President Pence: Did the LGBTQ Community Dodge a Bullet?

by Merryn Johns

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 10, 2020

Vice President Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence  (Source:Associated Press)

The impeachment trial of President Trump is almost over, and it looks certain that a largely party-line acquittal awaits the president this week. For Democrats, this might look like a foregone conclusion — in the worst case, a defeat of sensible politics — but had the impeachment trial produced an upset, would a President Pence have been more damaging to the LGBTQ community?

The story goes that Donald Trump selected Mike Pence as vice president over Chris Christie because Pence looked like he had come from Central Casting. But according to multiple reports, Trump was spooked by Pence's conservatism. He would ask White House visitors who stopped by the VP's office, "Did Mike make you pray?" Trump did not share Pence's conservative views on abortion and homosexuality, consulting a legal scholar on legislation such as Roe v. Wade, marriage equality, and when the conversation turned to LGBTQ rights, Trump gestured at Pence and said, "Don't ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!"

According to the HRC, Mike Pence as president would represent a significant threat to our community. The Real Mike Pence: A Lifetime Of Attacks On the LGBTQ Community outlines his stance on marriage equality, military service, health care, employment, and civil rights — and yet, little airtime has been spent considering how a Pence White House might act. Eight U.S. presidents have been sworn in following the death or resignation of their predecessors, but "no vice president in history has wielded more influence, with less scrutiny, than Mike Pence."

While Trump's tantrums, tirades, and tweets dominate the media, Pence has stayed behind the scenes, pushing the conservative agenda, forging bonds with GOP candidates and donors, and launching his own Super PAC in 2017. He is the only VP to ever do so. Mostly, though, we see him standing by Trump's side and smiling as the president signs an executive order — as he did in May 2017 for "religious liberty".

According to the HRC report, Pence was chosen by Trump to be "the most consequential vice president ever" and as with other Trump picks, "extremism is a defining element of his character."

A born-again evangelical Christian who is reportedly frightened to be alone in a room with a woman other than his wife, Pence advocates religious freedom, holds that homosexuality can be "cured," claims transgenderism is unnecessary and defines marriage as an institution that should be solely supported between a man and a woman.

His convictions would also likely be shared by the first lady. His wife, Second Lady Karen Pence, taught at an anti-LGBTQ school and defended a Michigan adoption agency for refusing to serve an LGBTQ family based on "religious exemptions."

Battling LGBTQ rights are just part of Pence's ultra-conservative mindset.

"I started to identify with that kind of common-sense conservatism of Ronald Reagan," Pence once told the IndyStar, "and before I knew it, I decided I was a Republican and moved up here in Indianapolis in 1983 to go to law school."

A glimpse into Pence's unshakable fundamentalism is afforded by the 23-minute speech he delivered to NRA members at the Lucas Oil Stadium Arena in Indianapolis in April last year:

"Firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens don't threaten our families, they protect our families. And we know that firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens make our communities more safe, not less safe. ... You know, at this podium, nearly two decades ago, Charlton Heston said those famous words, and I quote, 'I'll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands.' "

He'd also nix the New Green Deal and Medicare for All as "socialism." And he quoted Britain's Iron Lady: "The trouble with socialism is [you] eventually run out of other people's money."

His belief in "the sanctity of human life" led him to shut down Planned Parenthood in Indiana, leaving rural Indiana without public HIV prevention or testing services, a decision that many believed figured directly into a subsequent HIV outbreak.

It's difficult to find, however, issues in the Pence playbook that are as out of step with national polling as those surrounding equality; in Gallup polls, U.S. citizens favoring LGBTQ marriage jumped from 39% in 2005 to 63% in 2019.

"Like President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence has consistently shown he is no friend of the LGBTQ community," Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of Movement Advance Project told EDGE. "Mike Pence has fully supported the concerted and relentless attacks on the LGBTQ community under the Trump Administration—from barring transgender people from serving their country to filing Supreme Court briefs arguing it should be legal to fire LGBTQ people to issuing guidance and regulation after guidance and regulation enabling discrimination by taxpayer-funded service providers. If Vice President Pence became President, we could simply expect more of the same."

And it's important to note his track record against the community began long before he started serving in the Trump administration. In 2015, despite objections from the business community and LGBTQ rights groups, he signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana, opening the door further to discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religious belief.

Back in 2007 Pence voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, designed to protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination in the workplace, saying that ENDA "wages war on freedom and religion in the workplace."

Pence also opposed the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, favoring the policy which prevented active LGBTQ service members from coming out, which he described as "social experimentation".

And following the long battle over the North Carolina "bathroom bill," or HB 2, which required that public restrooms be used according to the sex listed on a person's birth certificate, after which the Obama administration directed school districts to allow students to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identified, Pence expressed disagreement. "Policies regarding the security and privacy of students in our schools should be in the hands of Hoosier parents and local schools, not bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.," Pence said in a statement. "The federal government has no business getting involved in issues of this nature."

Would he attempt to repeal same-sex marriage? Pundits think it's possible. In a 2006 address to the House, Pence said that he "[believes] that if someone chooses another lifestyle than I have chosen, that is their right," but he also cited academic research that said, "societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family." And Conservatives have always implied that same-sex marriage devalues the institution.

Andy Humm, co-host of satellite TV show Gay USA says, "Pence already has free rein within the administration to impose his reactionary theocratic vision on as much of government as possible. Almost all federal agencies have jettisoned protections for LGBTQ people at his behest. As president, he will keep appointing unqualified far-right, anti-LGBTQ judges. And because he believes in The Rapture, his foreign policy might be even more frightening as he works to precipitate the Second Coming. He is a dedicated anti-LGBTQ bigot and will bring even more of his ilk into government. He'll do it all more calmly and without the coarseness of Trump, but he is just as dangerous in his own way."

But there's a caveat to Humm's observation: "Of course, if Trump was impeached, Pence is worthy of the same sanction given his involvement with the Ukraine scheme."

That observation is highly theoretical; should Trump and Pence both be impeached, power transfers to Speaker of the House, currently, Nancy Pelosi. The very thought of a Pelosi presidency would be anathema to conservative senators currently struggling to justify an impeachment without witnesses — which may play some role in the fractured process currently on display in the Senate. Instead, LGBTQ activists are wondering how much more damage the Trump/Pence machine can do to the cause.

Merryn Johns is a writer and editor based in New York City. She is also a public speaker on ethical travel and a consultant on marketing to the LGBT community.


This story is part of our special report titled EDGE-i. Want to read more? Here's the full list.