Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was reportedly warned that a group he planned to address supported conversion therapy. He did the event anyway.
McClatchyDC reports that aides raised red flags the anti-LGBTQ+ record of the Florida Family Policy Council, a conservative Christian group that promotes "ex-gay" therapy, the discredited practice of trying to turn queer people straight.
FFPC described this harmful therapy as "help leaving the gay lifestyle" on its website, which an advance team flagged along with antigay flyers to Lisa Kenna, the State Department's executive secretary, sources told the political news agency arm of the McClatchy publishing company.
At present, 20 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and dozens of U.S. municipalities have barred licensed counselors from subjecting minors to conversion therapy, which is opposed by the American Psychiatric Association, as the practice, in addition to being physically and mentally damaging, is predicated upon the disproven belief that same-sex attraction is a disorder. The State Department even targets programs promoting it internationally.
However, in addition to supporting ex-gay therapy, the FFPC opposes bans on it under the guise of freedom of speech and religion on its website.
"Conversion therapy bans disguise themselves as bans on 'abuse," a March 2020 item reads. "Rather, such bans place unconstitutional limits on freedom of speech because they do not consider the patient's (or minor patient's parents) right to pursue avenues of therapy consistent with their beliefs and choices."
Regardless, Pompeo went ahead with the October 3 event. He spoke virtually to the gathering, which packed an Orlando event space, the Rosen Plaza Hotel, with about 700 guests at around the same time the White House was contending with its COVID-19 outbreak. An opening speaker, Jannique Stewart, described her work as "countering some of the agenda when it comes to LGBTQ," McClatchyDC reports.
Some aides were "appalled" at the speaking event, said one source, and that Pompeo touted it afterward in a department-wide update. LGBTQ+ leaders were also outraged. Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, slammed Pompeo's decision to address the group.
"The Florida Family Policy Council is an anti-LGBTQ extremist group that has sought to undermine and attack our community's most vulnerable at every opportunity," David said. "The highest levels of the State Department clearly knew about FFPC's extremism and yet, even over the objections of staff, chose to embrace it anyway."
A spokesperson for the department told McClatchyDC that Pompeo was unaware of the group's record when he headlined the fundraiser. "The Secretary was asked to speak to this group about the mission of the State Department and he did. The Secretary believes that organizations like Florida Family Policy Council are entitled to hear from him on important national security policy matters," the spokesperson stated.
"The Secretary was not made aware of any concerns with respect to speaking before this group given that other major leaders have addressed this event."
However, Pompeo, who replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of State in 2018, carries his own anti-LGBTQ+ record. Pompeo, as a former U.S. House member from Kansas, cosponsored the State Marriage Defense Act, which attempted to slow the spread of marriage equality, and the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, a precursor to the more recent First Amendment Defense Act, which is essentially "license to discriminate" legislation. In his three full terms in the House, he garnered two zeroes and a 30, out of a possible 100, on the Human Rights Campaign's Congressional Scorecard.
He also called the Supreme Court's 2015 marriage equality decision "a shocking abuse of power" that "flies in the face of centuries of shared understanding of our Constitution," according to research compiled by GLAAD. He called earlier pro-equality rulings, gutting the Defense of Marriage Act and striking down California's Proposition 8, "both sad and counter to the most profound tradition of our great nation."
And even though "don't ask, don't tell" had been repealed by the time he joined Congress in 2011, he continued to speak out against open service by lesbian, gay, and bisexual military members. "We cannot use military to promote social ideas that do not reflect the values of our nation," he said at the 2011 Values Voter Summit, a right-wing gathering.