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Activists Flag Air Force Secretary Nominee's Anti-LGBT Record

Heather Wilson
Heather Wilson

Heather Wilson was an opponent of LGBT equality during her time in Congress.

Some LGBT activists are raising concerns about Heather Wilson, Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of the Air Force, who will have a confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday.

Wilson, a Republican who represented a New Mexico district in Congress from 1998 to 2009, racked up a solidly anti-LGBT record there, with a string of zeroes on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard, which rates members of the U.S. House and Senate according to their stands on LGBT issues. In 2008, Wilson ran for Senate but lost the Republican primary. She made it to the general election in 2012 but lost to Democrat Martin Heinrich.

Wilson's record is disturbing, says Aaron Belkin, director of the Palm Center, a research institute that has done many studies of the treatment of LGBT people in the military. Her nomination "raises serious concerns about whether President Donald Trump can be counted on to honor his promise to treat LGBT Americans equally and to provide the armed forces with the best talent to defend this nation," Belkin said in a prepared statement today.

In Congress, she "consistently opposed measures to protect LGBT Americans from discrimination or grant them equal protection under the law," while as a Senate candidate, she "opposed a bill intended to reduce anti-LGBT bullying, saying that victims should simply be stronger and more 'comfortable with themselves' instead of expecting perpetrators to be held accountable," Belkin continued.

"In the Air Force, where it's imperative to make clear that sexual harassment and anti-LGBT conduct have no place, this is a troubling position for any senior leader to adopt. As Senate members weigh the nomination, they should scrutinize this part of her record and consider whether Rep. Wilson is the right person for a job that requires placing cohesion and merit above personal bias. Wilson has a heavy task in demonstrating to the Armed Services Committee that she is the right person to foster a climate of professionalism and respect for all service members, including LGBT troops and women."

LGBT advocates were also concerned about Trump's pick for Defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, who had opposed repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" and said women were unsuited for combat. During his confirmation hearing, however, he said he would not seek to reinstate bans on LGBT troops or roll back the policy allowing women in combat roles. He was confirmed January 20, Trump's first day in office.

Uncertainty remains about some other military leadership appointments. Vincent Viola and Philip Bilden, Trump's first choices for secretary of the Army and Navy, respectively, both withdrew from consideration because they would have had to divest themselves of various business interests. The positions are currently being filled by interim personnel, and Trump has yet to submit new nominees. The Navy secretary oversees the Marine Corps as well.

Wilson was able to move ahead to her confirmation hearing after she filed financial paperwork with the Office of Government Ethics, CNN reports. She agreed to divest the stock she holds in several companies that have defense contracts, leave the boards of two companies, and resign from her current position as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

For another top civilian position in the Defense Department, deputy secretary, Trump nominated Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan earlier this month. There's little information available about his stands on LGBT issues, but his company does have a perfect 100 score on the HRC's Corporate Equality Index. He has made campaign donations to candidates of both major parties, but most have gone to Democrats, The Seattle Times reports.

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