LGBT rights groups were not thrilled with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson—but they are aghast at the news that President Trump has replaced the former Exxon CEO with CIA Director and former Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo.
Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said in a Tuesday press statement that Pompeo was “a reckless choice to lead our nation’s diplomatic efforts” due to his “longstanding opposition to LGBTQ equality.”
“The decision to nominate anti-LGBTQ Mike Pompeo could have serious consequences for the United States and LGBTQ people around the globe,” Griffin said, adding that Pompeo could only contribute to the already “rapidly declining” role of the State Department in “advancing human rights” on the international stage.
The LGBT media advocacy group GLAAD also blasted Trump’s decision on Twitter, highlighting the fact that Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBT organization Family Research Council, is celebrating the sudden shift in power at the State Department.
GLAAD maintains lists of anti-LGBT statements and actions attributed to key Trump administration figures. Their list on Tillerson contains a single item: The fact that Exxon had low scores on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for much of Tillerson’s tenure as CEO.
Their list on Pompeo, by contrast, has 11 items, ranging from the fact that Pompeo has done consulting with Perkins, as the Washington Post reported, to the fact that he called the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage “a shocking abuse of power.”
“We have already seen a State Department under President Trump that has stayed silent and refused to take necessary steps to combat and condemn the growing epidemic of anti-LGBTQ violence around the world, and now that department will be helmed by someone with an extensive anti-LGBTQ record,” GLAAD president Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement.
Indeed, LGBT groups were generally dissatisfied with Tillerson’s tenure as Secretary of State, beginning with his refusal to say that “gay rights are human rights” during his confirmation hearing, as the Washington Blade noted.
Ever since Secretary Tillerson was successfully confirmed, the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT advocacy groups have repeatedly urged him to be vocal about anti-LGBT violence in Egypt, Russia, Indonesia, and other countries around the world where LGBT people are facing particularly flagrant forms of abuse.
Still, there were subtle indications that, although Secretary Tillerson was not going to be anywhere near as proactive as his predecessors on LGBT issues, he was also not bowing completely to virulently anti-LGBT figures elsewhere in the Trump administration.
For one, the State Department initially kept gay diplomat Randy Berry on board as the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons during the early days of the Trump administration, angering anti-LGBT religious rights groups who wanted to see a purge of all LGBT officials, as The Daily Beast previously reported.
Then, when the White House stayed silent for all of LGBT Pride Month last year—even though Trump previously claimed that he was “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights”—the State Department issued a statement attributed to Tillerson recognizing Pride Month, saying that “LGBTI persons continue to face the threat of violence and discrimination”—and that such violence runs counter to “American values.”
And in November 2017, after the Trump administration had spent much of its first year undermining transgender equality, Tillerson issued another press statement recognizing Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“Transgender persons should not be subjected to violence or discrimination,” Tillerson wrote in the same year that Trump tried to ban transgender troops from the military via Twitter, “and the human rights they share with all persons should be respected.”
But when it comes to Tillerson, LGBT rights groups have always maintained that actions speak louder than words: After the now-former Secretary issued his Transgender Day of Remembrance statement, the Human Rights Campaign called him out for “[remaining] silent on atrocities around the world.”
For LGBT rights groups, the shift from Tillerson to Pompeo seems to be an out of the fire, into the frying pan scenario.
In addition to Pompeo’s laundry list of anti-LGBT comments on issues like same-sex marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell prior to his appointment as CIA director, GLAAD is particularly alarmed by a September 2017 Foreign Policy report alleging that Pompeo has been “quietly killing the [CIA’s] diversity mandate” ever since he became director.
According to Foreign Policy’s reporting, the parents of Matthew Shepard, were scheduled to give a speech about LGBT rights at the CIA until top leadership canceled the event—part of an alleged pattern of Pompeo ignoring diversity issues at the intelligence agency despite his “assurance” during his confirmation hearing that “every employee will be treated in a way that is appropriate and equal.”
In contrast to Tillerson, whom GLAAD researcher Jeremy Hooper called a “possible moderate”—or, at least enough of a moderate that Tony Perkins vocally opposed his confirmation—LGBT advocates perceive Pompeo as being cut from the same cloth as figures like Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who more uniformly oppose LGBT rights.
The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment about how the President’s choice of Pompeo squared with his past statement that he is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.”
But the choice of Pompeo, amid the ongoing tumult of the Russia investigation, seems to be an indication that the President certainly doesn’t perceive an anti-LGBT record as a disqualifying mark when it comes to representing the United States to the world. And in a sign of how seriously LGBT rights groups are taking the proposed change in leadership at the State Department, they are already vociferously opposing Pompeo’s confirmation.
“This decision has the potential to make a dire situation even worse,” Griffin said in his statement, referring to the ongoing LGBT rights crises around the globe. “Pompeo does not deserve to be confirmed.”
Added Ellis, “This extremism should have no place in the U.S. State Department.”