Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Office on Violence Against Women has a long record of homophobia and isn’t qualified to hold the position, say LGBTQ activists and feminists.
Trump nominated Shannon Lee Goessling to the post last year, but advocacy groups are just now raising concerns about her. The office is part of the Department of Justice and “provides federal leadership in developing the national capacity to reduce violence against women and administer justice for and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking,” according to its website. It enforces the Violence Against Women Act and determines which antiviolence programs will take priority and receive funding. Its director is subject to Senate confirmation; a hearing on Goessling’s nomination has yet to be scheduled.
Goessling was a district attorney in Georgia in the 1990s, often prosecuting people accused of crimes against women and children. But she also has been an anti-marriage equality activist and opposed moves by the Boy Scouts of America to open the organization to LGBTQ people.
She was executive director and chief legal counsel of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a Georgia-based right-wing legal nonprofit, from 2004 to 2015. In that capacity, in the spring of 2015 she filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled for equal marriage rights later that year. The brief contended that the definition of marriage should be left to each state and said that if the court legalized same-sex marriage, it would be “recognizing a social construct that has existed for just over one decade and disregarding the centuries old definition of marriage codified in the state laws at issue.”
In 2004 she wrote several opinion columns supporting a Georgia constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, according to information provided by GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project. “In one, she argued that the amendment was fine because it would not interfere with domestic partner benefits (even though she made it clear she disagreed with those too),” GLAAD notes. “In another, she tried to remove the role of judges in determining the constitutionality of such measures.” Voters passed the amendment in November of that year.
In 2014 her foundation sent out a fundraising appeal saying the money was needed to defend the Boy Scouts of America against lawsuits seeking to open the group to LGBTQ people. Scout leaders in Kentucky objected to the use of their organization in the campaign, and Goessling eventually agreed to remove references to the Boy Scouts from the fundraising material. The BSA has since rescinded its anti-LGBTQ policies.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, has also objected to Goessling’s nomination. “Given her views, which are most obvious from her tenure at Southeastern Legal Foundation, we are very worried about her ability to enforce the Violence Against Women Act, and to understand all the complexities of the communities that it serves,” Smeal told HuffPost this week.
Smeal added that Goessling has limited experience in dealing with violence against women. The Trump administration had touted her tenure as director of the Crimes Against Women and Children Prosecution Unit in Atlanta, but according to her LinkedIn profile, she held that post for only nine months, HuffPost reports.
Smeal further expressed concern about a friend-of-the-court brief Goessling authored in 2008, contending that guns helped protect women against sexual assault. Smeal and other advocates said that relied on research that was 30 years old. “We have learned a lot about sexual assault and other violence against women in the intervening decades,” Susan Sorensen, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, told HuffPost. “The person who is most likely to sexually assault a woman is a man she knows — and resistance takes a different form when it’s someone you know.”
Goessling has also made anti-immigrant statements and questioned the need to protect the rights of minorities. “The question now is, at what point do we as a society wipe the slate clean and accept that we are equals with equal rights, equal treatment, and equal expectations, and special treatment shouldn’t be provided to anyone?” she told The Seattle Times in 2009. The paper noted that the Southeastern Legal Foundation had a record of opposing affirmative action.
The outcry over Goessling’s nomination comes the same week that the Senate voted to confirm two anti-LGBTQ federal appeals court judges. Senators Tuesday approved Allison Rushing, who began her career as a legal intern for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a homophobic hate group, as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which covers several southeastern states. Then Thursday, they confirmed Eric Murphy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which encompasses four southern and Midwestern states. Both have records of opposing marriage equality and other rights for LGBTQ people. Their judicial appointments are for a lifetime.