It’s no secret that Trump’s cabinet nominees are almost uniformly opposed to LGBT equality: Attorney General pick Sen. Jeff Sessions opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and voted for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, while Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has donated millions to the National Organization for Marriage.
Ben Carson, Trump’s choice for HUD secretary has said being transgender, “is the same as if you woke up and said, ’I’m Afghani today because I saw a movie about that last night.”
As a result, the nominees are repeatedly being grilled on LGBT rights during this week’s confirmation hearings. So far, each has promised that their bigotry won’t impact their policy-making decisions.
Here’s what they’ve been promising (and why we should be skeptical):
Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA
During Rep. Pompeo’s confirmation hearing on Thursday, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris told the Kansas lawmaker, “Your voting record and stated position on gay marriage and the importance of having a traditional family structure for raising children is pretty clear.”
She was referring to the fact that Pompeo has stated that he is opposed to marriage equality and believes it is “ideal” for kids to be raised by “a man and a woman.”
He also co-sponsored two federal anti-marriage equality bills: the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, which would have allowed states to continue refusing to recognize same-sex marriages even if the federal government did, and the 2013 Marriage and Religious Reform Act, which would have protected the tax-exempt status of nonprofits with a religious belief that marriage is only between a man and a woman. (Both bills failed to pass.)
“Can you commit to me that your personal views on this issue will remain your personal views,” Sen. Harris asked, “and will not impact internal policies that you put in place at the CIA?”
“You have my assurance that every employee will be treated in a way that is appropriate and equal,” Pompeo promised.
But he made no attempt to disguise his anti-LGBT views, or claim that they had changed—adding that in his “life as a private businessman,” he held the same biases, but still “treated each and every member of [his] workforce with the dignity and respect.”
Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
The retired surgeon and failed presidential candidate was a little less politic when grilled on LGBT issues.
Asked Thursday whether he believed HUD has a duty to promote equal housing opportunities for LGBT people, he said he believed “that all Americans, regardless of any of the things you mentioned, should be protected by the law.”
He quickly added, however, “that no one gets extra rights. Extra rights means you get to redefine everything for everybody else.”
In 2014, Carson used a similar phrase in a speech at CPAC, the right-wing lovefest. There, Carson insisted allowing gays and lesbians to marry wasn’t being equal, it was giving them something “extra.” “They don’t get to redefine marriage,” he insisted.
He has also claimed that being gay is a choice, compared homosexuality to bestiality and pedophilia, and said transgender people were “the height of absurdity.”
And who can forget when Carson “joked” that homophobic bakers shouldn’t be forced to make wedding cakes for gay couples, because they might poison them.
James Mattis, Secretary of Defense
Sen. Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) asked him three times whether he still felt this way, and still couldn’t get him to denounce those views.
Sen Gillibrand: “Do you believe that openly-serving homosexuals, along with women in combat units, is undermining our force?”
Gen Mattis: “Senator, my belief is that we have to stay focused on a military that is so lethal that on the battlefield it will be the enemy’s longest day and their worst day when they run into that force.”
Gillibrand: “Do you believe that allowing LGBT Americans to serve in the military or allowing women in combat is undermining our lethality?”
Gen. Mattis: “Frankly, senator, I’ve never cared about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.”
Gillibrand: “So the answer is no?”
Gen. Mattis: “My concern is the readiness of the force to fight and make certain it is the top of the game. When we go up against the enemy, the criteria that everything that we do in the military up to that point, when we put the young men and women across the line of departure, is they are at the most lethal stance. That is my obligation as I move into the job, and how I will look at the issue.”
Mattis also claimed he he had no intention of immediately trying to reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but did imply that he’d be open to it.
“I believe that right now, the policies that are in effect — unless the service chief brings something to me where there has been a problem that has been proven. I’m not going in with the idea that I am going to review these and right away, start rolling something back.”
Jeff Sessions, Attorney General
But he’s spent the entirety of his career working in opposition the type of LGBT-friendly legislation he now promises to uphold: He vocally opposed marriage equality, supported “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” came out against the provisions protecting LGBT victims in the Violence Against Women Act, and voted against the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. “I’m not sure women or people with different sexual orientations face that kind of discrimination,” he insisted. “I just don’t see it.” (There’s many, many examples, if you can stomach it.)
Sen. Sessions voted against my hate crimes amendment – will he protect LGBT Americans and people with disabilities? https://t.co/UvaoipmB5C
— Sen. Patrick Leahy (@SenatorLeahy) January 10, 2017
When Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who sponsored the 2009 Hate Crimes Prevention Act, asked Sessions if he still felt women and LGBT people don’t face the kind of discrimination that the hate crimes legislation was passed to prevent, he proved to be a consummate politician.
“Having discussed that issue at some length,” Sessions replied, “that does not sound like something I said or intended to say.” (“You did say it,” Leahy reminded him.)
When Sessions said he felt state courts were doing enough to prosecute hate crimes without intervention from the federal government, Leahy reminded him that, according to FBI data, LGBT people are more likely to be targeted for hate crimes than any other minority.
“We can study this forever but that’s a pretty strong fact,” he added. “And in 2010, you stated that expanding hate crimes protections to LGBT individuals was unwarranted, possibly unconstitutional. You said the bill has been said to cheapen the civil rights movement. Especially considering what the FBI has found, do you still feel that way?”
“Mr. Chairman,” Sessions responded, “the law has been passed, the Congress has spoken, you can be sure I will enforce it.”
During the second part of the hearing, Sen. Corey Booker and Rep. John Lewis took the rare position of testifying against Sessions.
“He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates that he won’t,” Booker insisted. “Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment to a central requisite of the job—to aggressively pursue the congressional mandate of civil rights, equal rights and justice for all of our citizens. In fact, at numerous times in his career, he has demonstrated a hostility toward these convictions.”
Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State
During the former ExxonMobil CEO’s hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Chris Coons asked Tillerson whether “gay rights are human rights,” taking a quote from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s grounbreaking speech in Geneva in December 2011.
“American values don’t accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone,” Tillerson responded.
Pressed to be more specific about LGBT protections, though, he simply shrugged.
Coons said he was encouraged by Tillerson’s role in getting the Boy Scouts to admit gay members in 2013, to which Tillerson remained silent—possibly because he faced criticism from the religious right over that move.
During Tillerson’s tenure as CEO, ExxonMobil refused add sexual orientation to ExxonMobil’s anti-discrimination policy and the company recieved the lowest score ever on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index—negative-25 out of 100.
What should we make of all these promises?
The reality is LGBT Americans still don’t have equal protection under the law: There are a host of new “religious freedom” measures and bathroom bills bouncing around state legislatures, we’re at heightened risk for hate violence, and you can still be legally fired for being LGBT in most states.
But instead of vowing to advance equality, these potential cabinet members have been, at best, dismissive and, at worst, hostile to our needs. Asked whether they’d actively discriminate against LGBT Americans as members of a Trump administration, each has insisted they wouldn’t. But that’s an offensively low bar.
Trump’s chief spokeswoman, Kellyanne Conway, has asked us to stop looking at what’s coming out of the President-elect’s mouth and pay attention to “what’s in his heart.” Using that standard, we don’t like what we see.