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The Queer History of Rick Perry, Trump's Energy Secretary Choice

Rick Perry

In one of his most anti-LGBT choices yet, Donald Trump has nominated former Texas Gov. Rick Perry as secretary of Energy.

Perry, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in the last two election cycles, is the latest in a long line of Trump appointees at odds with the mission of the department he’ll be heading — during a 2011 presidential debate, Perry famously couldn’t remember that the Department of Energy was one of three federal agencies he wanted to abolish. Trump officially announced Perry’s nomination Wednesday, after major outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post reported it the day before that he was expected to choose Perry.

Perry also rivals Trump Cabinet picks Jeff Sessions (nominated for attorney general) and Tom Price (nominated for secretary of Health and Human Services) in his history of anti-LGBT stances and statements.

He has gone beyond such typical conservative positions as opposing marriage equality and supporting “religious objections” legislation, like the bill signed into law by Vice President-elect Mike Pence as governor of Indiana, which had to be softened after public outcry. Perry has likened homosexuality to alcoholism, voiced support for “ex-gay” therapy, and supported the Boy Scouts of America’s now-repealed ban on gay members and leaders. 

In 2014, while still governor of Texas, Perry was asked about the Texas Republican Party’s platform, which endorsed so-called conversion therapy. “Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that,” he replied. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.” He later admitted he “stepped in it” with that answer and said he would defer to science on “ex-gay” counseling.

In 2013, before the BSA repealed its ban on gay youth, Perry cautioned against doing so, and he said supporting the ban was like opposing slavery. He spoke of Sam Houston, who helped Texas win its independence from Mexico and later became governor of the state, and was an opponent of slavery and secession. “That’s the type of principled leadership, that’s the type of courage that I hope people across this country [have] on this issue of scouts and keeping the Boy Scouts the organization it is today,” he said.

He denounced the Obama administration for promoting LGBT rights internationally. “Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values … his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights,” Perry said in December 2011, in response to then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s United Nations speech in which she said, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights,” and that a country’s stance on LGBT issues could figure in U.S. foreign aid decisions. Perry said gay rights were instead “special rights,” adding, “Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americans of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.”

That same month, he released an ad for his presidential campaign titled “Strong.” “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but your kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school,” Perry said in the ad. The ad inspired numerous parodies, many of which pointed out that Perry was sporting a jacket just like the one Heath Ledger wore when playing a gay ranch hand in Brokeback Mountain.

And not only did he resist marriage equality in Texas every step of the way, early on in his first presidential campaign he signed an anti-equality pledge put out by the National Organization for Marriage. The pledge, which he signed in 2011, included backing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, nominating anti-equality federal judges, and defending the Defense of Marriage Act in court. DOMA is now history.

Also in 2011, Perry joined the virulently anti-LGBT American Family Association at a prayer rally in Houston — an event he touted as nonpolitical, even though he announced his presidential candidacy soon afterward.

Despite his courting of the far right, neither of Perry’s presidential campaigns gathered much steam, and he pulled out of the 2016 campaign pretty early — in September 2015. He went on to be a contestant on Dancing With the Stars, but was eliminated early in that competition as well.

Perry wasn’t always a Trump partisan. In 2015 he denounced the businessman as a “barking carnival act” and a “cancer on conservatism.” He eventually came around to supporting Trump, and perhaps the nomination is a reward.

Some observers say his qualifications to lead the Energy Department are pretty thin. “Texas is rich in energy resources, and Mr. Perry is an enthusiastic supporter of extracting them,” the Times reports. “But it is not clear how that experience would translate into leading the Energy Department. Despite its name, the department plays the leading role in designing nuclear weapons, thwarting their proliferation, and ensuring the safety and reliability of the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal through a constellation of laboratories considered the crown jewels of government science.”

“The Rick Perry choice is so perplexing,” former Sen. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat who once chaired the committee in charge of the department’s budget, told the Times. “I think very few people understand that the Energy Department, to a very substantial degree, is dealing with nuclear weapons,” he continued. “And Rick Perry suggested the agency should be abolished. That suggests he thinks it doesn’t have value.”

But fellow Democrat Bill Richardson, who led the department during Bill Clinton’s presidency, called Perry a “sound choice,” the Times reports. “You need a strong leader with political stature and a megaphone for the job, and Rick has both,” Richardson told the paper. Richardson was governor of New Mexico when Perry was governor of Texas, and the two sometimes worked together, he said. But he added that he was concerned that Perry “will get sucked in by the Trump climate deniers and try to dismantle the valuable renewable energy and climate change programs that the department manages.”

But Perry’s a denier himself, according to League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski. “There is no doubt that Rick Perry is completely unfit to run an agency he sought to eliminate — and couldn’t even name,” Karpinski said in a prepared statement, the Post reports. “Perry is a climate change denier, opposes renewable energy even as it has boomed in Texas, and doesn’t even believe CO2 is a pollutant. Not only that, he is deep in the pocket of Big Polluters, who have contributed over $2.5 million to his presidential campaigns, a disturbing sign that they expected him to protect their profits in office, not do what’s best for the American people.”

Perry’s nomination, like those for other Cabinet posts, is subject to Senate confirmation.

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