Anti-LGBTQ Arkansas Lawmaker Who Decried Masks Now Hospitalized with COVID-19

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 24, 2020

A virulently anti-LGBTQ Arkansas state lawmaker who has pushed for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to take away marriage rights for same-sex couples and denounced a mandate for face masks to blunt the spread of the pandemic is now in the hospital with COVID-19. Media sources note that his diagnosis follows his having attended an indoor church service where participants did not wear masks.

Jason Rapert has tweeted accusations in the past that efforts to contain COVID-19 are a matter of "liberal quacks... spreading fear" and posted stories to Facebook from conservative news sites claiming that the pandemic is a "political hoax."

Friendly Atheist reports that though the governor of Arkansas called for the state's residents to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19, Rapert decried the common-sense (and potentially life-saving) practice.

Rapert took to Facebook on July 16 to post:

As it relates to the mandate to wear masks in Arkansas from Gov. Asa Hutchinson issued today, which includes a warning followed by a potential fine of $100 to $500 for failure to wear a mask, I oppose this in principle as an overreach of executive power without consultation with the members of the Arkansas legislature.

Rapert claimed that though he himself had worn masks when he thought it appropriate to do so, low rates of known infections in Arkansas made the governor's order "ill-timed and not necessary."

But now that he's tested positive and been hospitalized, Rapert's comments have taken a somewhat different tone.

"Let's stop the spread and get back to normal," a July 18 tweet read. Included in the tweet was a photo of the GOP lawmaker and his family wearing masks.

In a July 23 press release, Rapert offered this:

"We have all been doing our best to wear a mask, social distance and be careful like everyone else. This virus is serious and can attack anyone regardless of age or general health."

Because people infected with COVID-19 can remain asymptomatic for weeks - or never feel very sick at all - while passing the virus on to others, the use of masks is recommended even for those who do not feel ill. Wearing masks can help protect those who are not infected, but more importantly, they reduce the viral spread from those who may be infected and not know it.

LGBTQ media sources noted that this is not the first time Rapert has offered mixed messages. In 2017, following the election of Donald Trump, Rapert cited a "silent majority" he said would back an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to restrict marriage rights to heterosexuals and deprive same-sex families of legal matrimony.

Rapert made those comments to local news station KATV, and was then asked about his efforts to stymie a voter-approved state constitutional amendment that allowed for the use of medical marijuana. Channel 7noted that a majority of Rapert's own constituents approved the measure that he was trying to stop from taking effect.

At that point, the news channel reported, the GOP lawmaker "threatened to end the interview with KATV, accusing Channel 7 of having an agenda."

In reporting on Rapert's own COVID-19 diagnosis and hospitalization, KATV reported on July 23:

There have been 35,246 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. On Thursday, 27,990 people in the state had recovered from the virus and 380 people had died. Rapert is the fourth Arkansas lawmaker to test positive.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.