One of the nation’s most influential antigay conservatives has applauded Donald Trump’s stance on LGBTQ issues. Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, said that he agreed with Trump’s vow to protect the LGBTQ community from violence “100 percent.”
“We all deserve, life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” Falwell said in a recent video. “That means every life is valuable and every life must be protected.”
In a speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, Trump addressed the recent attacks on Pulse nightclub, the Orlando, Fla. gay bar where 49 people were gunned down in June by a lone shooter. The billionaire CEO attributed the violence to the threat of radical Islam, as the attacker may have professed allegiance to ISIS, though multiple reports refute this claim.
“I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” Trump said. “Believe me.”
When the audience applauded his statement, the GOP presidential nominee appeared taken aback by the reception. “I have to say, as a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said,” Trump added. “Thank you.”
This moment was a historical first at the RNC: Trump became the first Republican candidate to mention the LGBT community in his speech.
This apparent support for LGBT rights is, however, in opposition to the GOP platform, which many have called the most antigay in party history. At the RNC, delegates reaffirmed the GOP’s opposition to same-sex unions, referring to marriage as a legal bond “between one man and one woman.”
The platform also took a stance against the Obama administration’s position on affirming bathroom access for trans students, calling it “illegal [and] dangerous” and saying it “ignores privacy issues.”
For his part, Falwell Jr. doesn’t have a stellar record on LGBT issues. His father, Jerry Falwell, was one of the nation’s most vocal antigay opponents. Following the September 11 attacks, Falwell blamed the tragedy on the United States’ acceptance of homosexuality during an appearance on the 700 Club, hosted by Pat Robertson.
“I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen,’” he said.
Falwell Jr. took over Liberty University, which was founded by his father, following the famed televangelist’s death.
Although the Baptist-affiliated college claims that it does not discriminate against students based on sexual orientation, its honor code prohibits “homosexual conduct or the encouragement or advocacy of any form of sexual behavior that would undermine the Christian identity or faith mission of the University.”
Liberty University, located in Lynchburg, Va., has close ties to the Liberty Counsel, the right-wing legal group responsible for Kim Davis’ defense, after the Rowan County, Ky. clerk was briefly jailed for refusing to offer same-sex couples marriage licenses.
In addition to its affiliation with the Liberty Counsel, the college has repeatedly aligned itself with antigay leaders and organizations.
Six years ago, Liberty University hosted a two-day conference called “Understanding Same-sex Attractions and Their Consequences,” which featured the workshop, “Homosexual Rights and First Amendment Freedoms: Can They Truly Coexist?”
The event also hosted groups like Exodus International, the now defunct ex-gay organization; the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH); and American Association of Christian Counselors. Until 2014, the AACC still supported gay conversion therapy, while NARTH continues to back the practice.
Liberty University also teaches many of these ideas in its classrooms, according to New York magazine.
“While I was on campus, no political issue inspired more voluminous and one-sided debate than same-sex marriage,” writes the publication’s Kevin Roose, who went undercover at Liberty for a semester back in 2007. “It was a frequent topic of sermons and convocation speeches, and the evils of same-sex marriage were taught in the classroom.”
One of Roose’s textbooks included a chapter entitled “Myths Behind the Homosexual Agenda,” while Liberty had a campus group for students “who felt the pull of gay attraction but wanted to cure themselves of it.”
Most recently, a chapter on sexual orientation was taken out of the psychology curriculum. In a June statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Falwell Jr. claimed that its removal was not the product of “a homophobic agenda” but “a commitment to best practices in the classroom and beyond.”
Falwell Jr., an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump, officially endorsed the businessman for president shortly before the Iowa Caucus in January.
Watch the video of Jerry Fallwell Jr.'s statements on the LGBT community below.