President-elect Donald Trump has claimed he's an LGBT ally, even grinning on the campaign trail while holding an upside-down rainbow flag on which someone wrote in black marker, "LGBTs for Trump." For someone who threatened to deport American-flag burners, that didn't show a lot of respect for a flag. While Trump pledged onstage during the Republican National Convention to stop Muslims from murdering LGBT people, he hasn't actually supported any LGBT policy advances. Now we get to see who Trump associates himself with by examining his Cabinet picks. They are remarkably anti-LGBT.
Let’s try and rank the most anti-LGBT members of President-elect Donald Trump’s prospective Cabinet. The most obvious person to start with is…
Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
Here is a man who scored a string of zeroes on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard. That’s not easy to do, at least not if you have the slightest hint of decency. Sessions voted last year against ensuring same-sex couples have access to Social Security. He voted against spousal benefits for military veterans in same-sex couples.
Now there’s a story from CNN that goes back to 1996, when Sessions was attorney general in Alabama and tried stop an LGBT conference from happening at the University of Alabama. He said it violated a law in that state, that was real and still on the books, against universities promoting sodomy. In response, that law was challenged and overturned by a judge, who said obviously the First Amendment guarantees the right to have a conference about LGBT issues, especially on a state university campus. Sessions didn’t like that at all and argued the state would be “irreparably harmed” if the conference went forward. Well, it did go forward, and the state is doing just fine.
He ran for U.S. Senate that same year and won. In the Senate, he’s voted to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage; voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act; is a cosponsor of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow discrimination against LGBT people and others in the name of “religious freedom”; and voted against repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
As the country’s attorney general, it will be his job to enforce hate-crimes laws that he voted against. Sessions voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the federal definition of hate crimes to include those based on sexual orientation, gender, and disability, and an earlier bill that also would have expanded the definition.
Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Retired neurosurgeon and failed presidential candidate Ben Carson is almost unimaginably anti-LGBT — and he thinks for the government to be involved in housing is communism to boot. Carson has said the president should be able to ignore the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. He has called transgender people "abnormal," associated being gay with bestiality, polygamy, and pedophilia, and said laws that ban anti-LGBT discrimination bestow "extra rights" — the list goes on and on. Oh, and then there was that "joke" saying that same-sex couples shouldn't order wedding cakes from antigay bakers, as the baker might put poison in the cake. Carson once said he wouldn't take a Cabinet position, citing his lack of experience in government (even though he wanted to be president). And while Trump often put Carson down during the Republican primary season, in nominating him for HUD secretary, the Donald had nothing but good to say about him.
Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education
The Department of Education accomplishes most of what it does through nonbinding “guidance” issued to schools. But all of the progress made protecting LGBT students could be undone now that an antigay billionaire is going to become secretary of Education.
The guidance from the Department of Education does matter, even though it's nonbinding. That’s why more than a dozen transphobic governors have sued the Obama administration over its guidance that transgender students ought to be allowed to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. The Obama administration said that stopping trans students from doing so or putting them in segregated bathrooms is gender discrimination. Department of Education guidance is something families can point to when they’re stuck in lonely fights with unsupportive school districts. In just the first 10 days after Trump had been elected, the Southern Poverty Law Center tracked 867 incidents of hateful attacks. It also found that bullying in schools that is motivated by hate has “skyrocketed,” according to teachers surveyed. Now DeVos could unravel guidance about antibullying programs, suicide prevention, letting trans students use the bathroom, even about letting LGBT groups form and meet.
But the Mike-Pence-ification of the Cabinet doesn’t stop there. DeVos's family has donated millions to Focus on the Family, which calls antibullying programs some kind of gay propaganda meant to promote homosexuality. Focus on the Family is famous for its conversion therapy programs. The group actually believes people can be changed from gay to straight. Members of her family have also donated to anti–marriage equality efforts in Michigan and elsewhere, but there is not a clear indication that DeVos herself has.
If you doubted whether DeVos plans to bring extremism with her to the Department of Education, though, audio tape of her explaining her connection to education is eye-opening. Her plan, she said, is to use power to "advance God's kingdom."
