Four Trump Cabinet Nominees We Are Watching

Family Equality Council is deeply concerned by the records of Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rep. Tom Price, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson, and their potential impact on LGBTQ communities.

As 2016 comes to a close, we are only days away from the start of confirmation hearings for many of President-elect Trump’s nominees for key Cabinet-level positions, which are set to begin in early January.  Our Policy Team has been hard at work researching and compiling information about the nominees to get a better understanding of who they are and how they may affect our families and community.  While we have concerns about many of Trump’s nominees, there are four with particularly concerning records on LGBTQ issues.

Before delving into their anti-LGBTQ records, we want to assure you that we are tracking developments and working in collaboration with colleagues at other organizations (in the LGBTQ space and beyond) to determine the best way to stand together and protect all of those facing discrimination and possible backlash from the new administration. Make no mistake, there are considerable battles and obstacles ahead. That said, the history of the LGBTQ movement gives witness to the fact that we are our strongest and most unified in the face of adversity.

Furthermore, the far-reaching threats to multiple communities — Muslims, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, women, and those living in poverty — will create opportunities for us to forge new and stronger relationships with our brothers and sisters in those communities. Rest assured that Family Equality Council will take advantage of every opportunity to defend our rights and protections, and emerge from the next four years stronger and with new systems in place to take care of those most vulnerable in LGBTQ communities and beyond.

In the coming weeks, we will be sending out more information about each nominee and action alerts asking you to get engaged. It is more important than ever that we stand together and make our voices heard.

Senator Jeff Sessions (Attorney General)

If confirmed to the position of Attorney General, Senator Jeff Sessions would become the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and head of the Department of Justice, responsible for enforcing civil rights legislation. Sessions would oversee over 50 agencies that comprise the DOJ, including the Civil Rights Division, the Civil Division, the Criminal Division, the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review.

Sen. Sessions’ record in Congress makes clear that he is no friend of the LGBTQ community. For example, Sessions has:

  • Opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which expanded federal hate crimes to include sexual orientation, gender, and disability.
  • Supported (cosponsored and voted in favor of) two attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marriage, and spoke out publicly in opposition to the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.
  • Is a cosponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a dangerous so-called “religious liberty” bill that seeks to prohibit the federal government from taking action against people who discriminate against LGBTQ people based on their religious beliefs.
  • Opposed allowing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) , which would have prohibited employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to proceed to a vote in the Senate.
  • Opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
  • Voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which included important protections for LGBTQ people.

As we argued in a recent Press Release announcing our partnership with almost 150 civil rights organizations opposing Sessions’ nomination, it is clear that the Senator’s record of actions stands in direct conflict to the responsibilities of the office of Attorney General.

Representative Tom Price (Secretary of Health and Human Services)

The Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees the federal agency that is most involved with the nation’s healthcare and social services, touching the lives of more Americans — from newborn infants to senior citizens — than any other federal agency. There are 20 sub-agencies in HHS, including the Administration for Children and Families, the Administration for Community Living (covering senior care and disabilities), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The nomination of Representative Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services threatens to roll back advances made in LGBTQ rights and access to healthcare over the past eight years. Rep. Price holds strong anti-gay beliefs, and shares much of Sen. Sessions’ voting history. Specifically, Rep. Price has:

  • Voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare”) which contains important protections for LGBTQ people, and is widely known as one of its fiercest critics.
  • Opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, which expanded federal hate crimes to include sexual orientation, gender, and disability.
  • Opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
  • Voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) introduced in the House of Representatives in 2007, which would have prohibited sexual orientation-based discrimination in employment.
  • Supported (co-sponsored and voted in favor of) a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2006, and is on record after the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic marriage equality decision saying that the ruling was “not only a sad day for marriage, but a further judicial destruction of our entire system of checks and balances.”
  • Co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), the so-called religious liberty bill explained above.
  • Voted against the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which included important protections for LGBTQ people.
  • Called President Obama’s federal guidelines providing transgender students with important protections, including the right to use the bathroom at school that is consistent with their gender identity, “absurd.”

Betsy DeVos (Secretary of Education)

Betsy DeVos has been nominated for Secretary of Education. She and her husband, Richard (“Dick”) DeVos Jr., alongside their families, have a long history of supporting anti-LGBTQ organizations and campaigns. As Secretary of Education, DeVos would be charged with overseeing the federal agency that sets policy for, administers, and coordinates most of the federal government’s assistance to education, assisting the president in executing his education policies, and implementing federal statutes pertaining to education.

  • The Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, DeVos’ parents’ foundation which is run primarily by Betsy DeVos and her siblings, has donated millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ groups including Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. During 2012–2014 alone, they donated over $2.2 million to Family Research Council and over $1.1 million to Focus on the Family. (See public financial reports here, here, here, and here).
  • DeVos’ mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, donated $450,000 to support Proposition 8, a successful ballot initiative that amended California’s constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry (passed in response to the California Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality).
  • The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, which is run by DeVos’ in-laws, has donated at least $1 million to Focus on the Family, one of the nation’s most anti-LGBTQ organizations that encourages “conversation therapy.” (See financial reports here, here, and here.)
  • The Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, DeVos’ brother and sister-in-law’s foundation, donated at least $750,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, one of the biggest opponents of marriage equality. ($500,000 in 2009 and $250,000 in 2012).
  • Betsy DeVos and her husband Richard are widely reported to have supported Michigan’s 2004 ballot measure to ban marriage between individuals of the same-sex (PrideSource).
  • DeVos’ mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, was a top individual contributor to the successful campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution to prohibit marriage between same-sex couples. Three other DeVos family members also supported the campaign (See records here and here).
  • DeVos’ husband, Richard DeVos, Jr., donated $100,000 in support of the successful 2008 campaign to amend Florida’s constitution to prohibit same-sex couples from marrying.

Disentangling Betsy DeVos’ own contributions from those of her close family and the foundations they control is complex. What is clear, however, is that we are now faced with a future in which our Secretary of Education comes from a world in which spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight against LGBTQ rights is an everyday practice; a truly frightening prospect for LGBTQ youth across the country who are already battling discrimination and bullying in schools.

Ben Carson (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “is the Federal agency responsible for national policy and programs that address America’s housing needs, improve and develop the Nation’s communities, and enforce fair housing laws” (HUD Portal). HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs provides funding and assistance for programs assisting individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

  • Carson is on record several times throughout his bid for the Republican nomination for President, opposing marriage equality (e.g. CNN, MSNBC).
  • Carson stated that he believes being gay is a choice, reasoning that “[people] go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” (CNN).
  • He stated that he believes that marriage equality would lead to polygamy, and in at least one interview compared marriage between same-sex couples to bestiality and pedophilia.
  • Carson has stated that rights for LGBTQ people are “extra rights” and that protecting the rights of transgender people is “garbage” and “silly” and suggested that transgender people are “abnormal.” (Advocate, Right Wing Watch, CNN).
  • Carson referred to poverty as a “choice” and has described fair housing policy as “social engineering.” (NY Times, Washington Times)
  • Carson has no experience in housing or urban policy, and has personally admitted to being ill-prepared to run a federal agency (The Hill).

From these four key appointments alone, it is clear that the LGBTQ community will face unprecedented attacks on our rights and protections. Now more than ever, it is vital that all LGBTQ individuals, family-members, friends, and allies get engaged, helping us build the systems of support for the those most marginalized among us need. Together, we will emerge from these trying times more unified than ever.

Despite the challenges we face, we believe the nation is about to see the true strength of our LGBTQ community, standing shoulder to shoulder with all marginalized groups facing oppression and inequality.