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The sun is setting on the Trump administration‘s first 100 days, and from the very start, his presidency has been a turbulent, on-your-toes spectacle of controversial policies, diplomatic faux-pas, Twitter drama, and increased military aggression. It’s also been a time of taking actions to embolden his conservative base and breaking promises to protect others in our country—including LGBTQ citizens.
Several players inside the White House appear to be antagonistic toward the LGBTQ community, with some having a track record of open hostility. Listed below are eight White House officials that have a history of hurting LGBTQ Americans—because their past is already impacting the country today.
If the name James Renne sounds familiar, that’s because he’s been billed as one of the most homophobic bureaucrats in the past 20 years. Renne, who was recently appointed to a senior position at the Department of Agriculture, has a long history of LGBTQ discrimination in the White House. His infringements were most prominent in the news during the George W. Bush administration.
While serving as deputy special counsel for the Office of Special Counsel, designed to protect whistleblowers, Renne worked with Special Counsel Scott Bloch to transfer gay federal employees to an office in Detroit, according to ProPublica. Employees who decided not to make the transfer were effectively fired from the federal government, and reports suggest that both Renne and Block were motivated by their anti-gay beliefs to transfer and fire gay employees.
Renee also removed a passage from the Special Counsel’s website protecting LGBTQ citizens from discrimination. The situation resulted in both a criminal investigation, as well as a round of hearings in Congress.
Counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway isn’t the first name that comes up in response to the Trump administration’s lacking LGBTQ anti-discrimination policies, but her history shows that she’s someone who has distanced herself from queer voters and made enemies out of them throughout her career. A GLAAD report on Conway reveals that she has repeatedly disparaged LGBTQ people, using them as a representation of “political correctness” gone amok.
In 2005, she claimed that “regular Americans” disliked homosexuality, and argued that lesbian relationships shouldn’t be shown on children’s TV shows because most American parents “don’t want their kids looking at a cartoon with a bunch of lesbian mothers.” In 2002, she argued that gay rights “are not important to Americans,” and in 2014, she said American progressives were turning the American family into “whatever feels cool.”
The Human Rights Campaign notes that Conway previously served as a pollster for the National Organization for Marriage, an anti-LGBTQ group that has vehemently attacked gay marriage and representation in media. While Conway has largely been under fire for presenting “alternative facts” to prove various points, her history shows that she’s unafraid to attack LGBTQ citizens when gay rights come up.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has been notoriously scrutinized for her lack of education experience. But DeVos has a poor track record for protecting LGBTQ citizens, too.
For one, DeVos previously voiced support for “traditional marriage” because “that is the way God set it up,” stating that “children need a mother and a father to love and care for them,” according to the Free Republic. GLAAD reports that she served on the anti-LGBTQ group Action Institute’s board from 1995 to 2005, and that she contributed over $200,000 to an anti-gay marriage bill in Michigan.
DeVos also comes from a family of anti-LGBTQ advocacy. Her father co-founded the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council and the DeVos family has donated to Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage, two anti-LGBTQ organizations that support “conversion therapy,” according to the Washington Blade.
Most notably, as secretary of education, she allowed the Trump administration to roll back federal guidelines protecting transgender students from discrimination in schools. Though she reportedly had reservations about removing the guidelines, in the end, she sided with President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind them. The move was a major blow to trans students across the U.S., with DeVos’s inaction proving that she is likely to go along with an anti-LGBTQ agenda.
Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t just struggle with foreign policy and what slavery was all about—the current secretary of Housing and Urban Development is running a department that has a mixed approach to LGBTQ policies. Several moves from Carson spell bad news for queer Americans, both in and out of the cabinet.
In March, HUD withdrew information collection for both an LGBTQ youth homeless prevention program, as well as data collection to ensure HUD housing does not discriminate based sexuality, gender identity, or marital status. The move is a devastating blow to LGBTQ Americans that need assistance from the federal government, but it falls in line with Carson’s beliefs on LGBTQ people.
In the past, Carson has called transgender Americans “abnormal.” Likewise, during a congressional hearing with the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, he argued against giving LGBTQ Americans “extra rights,” even though LGBTQ Americans face discrimination daily.
“What I have mentioned in the past is that no one gets extra rights. Extra rights means you get to redefine everything for everybody else,” Carson said, according to the Advocate.
Carson has also argued that gay Americans choose to be gay. As he told CNN, prisoners “go into prison straight—and when they come out, they’re gay.” Alongside making light of prison rape, Carson has also argued that gay marriage will lead to “chaos,” pushing for Congress to overturn gay marriage with federal legislation, according to Right Wing Watch.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a long and troubling history with civil rights issues, more often than not siding with the oppressor over the oppressed. Sessions has not just voted against everything from Obamacare to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, he also has an antagonistic track record against LGBTQ citizens.
