Facebook prides itself on its support of LGBT rights. The social network has partnered with the Trevor Project—a suicide prevention organization for LGBT youth. The company maintains a perfect 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index, which measures the strength of a company’s internal policies for LGBT employees and its public backing of the LGBT community.
And earlier this year, Facebook publicly stated that “ads that promote gay conversion therapy” are prohibited.
But a Daily Beast analysis of Facebook Inc. PAC—a political action committee through which employees donate money to campaigns—shows thousands of dollars in donations were made during the 2018 election cycle to two U.S. congressional candidates who voted against conversion therapy bans when they were in their respective state legislatures.
According to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, Facebook’s PAC donated $7,000 directly to the campaign of Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA), who, while in the state senate, was one of 13 lawmakers to vote against a successful 2012 conversion therapy ban.
Walters, who lost her re-election campaign earlier this month to Democratic challenger Katie Porter, has a zero on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard, which measures support for LGBT rights.
Facebook also gave $2,000 to the campaign of Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL). When LaHood was in the state senate, he was one of 19 senators to oppose a 2015 conversion therapy ban that was ultimately signed by Republican governor Bruce Rauner.
LaHood scored a zero on the HRC’s Congressional Scorecard for two years running.
A spokesperson for Rep. Walters said that she was unavailable for comment. Rep. LaHood did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity, is condemned by multiple major medical associations for its harmful effects on youth. According to the Movement Advancement Project, it is currently banned in 14 states and D.C. Six of those bans have been signed by Republican governors.
On its public platform, Facebook has taken a strong stance on conversion therapy. This August, after a Telegraph investigation revealed that young LGBT Facebook users had been targeted with conversion therapy advertisements, the social media company quickly removed those ads, as Salon later reported, issuing a statement that said: “We do not allow ads that promote gay conversion therapy or that imply personal attributes about people, like their sexual orientation.”
Regarding their support for candidates who have voted against conversion therapy bans, a Facebook spokesperson referred The Daily Beast to the company’s 2017 statement on political engagement which states that the company’s PAC, in evaluating candidates, “considers whether an individual candidate’s policy stances are consistent with Facebook’s public policy agenda and business interests, particularly the individual’s commitment to fostering innovation and an open Internet.”
The 2017 statement later clarifies that “a contribution to a candidate for office does not mean that we agree with every policy or position that candidate may espouse.”
Asked about Facebook’s policy on conversion therapy advertisements—and about the company’s recent partnership with the Trevor Project—the Facebook spokesperson said it “still stands.”
Asked whether defending conversion therapy might be seen as disqualifying for political giving, especially in light of the company’s public stance on ads for the practice, Facebook did not reply.
The Trevor Project declined to comment on Facebook’s donations.
The HRC did not respond to a request for comment.
Mathew Shurka, co-founder of the Born Perfect campaign at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has led many state-level efforts to ban conversion therapy, said he hopes that Facebook’s PAC will take candidates’ stances on conversion therapy into account in the future.
“Facebook has been a great friend to conversion therapy survivors and the LGBTQ+ community,” he told The Daily Beast. “Now that this issue has been brought to light, I am confident they will take it into consideration in future donations.”
It is common for large companies to give to candidates and PACs from both major political parties. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Facebook’s PAC gave $216,000 to Democrats in the 2018 cycle and a comparable $211,500 to Republicans.
The donations to Walters and LaHood are not the only instances of Facebook’s PAC spending against the company’s proclaimed LGBT ethos. The PAC also made direct donations to 37 members of the House—including Walters and LaHood—who voted for the failed Hartzler Amendment, which was aimed at rolling back transition-related health care for transgender troops. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a public statement last year against President Trump’s transgender military ban—and internally, the company offers transgender-inclusive health insurance coverage.
Carolyn Reyes, coordinator for the Born Perfect Campaign, told The Daily Beast that it’s important to “avoid funding” groups and politicians that perpetuate the practice of “harmful, ineffective conversion therapy, which has been shown to increase risk of depression, substance abuse, and even suicide.”
“It has been denounced by every major medical and mental health organization,” she said. “Perpetuating the myth of conversion therapy risks LGBTQ lives.”