Tom Price, Secretary of Health and Human Services
The worst news about U.S. Rep. Tom Price is that the man who would be responsible for the nation’s health care is worried about the medical costs of giving LGBT people their civil rights.
In 2013, Price was doing a conference call and during the question-an-answer portion was asked whether anyone had contemplated the financial cost of promoting homosexuality. Price answered by agreeing with the notoriously antigay pastor who had asked that question, saying there would be real medical health costs of promoting being gay. “The consequences of activity that has been seen as outside the norm are real and must be explored completely,” he warned.
But Price has also voted against LGBT people while in Congress representing his Georgia district in the House. Price voted against extending hate-crimes protections to LGBT people. He’s also a cosponsor of the so-called First Amendment Defense Act. This is the federal version of the law that made Vice President-elect Mike Pence famous because numerous businesses threatened to boycott the state if he and legislators didn’t amend it. They did end up amending it. But people like Price — and Sessions, who is also a cosponsor — want a federal version. The law lets any federal employee refuse to serve same-sex couples so long as they cite their religious beliefs. Essentially, you don’t have to help same-sex couples anywhere in the federal government so long as you sincerely believe Jesus Christ was a bigot.
Price has not only made this a legislative goal, but it’s something he’s spoken out about back in his district. The former Atlanta fire chief, Kelvin Cochran, has been turned into one of these right-wing martyrs. He claims to have been fired for self-publishing a book about his faith, which included comparing being gay to bestiality. He wasn’t fired for sharing his faith, actually. According to the mayor, Cochran was fired for publishing a book without clearing it and then promoting it as the Atlanta fire chief. Price interjected himself into that fight and sent a letter to the mayor, arguing that the fire chief’s religious freedom had been violated. Then the fire chief was the star witness at a hearing for FADA held at the Capitol — even though the law could never affect Cochran because he’s a municipal employee, not a federal employee.
One last thing: Price, who is a doctor, called letting trans people use the bathroom that matches their gender identity an “absurd federal bathroom policy.” It sounds like something that would’ve been said during desegregation, not in 2016.
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State
Andy Puzder, Secretary of Labor
The president-elect's pick for secretary of Labor isn't exactly worker-friendly. Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants Holdings Inc., the parent company of fast-food restaurants Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. He opposes a substantial hike in the minimum wage along with many other regulations on business. Also, Carl's Jr. restaurants have a high rate of violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, although, granted, many of those found in violation by federal investigators are owned by independent franchise holders who pay a royalty to the company, rather than by the company itself. Puzder has a checkered record on women's issues too. A lawyer and longtime anti-abortion activist, he wrote a Missouri law that put major restrictions on use of state funds or facilities for abortion services. His first wife accused him of physically abusing her, but when she brought charges, the two reached a settlement without Puzder admitting wrongdoing. Oh, and he loves those Carl's Jr. commercials with women in bikinis eating burgers that are dripping sauce — commercials that some observers, with good reason, call sexist and exploitive. On LGBT issues, one of his few on-record statements is a mild objection to discrimination while helping write this year's Republican platform — but the platform remained virulently anti-LGBT.
James "Mad Dog" Mattis, Secretary of Defense
Let’s disregard for a moment that the military is supposed to be civilian-controlled, and James Mattis is a former general, so it’s actually against the law for him to be secretary of Defense. Mattis is against letting women serve in the military. And he’s against gays and lesbians serving openly in the military. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was repealed back in 2011. But in 2013 Mattis coauthored a book in which he warned, “We fear that an uninformed public is permitting political leaders to impose an accretion of social conventions that are diminishing the combat power of our military." That is a really out-there view. Most opponents of repealing DADT have by now admitted they were wrong and that things are really progressing without any incident. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has already said he will reconsider whether to let transgender people serve in the military. Does this mean gays and lesbians are back up for debate too? Trump said it's only "political correctness," not civil rights, that has made it possible for transgender people to serve.
