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Congressional candidate’s social media comments called ‘transphobic,’ ‘revolting’

By Jeri Chadwell
Published: Last Updated on

Randi Reed is a Nevada business owner and a 2020 Republican candidate for Congress. On May 2, Reed attended a “reopen Nevada” rally in the state capital to protest Governor Steve Sisolak’s mandated business closures in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic and, afterward, had an inflammatory interaction with a Nevada voter on social media. 

In an Instagram post, Reed thanked protest organizers for including her as a speaker and for being “incredible patriots.” The rally was promoted by a group advertising the “Return of the Minutemen” and was attended by numerous Trump supporters, those concerned about economic impacts of COVID-19 closures, and members of a group designated as an extremist hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Reno local Ethan Clift responded in a comment about the rally, telling Reed he had unfollowed her and saying, “This is dangerous and irresponsible.” 

Reed responded to Clift, who is transgender, by saying, “I think it’s beyond irresponsible that you expect people to accept your alternative lifestyle and life choices, but yet I’m ‘dangerous’ by protesting the fact I want my friends, colleagues and our state to start moving forward with a plan.” 

Screenshots of Randi Reed's Instagram
Screenshots of Randi Reed’s Instagram post before an exchange with Ethan Clift was removed.

After the comments made by both Reed and Clift were removed from the Instagram post, Reed took to Facebook—her personal page, not her campaign page—to make a statement on the matter:

“Last week, I spoke at the ReOpen Nevada Rally in Carson City and posted about it—in response, an individual labeled my actions as ‘dangerous’ and ‘irresponsible’ … To that comment, I responded in a way many considered offensive. I am deeply sorry that the words I used caused confusion, hurt, and anger. This was not, in any way, my intention. I would like to apologize to this individual & anyone who was offended by my comment. I genuinely hope that everyone who wants to discuss this further will reach out to me directly so that we can create a space for resolution.”

Reed did not respond to multiple interview requests from This Is Reno.

The post never noted what many called the transphobic nature of Reed’s interaction with Clift. No statement was made on Reed’s campaign Instagram or Facebook accounts, though Clift said he did receive a short apology from Reed via Instagram direct message.

It read: “Ethan – I am deeply sorry that the words I used caused confusion, hurt and anger. That was never my intent and for that I apologize.”

Clift, who’d shared a screenshot of the interaction on his Facebook page, updated the post to note that he’d received an apology. But he’s still concerned by the interaction. 

“If this is your response to criticisms surrounding a policy issue, essentially, on social media, I don’t think you’re fit for office,” Clift said. “This isn’t even that intense, you know what I mean? And she could have taken it as an opportunity to say, ‘Yeah, I understand some people think this is unsafe, but I think it’s more detrimental that we’re ignoring our economy.’ I mean, she could have said a lot of different things that would have been fair.”

“We need to be debating policies and issues, not picking team colors and then blindly following whatever that group subscribes to,” Clift added. “That’s the more concerning thing. It’s like, wow, she just straight up … took cues from every Trump apologist in the world and decided she was going to run on that kind of campaign messaging. Nevada doesn’t need somebody like that. We need meaning.”

The community responds

Members of Reno’s LGBTQ+ community called Reed’s statements revolting. Clift’s post was shared by many and garnered quite a bit of heated discussion.

Sean Savoy
Sean Savoy. Photo: Ty O’Neil.

Sean Savoy is founder and director of the Northern Nevada LGBTQ Leadership Alliance (NALA) and founder and director of Nevada Interfaith Coalition for Equality and Inclusion. He discovered the interaction between Clift—a friend of his—and Reed when a mutual friend shared Clift’s Facebook post. 

“I thought it was important to add … some comments and some perspective. I think it’s very easy for people to get wrapped up on one side or the other—and, certainly, I have my opinions as to what’s proper and not proper. But I wanted to offer some perspective to it,” he said. 

Savoy said he thinks the interaction demonstrates a lack of cultural awareness on Reed’s part—one he hopes that she’ll remedy by speaking with LGBTQ constituents and learning about their experiences.

“If she wants to be a public figure—and it is her intention to be a representative of all the people, of her constituents—she should do that, in my opinion,” Savoy said. “If it is her goal to be partisan, then maybe she’s not going to be open to that. I couldn’t say that for her, but my suggestion would be that she do so, because she could only be a better public servant that way.” 

A second issue that caught the attention of some people online was the “reopen Nevada” protesters’ use of a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and a quote attributed to him on a banner affixed to one of their vehicles. 

“I personally find it reprehensible that the moonhowlers are co-opting MLK for their narrowness,” said Andrew Barbano, first vice president of the Reno-Sparks chapter of the NAACP—though he was quick to clarify that he was not speaking on behalf of the chapter. “Everybody’s got a gripe, and this gives small minds something specific to complain about, another yes-no proposition, albeit MAGAcidal.”

The race for District 4

Reed co-owns Sparks-based custom furniture store Haus of Reed with her husband and is director of business development for construction company Brycon. She’s a candidate for Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District and one of eight Republicans running to unseat incumbent Democratic candidate and former state legislator Steven Horsford. 

District 4 encompasses the counties of White Pine, Nye, Mineral, Esmeralda and Lincoln and includes southern Lyon County and northern Clark County. (Congressional candidates need only live in the state, not the district, they represent.) 

Thus far, Reed has not been a major player in the race for the congressional seat. According to Federal Election Commission campaign finance data, she’s raised close to $156,000 compared to Horsford’s nearly $1.85 million. Her closest Republican rival is Jim Marchant—a former member of the Nevada State Assembly, representing District 37— who has raised nearly three times as much as she, more than $433,000.

A protester at the May 3 Reopen Nevada event in Carson City. Image: Trevor Bexon

Nonetheless, Reed’s ideologies may be concerning to some. Her campaign website features a lengthy post titled “CHINA’S CHERNOBYL: How Coronavirus exposed our dangerous reliance on China & what we can do about it.” 

Although she states she is not making “a commentary on the Chinese people” but “an indictment of the Chinese Communist Party,” she pushes the notion that Chinese leaders “misled the world about the severity of Coronavirus and prevented” other world leaders “from calibrating their responses to the novel threat.” 

Washoe County Republican Party Chairman Michael Kadenacy recently referred to COVID-19 in a Youtube video as the “Wu-flu.” 

Experts say associating a virus such as COVID-19 with countries and ethnicities is inaccurate and xenophobic. The 1918 flu pandemic is often referred to as the “Spanish Flu” because it spread throughout Spain, but the initial outbreak is believed to have originated in  Kansas. 

“Xenophobia can rear its head during outbreaks, particularly for poorly understood or novel diseases. This disease-related racism has manifested in profound ways across history,” according to Hugh Shirly at the Outbreak Observatory, a project of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Center for Health Security. “COVID-19 has been used to justify anti-Chinese and anti-Asian rhetoric and actions as a means of protecting the public’s health. Xenophobia can compound the already difficult public health challenge of combating an emerging epidemic by contributing to misinformation and harmful policies, such as travel restrictions.”

Professor of Pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Marietta Vazquez, agreed.

“We must use our platforms to deliver accurate information to help educate our patients and communities. Pathogens do not discriminate,” she said. “What someone looks [like] has no bearing on how likely they are to be sick from COVID-19.”

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