Oregon representative compared supporting LGBTQ+ people to supporting child abuse

Rep. Dwayne Yunker, R-Grants Pass, was appointed to fill a vacancy in the state House in December

By: - January 31, 2024 6:10 am

A Pride flag, Oregon flag and U.S. flag rest on a desk in the Oregon Capitol. The newest member of the state House has expressed anti-LGBTQ sentiments in blog posts. (Ron Cooper/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

The newest member of the Oregon House of Representatives claimed supporting LGBTQ+ people was akin to supporting child abuse and accused drag queens of pedophilia in months-old posts on his campaign website.

Dwayne Yunker, a real estate broker and city councilor from Grants Pass, was appointed in December to finish the term of former Rep. Lily Morgan, who resigned to become the city manager of Gold Hill. Yunker was already planning to challenge Morgan in the Republican primary, arguing she wasn’t conservative enough for the southern Oregon district.

Rep. Dwayne Yunker (Oregon Legislature)

Yunker’s campaign website includes a post from last August titled “No to Gay Pride Month,” explaining his decision to skip the beginning of a Grants Pass City Council meeting to protest a proclamation about June as Pride Month. He was a member of the council at the time.

The transgender community college student who accepted the proclamation said it was a step toward making Grants Pass a community where young LGBTQ+ people want to stay and raise families, instead of feeling like they need to escape. But the public comment portion of that meeting began with opposition to the proclamation, and Mayor Sara Bristol faced an unsuccessful recall vote for not “represent(ing) the conservative principles of the majority of her constituents.” 

Yunker’s campaign post included claims that drag queens are pedophiles and events including family friendly drag shows or drag queen story hours are attempts to make pedophilia seem acceptable. He further declared that supporting Pride Month was akin to supporting child abuse. 

“It is shocking that any adult would endorse this child abuse,” he wrote. “Therefore, on June 7, I did not attend the beginning of the Grants Pass City Council meeting. I will not be a part of or stand next to anyone who supports these abuses.”

He expounded on his objections to Pride Month in a subsequent post, titled  “Shouldn’t Christians avoid politics?” In it, Yunker wrote that he considered a statement in the resolution that LGBTQ+ people face persecution to be spurious, or false. 

And he claimed that LGBTQ+ people, who he referred to as “the ever-expanding alphabet movement,” discriminated against Christians. 

“We cannot sit out afraid someone might call us right wing, homophonic (sic), or even Christian Nationalists,” he wrote. 

Yunker didn’t respond to a call or email from the Capital Chronicle on Tuesday. House Minority Leader Jeff Helfrich, R-Hood River, defended Yunker’s right to express himself. 

“While it may be hard for some leftists in Portland to understand this, many Oregonians – including members of the LGBTQ community – do not want children exposed to hyper-sexualized material that they are not developmentally able to understand,” Helfrich said in a statement. “Parents worry about the things their kids are seeing in public, in the classroom and on TV. Elected officials have every right to voice those concerns on behalf of the districts that they represent. Society must be able to have these discussions, and all of us must endeavor to do so respectfully and honestly.”

‘Hateful and false ideas’

Kyndall Mason, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon, said in a statement that Yunker’s job requires him to serve all his constituents, including the LGBTQ+ Oregonians in his district.

“The uninformed, hateful and false ideas written in Rep. Yunker’s blog posts are deeply dangerous, and will direct more hate to these constituents and all trans and queer Oregonians,” Mason said. “While these posts were written before Yunker was appointed to his seat, we’re alarmed to learn that they are still on his campaign website, and are from less than a year ago.”

She added that the group is proud of the majority of lawmakers who have protected the state’s reputation as one of the strongest states for LGBTQ+ rights, and that she’s confident Yunker’s views are “on the very fringe” of the Legislature. 

Oregon has long been a leader in LGBTQ+ political representation – Gov. Tina Kotek is one of the first lesbians to run a state, and she succeeded bisexual former Gov. Kate Brown. The state, particularly Portland and Eugene, have attracted LGBTQ+ people from across the nation for decades. 

It’s unusual for the state’s elected officials to openly express such anti-gay or anti-trans rhetoric.

Legislative Republicans adamantly opposed a law passed last year to protect doctors who perform abortions or gender-affirming care from prosecution or civil liability as other states restrict or ban such care and strengthen requirements that health insurers cover reproductive health care and gender-affirming care, including treatments like facial feminization surgery and electrolysis that are now treated as cosmetic procedures. They also objected to a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal an unenforced ban on same-sex marriage and protect people from for their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

But most framed their opposition as concern over parental rights and fears that minors would make permanent medical decisions they’d regret in the future. Senate Republicans also suggested a compromise on the proposed constitutional amendment to only repeal the ban on gay marriage.

This year, some House Republicans have said they plan to introduce legislation during the session that begins Feb. 5 to bar trans people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity and block trans girls from participating in girls’ sports. Neither measure is expected to go anywhere in the state Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. 

Correction: Dwayne Yunker continues to serve on the Grants Pass City Council. An earlier version of this article referred to him as a former councilor. 

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Julia Shumway
Julia Shumway

Julia Shumway is the Capital Chronicle's deputy editor and lead political reporter. Before joining the Capital Chronicle in 2021, she was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix and reported on local and state government and politics in Iowa, Nebraska and Bend. An award-winning journalist, Julia also serves as president of the Oregon Legislative Correspondents Association, or Capitol press corps.

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