John F. Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security
Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, Trump's choice for secretary of Homeland Security, isn't much on the record regarding LGBT issues, but his views on a variety of other matters are not exactly progressive. He has said he fears that allowing women to serve in combat would result in a lowering of the military's standards. Very few women will qualify for such elite forces as the Army Rangers or the Navy SEALs if physical standards aren't lowered, he said last January. He also opposes closing the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, seeing those held in the facility as detainees, rather than prisoners who deserve the protections of the U.S. Constitution. Kelly has also defended the force-feedings of those who hunger-strike there as humane.
Elaine Chao, Transportation Secretary
What little we know about Elaine Chao gives LGBT people reason to worry. First, she was part of George W. Bush's adminstration at the Labor Department. The Bush adminstration is notorious to LGBT people for the president's plan to win reelection by putting bans on same-sex marriage on the ballot in numerous states. And Chao is Sen. Mitch McConnell's wife, and he's been no friend to LGBT people. McConnell voted against hate-crimes laws and opposed passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would've made it illegal to fire someone for being LGBT. Chao has all the while campaigned vigorously for her husband, as part of the family and political team.
Wilbur Ross, Commerce Secretary
There is a disturbing report from New York magazine written in 2014. A reporter snuck into a meeting of Kappa Beta Phi, which is apparently a Wall Street fraternity, and stumbled upon billionaire Wilbur Ross. He was presiding over the fraternity "meeting" at the ballroom of the St. Regis, not exactly a frat house. He ranted that “the 1 percent is being picked on for political reasons.” But he also liked a gay joke. Ross called Phi Beta Kappa’s ruffled-sleeve logo a “tacit confession of homosexuality.” Others made jokes about Barney Frank’s buns, and the reporter who was discovered and promptly kicked out said these weren't loving jokes. They were clearly homophobic, and Ross and company didn't want anyone finding out about them, so they tried to bribe him with access to other stories to keep quiet.
Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary
We don’t yet know a lot about Steve Mnuchin, but we do know that President-elect Donald Trump’s reported pick for Treasury secretary headed a company accused of racial discrimination in lending. He was chairman of California-based OneWest, a company formed from the remnants of IndyMac, a failed mortgage lender that Mnuchin and other investors bought from the federal government in 2009. The California Reinvestment Coalition and Fair Housing Advocates of Northern California filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in November. OneWest is accused, among other things, of avoiding people of color in lending and skipping black and Latino neighborhoods when opening branches. (Read more about Mnuchin)
CABINET-LEVEL JOBS THAT AREN'T IN THE CABINET
Reince Priebus, Chief of Staff
The head of the Republican Party can wield influence over the drafting of its platform. And this year's Republican platform is "most anti-LGBT … in the Party’s 162-year history,” according to the Log Cabin Republicans. The group for gay Republicans was so incensed about the outline of policies — including a defense of conversion therapy — that it bought ads denouncing it and Donald Trump, who stood by and let it get passed without making any attempt to revise. The head of the GOP during all of this was Reince Priebus.
Mike Pompeo, CIA Director
Mike Pompeo is against same-sex couples getting married, and he’s even argued against letting them adopt children. The Republican congressman was a cosponsor of something called the State Marriage Defense Act, which attempted to slow the spread of marriage equality. And he cosponsored the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act. It was a precursor to the current First Amendment Defense Act, which is essentially a federal version of the “license to discriminate” laws that are sweeping through states. Most notably, there was the case of Indiana, where Mike Pence faced such blistering backlash that he had to defang the anti-LGBT law. Pompeo also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act when the definition of the domestic violence law’s protections was expanded to expicitly include same-sex couples. That was just too much for him.
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency Director
Pruitt, like many Trump nominees, opposes the very mission of the agency he has been chosen to head. Currently the attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt has joined, on the state's behalf, two lawsuits against the EPA, challenging various regulations aimed at reducing fossil fuel emissions. He is a major supporter of the fossil fuel industry, which is big in Oklahoma, and he disputes scientific evidence that climate change is a real phenomenon and is caused by human activity — like burning those fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas). He's no friend to LGBT people either; he opposed marriage equality and joined in a lawsuit by several states against the Obama administration's guidance on equitable treatment of transgender students in schools that receive federal funds — like letting them use the restrooms appropriate for their gender identity. An Oklahoma LGBT activist has called him "head bully."
