Vice President Mike Pence has a long anti-LGBTQ record, both in his actions and rhetoric, but in recent years he and his supporters have tried to throw doubt upon that history.
While he may have toned down his rhetoric, there’s no questioning his longstanding and unchanged view that LGBTQ people aren’t deserving of the same rights as their straight, cisgender counterparts. He has made that clear throughout his political career—during his time as a congressman, as the governor of Indiana, and currently as vice president.
Here is his record.
Opposition to Marriage Equality
In an interview with the New Castle Courier Times, Pence claimed “the homosexual left is using the courts to change the definition of my marriage.” He also compared himself to Noah, saying, “Everybody laughed at him when he was building his boat. People may not understand the urgency, but we need to build a firewall to defend marriage.”
And he wasn’t just talk. Pence co-sponsored legislation that would add a Constitutional amendment declaring marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman seven times while in Congress. He also co-sponsored a bill stating Congress disapproved of the District of Columbia Council in approving the Jury and Marriage Amendment Act of 2009, which legalized same-sex marriage in D.C.
Opposition to LGBTQ People Serving in the Military
While running for Congress in 2000, Pence campaigned on ending the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which excluded gay and bisexual people from serving openly in the armed forces. He felt it was too liberal, as it allowed LGB troops to serve, albeit not if they came out or were otherwise discovered to be part of the community.
“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion,” he claimed.
He would go on to vote against the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2010, saying, “American people don’t want to see the American military used as a vehicle to advance a liberal, social agenda.”
The Trump administration has gone after transgender service members using the same rhetoric, claiming trans people harm “unit cohesion,” despite a government study showing the opposite.
Additionally, the administration cites trans-related health care costs as prohibitively expensive, even though they only account for a small fraction of overall military health care costs. A ban against most trans people serving in the armed forces went into effect April 12, although the legal battle continues.
Opposition to Trans Rights
From the beginning, Pence was rumored to be a driving force behind keeping transgender people out of the military, and in July of 2017, sources told Foreign Policy the vice president and his staff had been working behind the scenes to push for an amendment to the 2018 defense spending bill that would prevent the Pentagon from using government money to “provide medical treatment related to gender transition.”
And blocking trans service members, and attempting to strip them of their health care, is far from the only way in which the Trump administration has gone after the community.
During the campaign, Pence told evangelical leader James Dobson both he and Donald Trump believed the issue of transgender students using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity should be handled at the local level—signaling a rollback of Obama-era protections, for which he had already publicly expressed disapproval.
The administration made good on Pence’s promise, with the Department of Education confirming in early 2018 that it would not investigate complaints from transgender students whose schools are blocking their access to those facilities.
The administration has also rolled back protections for transgender inmates, making it harder for them to be placed in facilities matching their identities. Over 100 civil rights groups signed onto a letter to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, saying under the new policy trans inmates “will unquestionably suffer serious harm if this policy is implemented as written.”
Opposition to LGBTQ Workers’ Rights
Pence has also sided against LGBTQ workers’ rights, voting against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) as a congressman, which would have made it illegal for employers, employment agencies, and labor organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
The Trump administration has also gone after LGBTQ workers, arguing civil rights law does not protect on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, despite a number of courts finding differently. That issue is now in front of the Supreme Court, which has been made more conservative as a result of the president’s nominees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
And when a new trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada included a clause protecting LGBTQ workers from employment discrimination, the Trump administration had it removed with a footnote, leaving non-federal workers without nationwide protection from not being hired or getting fired due to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Opposition to LGBTQ Education
As a congressman, Pence signed onto a letter to then-President Obama, calling on him to fire Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, in part for promoting LGBTQ acceptance in education.
One place such curricula would not be allowed is the Immanuel Christian School in Northern Virginia, where Second Lady Karen Pence teaches art part-time. That school bans LGBTQ students, parents, and faculty. The vice president has defended his wife teaching at the school, claiming criticisms were nothing more than an attack on Christianity.
