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Ethics complaints filed over GOP anti-LGBTQ comments

By: - February 11, 2021 11:43 am

Photo by Nick Youngson | Alpha Stock Images/CC BY-SA 3.0

Republican state Reps. John Fillmore and Kevin Payne are both facing ethics complaints for anti-LGBTQ and discriminatory comments made Wednesday during a Government and Elections Committee meeting.

The remarks came while the committee reviewed House Bill 2725, a measure Fillmore introduced that LGBTQ advocates call a cruel measure that would “erase” non-binary Arizonans. The legislation would bar all governments in Arizona from identifying an individual’s sex as anything other than male or female. 

Riley Behrens, a community advocate who attended the committee’s debate of the bill, said in separate ethics complaints that Fillmore and Payne each “engaged in conduct that compromises the character of himself, the integrity of the Arizona State House of Representatives, and shows a lack of respect for members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

During the committee hearing, Fillmore said “the gender dysfunction thing” allows “men to enter into the restrooms of the little girls and creates situations that I don’t think are beneficial to society and the nuclear family as a whole.”

“I don’t believe we, as a society, should have all of the different binaries identified,” Fillmore said. “I mean, what’s going to happen when, someday, someone wakes up and they want to go to the far extreme and identify as a chicken, or something, for crying out loud? Where do we draw the line?”

Several Democratic lawmakers on the committee were visibly taken aback by Fillmore’s remarks

“This is just incredibly upsetting to hear the bill sponsor using words to describe people… It’s disturbing and upsetting,” said Kelli Butler, D-Phoenix. “This is about being a human being that respects other human beings, and everybody isn’t just like me, and that’s great.”

Behrens said that while the committee was taking testimony from Megan Mogan, a Tucson parent of a non-binary child, Payne made disparaging and dehumanizing comments. 

“Payne continuously disrupted public testimony and in a comment to himself, said ‘So it doesn’t know who it is?’ in reference to the child of one of the community members who testified virtually,” Behrens wrote in the ethics complaint. “Referencing any person as ‘it’, particularly a child, is discriminatory and cannot be tolerated.”

Behrens asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate Fillmore and Payne for “unethical, unprofessional, and even immoral conduct.”

Behrens told Arizona Mirror in an email that Filmore’s and Payne’s comments should be denounced by the House of Representatives.

“During committee, several anti-LGBT and discriminatory comments were made and that simply cannot be allowed,” he said. “It is unacceptable and affects the integrity of the House of Representatives. Today’s complaints should be a reminder that this behavior will not be tolerated by the community and that we will stand up to it every time.”

Fillmore: complaint is meritless

In statements shared through a House spokesman Thursday afternoon, Fillmore said critics “distorted” his comments. 

“The complaint is entirely without merit, and it’s rather unfortunate that some opponents of the bill have unfairly and grossly mischaracterized my comments at Wednesday’s hearing,” Fillmore said in the statement. “I invite people to listen to my actual remarks, which do not remotely match the distorted version critics have alleged.”

Rep. Payne denied saying what Behrens alleged in the complaint, said Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for the House Republicans.  

“I spoke with Rep. Payne and wanted to share with you that he does not recall saying anything like what is alleged in the complaint, nor are such words by him heard in the committee hearing’s video,” Wilder said. 

Behrens told the Mirror he was sitting less than 10 feet from Payne in the committee hearing room on Wednesday. He also reviewed the recorded video of the hearing. 

“I don’t hear Payne making those comments on tape, but I know what I heard,” Behrens said. 

***UPDATE: This story was updated Thursday afternoon to include comments from Fillmore and Payne.

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.

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