Opinion

Opinion | Michelangelo Signorile

Trump’s Cabinet: A who’s who of homophobia

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14: (L to R) Vice President-elect Mike Pence looks on as President-elect Donald Trump shakes the hand of Peter Thiel during a meeting with technology executives at Trump Tower, December 14, 2016 in New York City. This is the first major meeting between President-elect Trump and technology industry leaders. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Mike Pence, Donald Trump, and Peter Thiel in a meeting with technology executives at Trump Tower on Wednesday.

During his election campaign, Donald Trump claimed he was “better for the gay community” than Hillary Clinton. He even stated in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in August that he would protect “our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.”

But what about a hateful domestic ideology that is a much greater threat to the actual rights of LGBTQ citizens in the United States?

So far, Trump’s transition team, led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence — the Indiana governor with a history of antigay positions and actions, including signing the draconian Religious Restoration Freedom Act in 2015 — appears to have given payback to antigay Trump supporters, including the Family Research Council, designated a hate group in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which described the group as a “font of anti-gay propaganda throughout its history.”

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FRC’s Tony Perkins, who helped write the GOP platform, considered among the most anti-LGBT GOP platforms in history (and which promotes so-called “reparative therapy”), endorsed Trump, in a speech at the RNC, and helped turn out white evangelicals for Trump in percentages equal to or surpassing former GOP presidential candidates.

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It’s not surprising, then, that Ken Blackwell, former Ohio secretary of state and FRC senior fellow, was named domestic policy chair of the Trump transition team. Blackwell has compared homosexuality to arson and kleptomania, and in an interview with me at the 2008 GOP convention he explained the comparison: “I believe homosexuality is a compulsion that can be contained, repressed, or changed. . . . [T]hat is what I’m saying in the clearest of terms.” Kay Coles James, former vice president of FRC, is also on the transition team, as is Ken Klukowski, former director of FRC’s center for religious liberty, and Ed Meese, former attorney general under Ronald Reagan, who has written for FRC’s blog.

The cabinet that this transition team and Trump are settling on so far reads like a who’s who of LGBT opponents. Trump named as his education secretary nominee Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, whose family’s foundation has given millions of dollars to groups working against LGBT equality — including FRC, as well as the National Organization for Marriage, which received $500,000. DeVos and her husband, Richard Jr., heir to the Amway fortune, helped lead a successful ballot measure to ban marriage equality in their state in 2004, donating $200,000 to the effort. They have also donated several million dollars to Focus on the Family, which promotes reparative therapy for gays. In 2001, at an evangelical conference, DeVos explained that her work in public education, promoting “school choice,” is a way of “help advance God’s Kingdom.”

Will DeVos, as secretary of education, continue the ground-breaking programs that came out of the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights during the Obama years, taking on anti-LGBT bullying, advising schools nationwide to let LGBT groups meet on school campuses, directing schools on the treatment of transgender students, and holding an LGBT youth summit? That remains to be seen. But her past should sound loud alarms.

Trump’s choice for health and human services secretary is Georgia GOP congressman, Tom Price, who voted to ban marriage equality in the US Constitution and attacked the Obama administration’s recent guidelines on treatment of transgender students as “absurd.” Most concerning is that Representative Price, responding to a conservative rabbi — who asked in 2013 on a conference call of Tea Party activists if the “medical health impact” of the “homosexual agenda” should be taken into account before passing any LGBT rights bills — stated that “the consequences of activity that has been seen as outside the norm are real and must be explored completely and in their entirety prior to moving forward with any social legislation that would alter things.”

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That kind of thinking doesn’t bode well for vital LGBT health advocacy programs coming out the HHS, pioneered during the Obama administration, nor for judgment-free HIV/AIDS prevention programs, including the Obama administration’s promotion of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), the once-a-day pill, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2012. Studies have shown the therapy to be enormously effective in preventing infection among those who are HIV negative. There are also the provisions that ban discrimination against LGBT people by insurance companies within the Affordable Care Act, which Price and Trump are determined to repeal. Will this administration allow LGBT people to be discriminated against in health care once again?

The list goes on. Trump’s choice for attorney general is staunchly anti-LGBT Alabama US senator Jeff Sessions, who has consistently had a score of zero from the Human Rights Campaign, and whose actions include a vote against the LGBT-inclusive hate crimes law that President Obama signed in 2009 and which the Justice Department is charged with implementing. Trump’s pick for housing and urban development secretary is Ben Carson, who compared homosexuality to bestiality and incest. Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security advisor, mocked transgender people serving openly in the military (the Defense Department lifted its ban this year), and Trump’s defense secretary choice, General James N. Mattis, has hinted that he opposed repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” writing in a book that it’s dangerous when civilian leaders’ “progressive agenda” imposes “social change” on the military.

South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, chosen as ambassador to the UN, has spoken out strongly against marriage equality. Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo, named by Trump as his CIA director nominee, supported a bill allowing the federal definition of marriage to be superseded by a state definition. And Trump’s choice of chief of staff, Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus, oversaw the anti-LGBT platform hammered out at the 2016 party convention and has said the “best scenario” in which to raise children is within a heterosexual marriage.

These choices shouldn’t come as a shock to those paying attention, since Trump courted evangelicals studiously. While much of the media heralded his use of the initialism “LGBTQ” as historic for a GOP presidential candidate (and played up his having an openly gay speaker on the RNC stage, billionaire Peter Thiel), Trump, who has consistently opposed marriage equality since 2000, was meeting with and making promises to evangelical leaders.

When Trump vowed in September to sign the First Amendment Defense Act (which he’d earlier hinted he’d support), introduced by Republicans in both houses of Congress this year and which would allow for discrimination against LGBT people via religious exemptions, there was virtually no media coverage beyond conservative websites and the LGBT press. Trump was allowed to present himself as better on LGBT issues than other Republicans, while quietly making many of the same promises to LGBT opponents as any other GOP presidential candidate. The potentially devastating upshot of that is now becoming clear.

Michelangelo Signorile is a radio host on SiriusXM and editor at large of Huffington Post Queer Voices