Opposition to Hate Crime Laws
The vice president also has a history of opposing hate crime laws that offer protections for the LGBTQ community. He lobbied against the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, with false, scaremongering tactics, inaccurately claiming passing such legislation could result in charges against pastors who preach against homosexuality.
Pence accused Obama of using “his position as commander-in-chief to advance a radical social agenda.”
Under Pence’s leadership, Indiana remained one of the few states not to have a hate crime law. It recently passed one, but it is without explicit protections for the LGBTQ community.
Since Trump and Pence took office hate crimes have been on the rise, according to the most recent statistics available from the FBI, with a 17% increase in 2017.
Support for “Religious Freedom” Laws to Allow for Discrimination Loophole
Pence came to nationwide attention when, as governor, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), allowing individuals and businesses to invoke religious beliefs as a defense when sued by a private party.
He quickly came under intense scrutiny, and his state suffered a costly boycott. Things were not improved by his appearance on ABC, where George Stephanopoulos made him look evasive and unprepared. In that infamous interview, Pence repeatedly refused to say if he thought anti-LGBTQ discrimination should be outlawed in Indiana.
Despite initially saying he would not change the law, Pence was moved by pressure to sign an amended version of it that included language prohibiting use of the law to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.
Prior to that high profile battle, while running for a seat in the U.S. House, Pence argued, “Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ’discreet and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”
When an HIV/AIDS epidemic broke out in Indiana in late 2014, fueled by intravenous drug use, Pence had a decision to make: He could listen to the public health community, the local sheriff, and scientific research, and start a clean-needle exchange program, or he could stand in the way and allow the situation to worsen.
The then-governor feared a needle exchange program would lead to increased drug use, despite evidence to the contrary. He only agreed to approve of such a program after praying on it, and even then it was only for 30 days, and was so poorly run—and timed to coincide with another law making possession of a syringe with intent to commit an offense with a controlled substance a felony—that it was deemed useless.
Many observers noted this history when Pence delivered a speech at a World AIDS Day event, where he misrepresented the administration’s HIV/AIDS record; it has twice requested cuts to PEPFAR, in the 2018 and 2019 budgets, and moved millions from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program to put toward housing immigrant children following crackdowns on undocumented refugees.
The administration has since pledged to end new HIV transmissions by 2030, an ambitious goal experts say is undercut by its anti-LGBTQ actions, as the community is disproportionately affected, and discrimination and stigma are known to increase the rates of HIV transmissions, as well as lack of access to care.
Further, giving in to evangelical concerns over the use of fetal tissue, the Trump administration put a halt to federally-funded HIV research working toward a cure.
Support for Conversion therapy
Speaking of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, which provides support services and medications to those in need, Pence campaigned on taking money away from it even before he became an elected official. To make matters worse, he argued funds should be “directed toward those institutions” involved in conversion therapy.
“Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” he stated on his campaign website, while running for Congress.
Indiana is still one of 34 states with no law prohibiting medical professionals from performing the debunked and dangerous practice on minors. There is likewise no federal ban on conversion therapy.
Believes Being Gay Is a Sin
In case there was still any doubts about how Pence feels about gay people, he gave a resounding answer, as much by what he wouldn’t say as what he did, when asked a simple question in a CNN interview.
Pence was asked to respond to what out Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s said about him during the LGBTQ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch. Buttigieg remarked that he wished the vice president understood that his marriage to his husband brought him closer to God, that he didn’t choose to be gay, and that if anyone has a problem with that, they should take it up with “my creator.”
Pence framed the comments as an attack on his faith, even though both men are Christians. When asked if he thought God had made Buttigieg gay, Pence would only say, “all of us have our own religious convictions. Pete has his convictions, I have mine.”
When asked if he thought being gay was a sin, Pence responded, “I’m a Bible-believing Christian. I draw my truth from God’s word.”