After the transgender protections were rescinded by this administration, we know it is complicit in placing LGBTQ youth in harm’s way. But are the rights of other LGBTQ individuals and families also in jeopardy? After President Trump's recent joint session speech, we need to remember that actions speak louder than words. There are 24 offices within the Trump administration that are designated as Cabinet or Cabinet-level. Of the people filling those 24, 11 come from elected offices. Of those 11 figures who come from elected life, all — every last one of them — has a decisive, sweeping, nearly unbroken record of anti-LGBTQ votes and/or executive actions.
Let’s start with the top: Vice President Mike Pence. As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2013, Pence voted against every single piece of pro-LGBTQ legislation to come before him and in favor of the harshest anti-LGBTQ bills to cross his desk. Then, as governor of the state of Indiana, Pence made national headlines for his support of religious-based discrimination against LGBTQ customers seeking goods and services. In both of his elected roles, Pence staked the ground of a socially conservative warrior, and his well-documented record of animosity toward LGBTQ people is among the 21st century’s most extensive.
Then there’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As U.S. senator, Sessions championed nasty pieces of legislation like the Federal Marriage Amendment and voted against anything that would be positive for LGBTQ people, including federal hate-crimes law and the repeal of the military’s discriminatory "don't ask, don't tell" policy. In later years, he cosponsored legislation like the so-called State Marriage Defense Act and the still-active First Amendment Defense Act, both of which social conservatives prop up as ways to get around the effects of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling. Like Pence, Sessions seemed to make pleasing Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council his number 1 legislative priority.
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, President Trump’s pick for Energy secretary, was known throughout the aughts as one of the nation’s most anti-LGBTQ governors. He signed multiple laws that banned same-sex marriage in varying ways and used his bully pulpit to condemn LGBTQ people. When he pivoted toward running for president, one of his first campaign ads condemned the then-recent repeal of DADT. That’s what you get when you choose a Cabinet member who has directly compared gay people to alcoholics.
Moving on to Tom Price, Health and Human Services secretary: While a lesser-known name before his Cabinet selection, Price made a lot of noise on LGBTQ rights during his 12 years in the U.S. House. Price voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and DADT repeal, and he voted for the heinous Federal Marriage Amendment. When he voted against the federal hate-crimes bill, he insisted that the eventual passage of the legislation was “an absolute disgrace.” He also insisted that the federal guidance on transgender students’ bathroom access was “absurd” — the very guidance that AG Sessions has now dismantled.
Ryan Zinke is another who was not well-known before being chosen as Interior secretary. While he took very few substantive votes on LGBTQ rights during his two years in the U.S. House, he did sign on as the cosponsor of legislation that did nothing more — nothing more — than state disagreement with the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling.
Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, began voting against LGBTQ rights even before he got to the federal level, cosponsoring his state’s marriage ban while serving in the South Carolina Senate. After joining the U.S. House in 2011, Mulvaney went on to score a 0 on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard for all three of his completed terms, in dishonor of his unwaveringly hostile voting pattern.
Before President Trump chose Sonny Perdue to become secretary of Agriculture, Perdue served as Georgia’s governor from 2003 to 2011. In this role, Perdue proudly signed the state’s marriage ban into law. Years later, when court action threatened to dismantle the discriminatory law, Perdue threatened to pass another amendment, should the side of equality prevail in court.
Nikki Haley, now the U.N. ambassador but South Carolina’s governor before that, was also a champion of marriage inequality during her time in office. Coupled with her stated personal support for the discriminatory definition of marriage, Haley fought in court to stop marriage equality from taking hold in the Palmetto State.
Looking at Mike Pompeo, the president’s pick for CIA director: Even though he entered Congress after the vote to repeal DADT, the Kansas Republican ran for the U.S. House as a staunch opponent of inclusive military service. He then went on to cosponsor two bills, the State Marriage Defense Act and the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, both of which are purposed around weakening marriage equality.
The new director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, served two separate stints in the U.S. Senate. During his first (1989–1999), he was one of the fiercest opponents of President Bill Clinton’s push for inclusive military service. During his second (2011–2017), he voted against pro-LGBTQ measures like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Both periods were rife with nasty comments about the supposed threat LGBTQ rights pose to society.
And then there’s Scott Pruitt. President Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency has received most notoriety for the fact that he seems to not care so much for the EPA or its work. But on LGBTQ rights, his record is equally eye-opening. As the elected attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt joined a lawsuit to block the Obama administration transgender guidance that the Trump administration just recently rescinded. Beyond that, Pruitt repeatedly fought marriage equality as courts began paving the way toward freedom. All of this following Pruitt’s time in the Oklahoma state Senate, where he voted in favor of the state’s marriage ban and sponsored “religious freedom” legislation.
Eleven people; eleven documented records of animosity toward LGBTQ progress. There isn’t one whose record could fairly be classified as moderate on LGBTQ rights. There isn’t a Sen. Susan Collins or a Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in the mix. When the Trump team went looking for lawmakers and other elected officials for top administration jobs, they could have chosen men and women who believe LGBTQ Americans are part of their “make America great again” motif. Instead, they homed in on one decided group: those who have seen LGBTQ rights as a nuisance, at best. To most of them, LGBTQ rights have been more like a menace.
And there are others in the Cabinet whose views are also crystal clear, despite never having held elected office. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is the best example. He is rabidly anti-LGBTQ, even if he’s never taken a vote or served in a government role in his career. Through his campaign for the highest office, he made it very clear how he would vote, had he entered into any elected office.
Sure, there are one or two people on the Cabinet list who you could fairly classify as moderate, or even supportive. Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration, comes to mind. Even Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not shown any public anti-LGBTQ sentiments. But neither of these two ever served in roles where they had to take substantive votes or sign legislation on LGBTQ rights at either a state or federal level. Anyone in the higher levels of the administration who might be somewhat OK on LGBTQ rights or who is at least a question mark at this point is largely getting a pass for the simple reason that his or her record is slim.
But the fact is that the ones whose records we do know are all stark statements on where this administration plans to go.
JEREMY HOOPER is the founder of the LGBT rights website Good as You and a political consultant and strategist, creating and maintaining research projects for the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and other state and national organizations. He is also the author of the memoir If It's a Choice..., which blends his passion for civil rights with his commitment to family. He lives in New York City with his husband and their daughter.