COVER DESIGN BY MICHAEL SHIREY/ PHOTOS: GAGE SKIDMORE (MIKE PENCE, BEN CARSON); DON IRVINE (STEVE BANNON); MICHAEL VADON (DONALD TRUMP) TWITTER.COM (BETSY DEVOS)
It’s difficult to adequately summarize the new president’s unfitness for office – his bigoted and inflammatory language about immigrants and Muslims, his casual disrespect for the African-American community (including his racist questioning of President Barack Obama’s birthplace), his history of derogatory and abusive language toward women, his indifference to relationships with allies coupled with his unfettered admiration for Vladimir Putin, his loose talk about nuclear weapons, his thuggish encouragement of violence on the campaign trail, and his demonstrated lack of any coherent policy thinking.
Among the immediate concerns to the LGBTQ community is his repeated pledge to install right-wing justices on the Supreme Court, with the first name he mentioned publicly being 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor. As Alabama attorney general in 2003, Pryor, whom Lambda Legal termed the “most demonstrably anti-gay” appointment in memory when George W. Bush named him to the 11th Circuit, wrote a friend of the court brief in support of the Texas sodomy law that compared gay sex to “polygamy, incest, pedophilia, prostitution, and adultery,” noting that the courts in his state “never recognized a fundamental right to engage in sexual activity outside of monogamous heterosexual marriage, let alone to engage in homosexual sodomy.” Such a right, he wrote, “would be antithetical to the traditional relation of the family that is as old and as fundamental as our entire civilization.”
A troubling sign of what Trump might have in mind in considering someone like Pryor came in an answer to Fox’s Chris Wallace, who last year asked him if he would “try to appoint justices to overrule the decision on same-sex marriage”: “I would strongly consider that, yes.”
Trump has also pledged to overturn President Barack Obama’s executive orders, prominent among them a 2014 order that barred private sector contractors doing business with the federal government from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. On the campaign trail, he was asked about the military’s decision to end its ban on open service by transgender service members, to which he responded, “We’re going to get away from political correctness, and we are going to have to do that… We have a politically correct military, and it’s getting more and more politically correct every day.”
The new president’s attacks on Planned Parenthood signal his hostility toward women’s health care, which is surely no good sign regarding the new administration’s posture toward improving care for the LGBTQ community. And, of course, Trump’s overheated rhetoric and threats on the question of immigration pose a significant danger toward many LGBTQ people.
Prior to his pick as Donald Trump’s running mate, the last time the nation heard from Mike Pence he had signed a so-called religious freedom bill that was in reality a license for discrimination against the LGBTQ community. The outcry from businesses in the state – not to mention the condemnation from elsewhere – in short order forced Pence and the Legislature to “repeal and replace” the measure.
In 12 years in Congress, starting in 2000, Pence racked up a conservative record consistently, getting zeroes on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard. Pence opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, marriage equality, and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Since his election as vice president, Pence has hastened to assure far right radicals that the new administration’s heart is with them, reiterating Trump’s pledge to roll back Obama administration executive orders, and specifically assuring Focus on the Family’s James Dobson that the current Education Department directive that public schools allow transgender students access to bathrooms consistent with their gender identity would be reversed.
The new president’s chief strategist and senior counselor is the man who managed to make Breitbart.com’s despicable, no-holds-barred politics even more outlandish in the years following the death of the site’s founder, Andrew Breitbart, in 2012. Though Trump himself disavows the “alt-right,” Bannon, at this summer’s Republican Convention, bragged, “We’re the platform for the alt-right.”
Bannon is also not shy about acknowledging he’s a “nationalist,” though he insists his nationalism has nothing to do with racist “white nationalism.” Tell that to the white nationalists themselves: Immediately following the November election, an exuberant crowd of alt-right activists meeting in Washington closed with Nazi salutes and shouts of “Heil the people! Heil victory.” Bannon is not specifically responsible for everything his admirers think or do, but it is difficult to separate Breitbart.com’s nationalism from white nationalism. The site has been a haven for Islamophobic hyperbole and extremists and has also hyped untrue claims about the African-American community, including attacks on “black privilege” and warnings about both “black-on-black” and “black-on-white” crime. A famous Breitbart headline last year termed conservative Trump critic William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, a “renegade Jew.”
Back in 2011, Bannon himself wrote a telling defense of conservative women: “There are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England. That drives the left insane, and that’s why they hate these women.”
Beyond Bannon’s odious beliefs and associations, it’s also worth looking at his view of what kind of government the US should strive for. Looking back on the Russian Revolution, he said, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Donald’s Trump nominee for attorney general, currently a US senator from Alabama, has the distinction of having been rejected for a federal judgeship by a GOP-controlled Senate committee. The allegations raised in 1986 involved Sessions, as a US attorney, calling an African-American subordinate in his office “boy” and warning him to watch how he spoke to “white folks,” having agreed with the statement that a white attorney was “a disgrace to his race” for litigating voting rights cases, and joking that the Ku Klux Klan would be fine but for its members’ use of marijuana.