Linda McMahon, Head of Small Business Administration
McMahon, Trump's nominee to run the Small Business Administration, isn't the worst of his picks for senior positions, but she has her problems. She cofounded World Wrestling Entertainment, where she did business with Trump, as the group held bouts at his resorts. She stepped down from the WWE in 2009 to run for the U.S. Senate from Connecticut. A Republican, she lost Senate races twice, in 2010 and 2012, to solidly pro-LGBT Democrats, Richard Blumental and Chris Murphy, respectively. Both times she had the endorsement of a far-right group, the Family Institute of Connecticut, because of her opposition to so-called partial birth abortion and her support for the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages and allowed states to deny recognition to such marriages performed in other states. The group pulled its support in 2012, though, after she came out against DOMA, although she seemed a little confused about marriage equality. "I absolutely support America’s law for same-sex marriage," she said in a 2012 debate with Murphy, appearing to mean marriage equality, not the lack thereof — except there was not nationwide marriage equality in 2012. She later clarified her remark to say she had come to oppose DOMA. During the 2016 campaign, she initially supported Chris Christie's presidential bid, but came over to Trump's side after Christie left the race — even though she had once called Trump's comments about women, uh, "deplorable."
Michael Flynn, National Security Adviser
The new national security adviser was at one point reportedly being considered for the job of vice president, and he told a San Diego radio station, "On the gay issue, hey, you know what, if people love each other, Jesus, I mean come on. I’m not afraid of it. That’s my point. And I’m not afraid to tell you what I believe in." That sounds good, except when you discover who is Flynn's favorite gay man. Flynn raved about Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos, who was banned from Twitter for inspiring a racist hate mob to harass Leslie Jones. Of Yiannopoulos, the new national security adviser said, “He’s definitely, he’s one of the most different, one of the most brave people that I’ve ever met.” Flynn said he'd spoken alongside the Breibart editor at at least one other event and recommended that everyone follow him on Twitter — back when he was allowed on Twitter. Meanwhile, Yiannopoulos says trans women are essentially just men in dresses. And even the former top editor of Breitbart, Ben Shapiro, who is anti-Trump, says Yiannopoulos was "alt-right" in the worst version of the word. Here is an excerpt from Shapiro’s disturbing story about the man who the next national security adviser says is “phenomenal.”
“When my second kid was born in May, Milo — who pretends that he’s not alt-right — sent a tweet at me with a picture of a black kid. Because the way that this works is that if you are not alt-right, if you’re anti-Trump, then according to the alt-right you must be what they call a 'cuck' — for those who don’t follow this sort of stuff — because you have two brain cells to rub together. Cuck, according to the alt-right, means that you’re a white person who wants to watch his wife have sex with a black man, right? Because you’re poisoning the racial stock of the United States, so you want your own racial stock 'poisoned.' I always found the whole thing bewildering.”
Nikki Haley, U.N. Ambassador
The College of Charleston had put Alison Bechdel's novel Fun Home on a reading list, and that really outraged some wildly conservative South Carolina lawmakers. They set out to punish the school by requiring it to start a class on the Constitution that would cost $69,000 — which is apparently what they estimated the college had spent on LGBT reading materials. The law made its way to Nikki Haley's desk, and she signed it. Some are giving Haley credit for refusing to let an anti-trans "bathroom bill" move forward in her state, but she didn't exactly make that decision because she's an advocate for trans people. She merely avoided a debate that had tripped up several other governors with high aspirations by saying she hadn't seen a need yet for the law.
There's all that — and we didn't even mention Steve Bannon, whose job is technically neither in the Cabinet or at Cabinet level. But the former head of Breitbart will be influencing Trump perhaps more than anyone outside his family.
LUCAS GRINDLEY and TRUDY RING contributed to this report.