator says. “He’s racist, he’s sexist, he’s homophobic, he’s transphobic. He tries to intimidate us with the violence. His cronies in Washington, in state houses across the country have enabled him at every step. We are the ones who live with the consequences.”

The ad makes the suffering of people of color, who faced the brunt of the coronavirus cases and deaths in the United States, an intersectional theme, saying that includes LGBTQ people of color.

“And now, Black and Brown people are dying from COVID at higher rates than any other people,” the narrator says. “LGBTQ people, especially Black and Brown transgender LGBTQ people are having more trouble making rent and paying bills.”

According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ people, many of whom are known to work in hospitality industries, are 20 percent more likely than the general public to have experienced a reduction in work hours since some states initiated reopening policies.

That figure is worse for LGBTQ people of color, who are 44 percent more likely to have experienced a reduction in work hours, and transgender people, who are 125 percent more likely, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The signal of distress gives way to images of triumph, including protests at LGBTQ rallies, as the narrator urges viewers to reject Trump at the polls in November.

“Winning the election alone won’t solve everything, but losing could cost us everything,” the narrator says. “Call, text, organize, make change. We can elect leaders like Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. We can make our voices heard in every race in America, and together, we can win.”

According to a statement, HRC Equality Votes PAC plans to layer additional paid digital ads, direct mail, phone calls and radio ads to voters just before Election Day as early in-person and mail-in voting become more widely available — all which are targeted toward “Equality Voters” who make LGBTQ rights a priority in their voting decisions.

Jonathan Shields, deputy campaign director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement equality voters “have the power to make the racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ Trump-Pence ticket a pair of one-term losers.”

“We know we must vote like our lives depend on it, because for so many LGBTQ people and those living with the most dire impacts of this pandemic — that’s true,” Shields said. “The Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Votes PAC is investing in its largest effort ever — across 12 states inclusive of 25 competitive congressional districts and 96 state legislative districts — to educate and empower Equality Voters to turn out to vote for the most pro-equality ticket in our history in Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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