Donald Trump has announced another cabinet pick that’s distressing to LGBT people and progressives in general — billionaire and right-wing activist Betsy DeVos for secretary of Education.
DeVos and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., derive their wealth from Michigan-based Amway, a company cofounded by his father that specializes in direct sales of home, health, and beauty products. Members of the DeVos family are major donors to far-right causes, including the fight against marriage equality.
Several DeVos family members donated to the effort to amend Michigan’s constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2004. Voters approved the amendment, which was struck down, along with other states’ anti–marriage equality laws, by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. Some reports indicated that Betsy and Richard DeVos led the campaign for the amendment and contributed money to it, but these reports have now been called into question. A listing of donors on FollowTheMoney.org shows donations by Richard DeVos Sr., Betsy's father-in-law; by her mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen; and by other DeVos relatives, but not by Betsy and her husband. The Advocate will continue to investigate and update this story as more information becomes available.
The Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, funded by Amway president Doug DeVos, Richard’s brother, donated $500,000 to the National Organization for Marriage in 2009 as it fought marriage equality in several states. Richard DeVos Sr., and back in the 1980s, serving on President Reagan’s AIDS commission, had told people with the disease, “You are responsible for your actions too, you know. Conduct yourself properly.”
Betsy DeVos’s mother, Elsa Prince Broekhuizen, in addition to donating to the Michigan anti–marriage equality campaign, helped fund the movement to pass Proposition 8, which revoked marriage equality in California until it was struck down in court, reports Daily Kos. Broekhuizen has served on the boards of anti-LGBT groups including the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. Her first husband, the late Edgar Prince, was a cofounder of the Family Research Council.
Betsy DeVos is also not exactly a friend to public education. An advocate of school choice, she believes government bodies should provide vouchers to parents who want to send their children to private schools but can’t afford them. “We know that millions of children, mostly low-income and minority children, remain trapped in K-12 schools that are not meeting their needs,” she said in September, when Trump released an education plan heavy on school choice, Politico reports. “We applaud the Trump campaign’s focus on school choice and laying out common-sense proposals to help all children access a quality education.”
Opponents of the strategy, however, say it will undermine public education, and they strongly criticized Trump’s choice of DeVos. “DeVos has no meaningful experience in the classroom or in our schools,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a prepared statement. “The sum total of her involvement has been spending her family’s wealth in an effort to dismantle public education in Michigan. Every American should be concerned that she would impose her reckless and extreme ideology on the nation.”
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the nation’s other leading teachers union, the National Education Association, also issued a statement denouncing DeVos’s nomination. “She has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education,” Eskelsen Garcia said. “By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities.”
Other critics of DeVos’s nomination included Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, who issued a statement calling it “an insult to public education.” He continued, “Private school vouchers violate the fundamental principle of religious freedom because they fund religious education with taxpayer dollars. This is indeed a dark day for public education in America.”
DeVos wasn’t always in Trump’s corner, notes The Washington Post. She and her family initially supported Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential primaries, and after he left the race, DeVos voted for John Kasich when she served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. But today she tweeted that she is “honored to work with the President-elect on his vision to make American education great again. The status quo in ed is not acceptable.”