Trump appointees: The trend and the hope
President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of a Secretary of Education who is affiliated with the far right, anti-LGBT leadership in Michigan continues a troubling trend.
First came his “Chief Strategist” Steve Bannon, who referred to progressive women as “a bunch of dykes” and published numerous essays referring to “faggots.” Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry, and his Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions has opposed every effort in the U.S. Senate at ensuring LGBT citizens have equal rights and protection from discrimination. Then last week came Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos, who was a lead supporter of an anti-same-sex marriage ballot initiative in Michigan, and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
So far, Trump has not nominated any openly LGBT people or LGBT friendly people for his top administration positions.
Here’s a quick look at his initial appointments of special concern to the LGBT community thus far:
Chief Strategist Steve Bannon
The position: This is a new position so nobody knows yet how much control and/or influence Bannon will have over the new president.
The person: Bannon is a Harvard Business School graduate and chairman of Breitbart Media, which publishes a political website Bannon called the “platform of the alt-right,” an ideology closely linked to white supremacist positions. Bannon told the Wall Street Journal it was also a platform for “proponents of restrictions on gay marriage.” He took over as the Trump campaign’s CEO less than three months before Trump won the electoral vote for president.
The concerns: He blamed the unpopularity of conservative women political figures like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Ann Coulter on a concerted effort at character assassination by “a bunch of dykes.” And Breitbart’s website, under Bannon’s leadership, has included frequent essays by a self-identified “screaming queen” who argues such things as, “gays should pipe down and get back in the closet” and giving straight people “permission to say gay, faggot and queer.”
Signs of hope: Bannon told the Wall Street Journal that Breitbar is also a “platform” for “the conservative gay community” and Breitbart Senior Editor Joel Pollak says Bannon seeks out talent “regardless of distinctions of race, gender, religion, sexuality, or any other kind” and notes that the website includes “gay writers.”
Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
The position: Traditionally, this is the president’s gatekeeper: the person who decides what issues and people get the president’s attention. The current COS, Denis McDonough, helped usher in the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
The person: Priebus, as Chairman of the Republican Party, toed the party line on opposition to marriage equality.
The concerns: The Republican Party platform developed under Priebus’ tenure as chairman is perhaps the most hostile as any past platforms to the LGBT community. He has said he does not believe gays deserve the civil right of marriage equality. And Jimmy LaSalvia, founder of the now defunct GOProud, said Priebus refused to meet with the conservative gay group for fear of angering the anti-LGBT Family Research Council.
Signs of hope: On Meet the Press in May 2012, Priebus said he thinks gays “deserve equal rights in regard to, say, discrimination in the workplace…and hospital visitations….”
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
The position: As head of the U.S. Department of Education, the Secretary sets the agenda for promoting educational excellence, establishing policies that affect federal aid to schools, collect data to help guide policies, and direct attention to various issues. Under the Obama administration, Secretary John King issued a guidance statement (with the Department of Justice) to say that Title IX prohibits discrimination based on transgender status. Previous Obama Secretary of Education Arne Duncan issue letter saying that the federal Equal Access Act requires schools receiving federal funds allow gay-straight alliances to form.
The person: Betsy DeVos is a long-time donor to right-wing causes and was a leading supporter of a 2004 ballot campaign against marriage equality in Michigan. DeVos is married to Dick DeVos Jr., the retired CEO of the Amway corporation (now called Alticor), against which activist Fred Karger organized a boycott because of the family’s donations to various anti-LGBT efforts around the country.
The concerns: DeVos could reverse the Obama administration’s position on Title IX and could issue a different interpretation of the requirements of the Equal Access Act.
Signs of hope: Betsy DeVos pushed back against an even more extreme anti-LGBT right-wing activist Dave Agema in his bid to become Republican National Committeeman for Michigan in 2014. Agema called gays “filthy,” claimed they were responsible for most murders in large cities, and said the Russian government’s prohibition on gay “propaganda” was a common sense policy. DeVos said the comments reflected badly on Republicans and called for Agema’s resignation. “Leaders have a responsibility to create an inclusive, welcoming party,” DeVos told the Detroit News.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The position: This is the position charged with seeing that U.S. laws are enforced and that all Americans have access to the fair and impartial administration of justice. The current Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, has filed suit against the state of North Carolina for enacting an anti-LGBT law (HB2). She also joined the Department of Education in interpreting Title IX as covering gender identity. Her predecessor in the Obama administration, Eric Holder, announced the administration would enforce but not defend the Defense of Marriage Act as constitutional.
The person: U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions as a 20-year history of opposing equal rights for LGBT people. As senator, he has opposed every measure seeking to protect LGBT people and supported every measure seeking to diminish their rights. With the exception of one vote, he has opposed every openly LGBT judicial nominee.
The concerns: Sessions can be expected to undo the DOJ’s interpretation of Title IX as including discrimination based on gender identity. He is also likely to withdraw the federal government’s lawsuit against North Carolina and could even support the state’s position.
Signs of hope: None identified as yet.
Ambassador to the U.N.: Nikki Haley
The position: This position represents the U.S.’s position and interests on issues affecting the global community. The current Ambassador, Samatha Power, led a Roundtable Strategy Session on International LGBT Rights at the U.S. Mission headquarters. Her predecessor, Susan Rice, led efforts to have the U.N. Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution to decry “violence and discrimination…against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The person: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley opposed marriage equality and defended her state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples even after the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down a similar ban in Virginia.
The concerns: The rumor mill floated openly gay Republican Trump delegate Ric Grenell as a possible choice for this position. The selection of Haley suggests there is now very little prospects for an openly gay person to be part of Trump’s cabinet.
Signs of hope: During her response to President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address, Haley said the Republican Party would “respect differences in modern families,” a statement many interpreted a sort of acceptance of same-sex marriages. And she said of a North Carolina-style HB 2-like bill in the South Carolina legislature, “I don’t believe it’s necessary.” “We’re not hearing of anybody’s religious liberties that are being violated, and we’re again not hearing of any citizens that feel like they’re being violated in terms of freedoms.”
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