Sessions denied some — though not all — of those charges at the time, and some of his Senate colleagues today insist all that is old news and he is not a racist. His harsh opposition to both voting rights protections and immigrants’ rights, however, raises timely questions regarding his current qualifications to lead the agency charged with protecting the civil rights and liberties of all Americans. Sessions’ record on LGBT rights is abysmal; he has consistently received a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign — with the exception of one two-year session when he earned a 15 percent for voting in favor of a gay nominee for the federal court in Manhattan. During the George W. Bush years, it was Sessions who recommended the nomination of William H. Pryor, Jr. – now on Trump’s shortlist for the Supreme Court – to the federal bench in Alabama, an appointment Lambda Legal termed the “most demonstrably anti-gay” pick it could recall. Sessions is a strident critic of marriage equality, and, in warning against “very dangerous… secularization,” he now embraces a radically far-reaching religious exemption law that would gut any LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
Trump’s selection for Education Secretary is a former Republican state chair in Michigan known – and controversial – for her advocacy for school vouchers, DeVos and her husband, Dick, gave $200,000 to the successful 2004 push to ban same-sex marriage in Michigan, which they led according to rawstory.com. That story reported that a foundation run by Dick DeVos’ parents gave $540,000 to the anti-gay Focus on the Family and that they separately gave $100,000 to the effort to ban same-sex marriage in Florida. Betsy DeVos’ mother gather $450,000 to Focus on the Family, according to rawstory.
Despite her family’s support for organizations that champion so-called conversion therapy, GLSEN noted that in her confirmation testimony this week DeVos rejected that long-discredited practice. At the same time, according to GLSEN, she dodged questions about the Department of Education’s recent advocacy on behalf of transgender students – which Pence has pledged the administration will overturn – and said that civil rights protections for other students, including those with disabilities, from communities of color, and from religious minorities should be referred “back to the states.”
“We’ve seen where that leads, and we know that all students require more protection if we are to be a country that provides meaningful opportunity to all children,” said GLSEN’s executive director Dr. Eliza Byard.
The National Black Justice Coalition echoed the concerns of other LGBTQ advocates about DeVos’ posture toward the queer community, but also focused fire on her for helping to make Michigan “ground zero for the destruction of American public education.”
Speaking out on the nomination of the Georgia congressmember as secretary of Health and Human Services, LGBTQ advocacy groups have emphasized his adamant opposition to President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Lambda Legal termed the ACA “the most effective piece of legislation in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the history of the epidemic,” while the Center for American Progress noted that Obamacare has brought healthcare coverage to the most “economically vulnerable LGBT people.” The Congressional Budget Office’s new report on the devastating impact of the law’s repeal (see page 7) underscores the dangers its supporters highlight.
The Human Rights Campaign has detailed how Price, in his years in Congress, walked alongside Pence and Sessions in embracing the most anti-LGBT range of policy positions. He opposed enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, and the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act because it included specific protections for LGBTQ domestic violence victims. Price is also a champion of the federal First Amendment Defense Act, which would give religious opt-outs to those unwilling to abide by federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws and policies. As the Obama administration has joined some states and localities in guaranteeing transgender people open access to public accommodations including bathrooms and locker rooms, he termed that effort an “abuse and overreach of power.”
A letter from the Family Research Council warning its members about the dangers of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act quoted its “good friend” Price as saying, “If the homosexual Left succeeds and ENDA becomes law, you can just let your mind run wild and see the consequences: They are remarkably negative.”
Aside from the fact that the former neurosurgeon has no demonstrated fluency in housing policy and that his business manager, Armstrong Williams, said he hesitated to accept Trump’s nomination because “he feels he has no government experience, he’s never run a federal agency,” there are other reasons to worry about Ben Carson at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Asked by Fox News’ Sean Hannity about his view of marriage equality, he said, “Marriage is between a man and a woman. It’s a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are, they don’t get to change the definition.”
And in a statement he later tried to pull back, Carson, questioned about whether he viewed homosexuality as a choice, said, “Absolutely… Because a lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight – and when they come out, they’re gay. So, did something happen while they were in there? Ask you that question.”
An outspoken supporter of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, on which Mike Pence as governor was forced to retreat after signing it, Carson would be in charge of a federal agency that currently enforces nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in federally-financed and insured housing, by landlords who receive federal funds, and in any lending decisions regarding a federally-insured mortgage. HUD also currently protects people living with HIV from housing discrimination, requires that transgender homeless people have access to sex-segregated shelters based on their gender identity, and is being pressed to support more LGBTQ-friendly housing for homeless youth. None of these objectives are ones Carson can be counted on to advance.