During the mid-2000s, Sessions voted in support of the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have made gay marriage illegal. He also voted against the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal. The Human Rights Campaign reports that he’s opposed LGBTQ hate crime protections, has worked against sex education programs that prevent HIV, and has tried to shut down the National Endowment for the Arts because of its support of LGBTQ filmmakers. He’s even said that homosexual Americans simply have “gay tendencies,” refusing to respect their sexuality.
According to CNN, in 1996, he actively worked as Alabama’s attorney general to shut down the Southeastern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual College Conference under a state law that barred public universities from funding organizations sponsoring “actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws.” Sessions claimed he would try to get a court order to shut down the conference, but before anything could be done, a federal judge ruled the law unconstitutional, and the conference was held.
While his actions and votes may have sometimes been overruled and outnumbered, Sessions’ past proves that he’s unafraid to use force to attack the LGBTQ community. And as attorney general, he’s also taken steps to further hurt transgender Americans, working with the White House to drop interest in trans antidiscrimination lawsuits and rescind transgender protections in schools across the U.S.
Despite rumors that he’s fallen out of the president’s good graces, former Breitbart head Steve Bannon is one of the most prominent anti-LGBTQ figures in the White House. Having led Breitbart News after founder Andrew Breitbart’s death, Bannon directed the publication into a pro-nationalist, pro-alt-right, and anti-LGBTQ direction.
Bannon’s political career began promptly after meeting Andrew Breitbart. Once Bannon became executive chair of Breitbart News, the Breitbart brand became a hotbed of discussions about progressive “authoritarianism,” #GamerGate, and, perhaps most noticeably, attacks on people of color and LGBTQ activists and policies.
Bannon eagerly signed off on a story condemning gay hate crime victim Matthew Shepard’s death as a “myth,” calling his story “the stuff of gay legend” and his death “a drug deal gone bad.” He’s also argued that Target is excluding “hard-working people who don’t want their four-year-old daughter to have to go into a bathroom with a guy with a beard in a dress,” referring to the company’s trans-inclusive bathroom policy. He also eagerly supported ex-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who has done everything from called for LGBTQ activists to “drop the T” to stalking and harassing a transgender student at her university.
From the outside, Vice President Mike Pence has been hailed as the “least volatile” Republican in the White House, an alleged voice of reason inside an otherwise tumultuous administration. That idea might be comforting to straight Americans or male Americans (he is very anti-reproductive rights), but Pence’s track record shows that he does not believe in equal rights for all, especially the LGBTQ community.
For one, during his 2000 congressional campaign run, Pence wanted to pull HIV/AIDS funding from organizations that “celebrate and encourage” gay rights under the Ryan White Care Act. According to the New York Times, Pence’s website said, “Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.”
Instead, Pence wanted this money to go to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
While ambiguous, it seems Pence wanted the act to pull funding away from LGBTQ organizations, and instead give them to conversion therapy programs. Seeing how HIV and AIDS ravaged the LGBTQ community throughout the late 20th century and still affects them to this day, pulling funding would be a death sentence to many queer Americans.
Serving as Indiana’s governor, Pence also signed into law a religious freedom act that allows businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ citizens, the Times reports. Alongside attacking gay marriage within Indiana, Pence also inadvertently caused an HIV epidemic in Scott County, thanks to his anti-Planned Parenthood stance within the state.
In the LGBTQ community, President Donald Trump is considered one of the worst offenders in the White House, and for an obvious reason: He is the head figure who rounded up this group of anti-LGBTQ politicians and put them in power. It was Trump who gave Pence, Bannon, DeVos, Sessions, Penne, etc., the keys to create—or withdraw—policies that hurt the LGBTQ community.
More importantly, Trump has an ongoing pattern of feigning support for LGBTQ citizens, only to institute an administration policy or an executive order that does the opposite. For example, the White House eagerly stated that Trump “is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community” and that Trump will protect LGBTQ workers “from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors.” Trump quickly broke both promises, rescinding transgender protections in schools and revoking an executive order protecting LGBTQ employees from federal contractors.
Activists note that Trump refuses to engage with the LGBTQ community, only pushing out gay-friendly talking points when it’s in his interest (such as his campaign’s pandering to conservative gays). Meanwhile, Trump is enabling every discriminatory action by his anti-LGBTQ staffers: not just by hiring them, and not just by defending them, but by actively creating and maintaining policies that defend their anti-LGBTQ positions—like rescinding trans protections.
While it’s unknown if Trump hates LGBTQ people on a personal level, he lets anti-LGBTQ sentiments make its way from his cabinet to the American public, affecting how people get to live their lives. He should know, just like in business, the tone is set from the top.
Ana Valens is a reporter specializing in online queer communities, marginalized identities, and adult content creation. She is Daily Dot's Trans/Sex columnist. Her work has appeared at Vice, Vox, Truthout, Bitch Media, Kill Screen, Rolling Stone, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, and spends her free time developing queer adult games.