Selective Amnesia: Mike Pence’s Anti-LGBTQ Record

Adam Rippon criticizes Mike Pence over his Anti-LGBTQ Record

Mike Pence targeted the first openly gay US Winter Olympics team this week denying his record of anti-LGBTQ activism while serving as governor of Indiana. Criticizing Vice President Mike Pence’s lengthy anti-LGBTQ record, Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon refused to meet with the former Indiana governor. Thereafter, Pence fired off two tweets denying his anti-LGBTQ record (calling it “fake news” and “misinformed”).

Commenting to press last month, Rippon spoke out about Pence being chosen to lead the 2018 U.S. Olympic delegation to South Korea. “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” Rippon said in an interview with USA Today. “I’m not buying it.”

He added:

“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” Rippon said. “I wouldn’t go out of my way to meet somebody like that.

“I don’t think he has a real concept of reality,” Rippon said of Pence. “To stand by some of the things that Donald Trump has said and for Mike Pence to say he’s a devout Christian man is completely contradictory. If he’s okay with what’s being said about people and Americans and foreigners and about different countries that are being called ‘shitholes,’ I think he should really go to church.”

While Pence denies his anti-LGBTQ record, his public record (both statements and policy positions) say otherwise.

Pence’s Long Anti-LGBTQ History

Mike Pence is one of many white evangelicals who wholeheartedly support Donald Trump despite his anti-Christian stances on adultery, vulgarity, greed and nepotism. During his time as governor of Indiana, Pence applied that evangelical belief system in a host of ways to target and disenfranchise LGBTQ people.

He once went so far as to argue that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.”

Pence’s anti-LGBTQ record didn’t begin with his ascension to the highest office in Indiana, though.

When he was a marginal state-level politician, Pence compared himself to Noah and the flood when urging his fellow lawmakers to stop LGBTQ marriage equality. “It’s important that every American use whatever means is necessary. I feel a little like Noah. 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,” he argued in 2004.

Three years later, Pence spoke out against hate crimes legislation because of its potential to slow or stop dangerous “conversion therapy” programs (that have driven many LGBTQ children and teenagers to suicide). He said in part:

Finally, pro-homosexual activist groups such as the Human Rights Campaign have stated their belief that an ad campaign by pro-family groups showing that many former homosexual people had found happiness in a heterosexual lifestyle, contributed to the tragic 1998 murder of homosexual college student Matthew Shepard. There is no evidence that his killers even knew about the ads, and Shepard’s killers told ABC’s 20/20 that they were motivated by money and drugs. However, the danger here is that people use a hate crimes bill to silence the freedom of religious leaders to speak out against homosexuality.

In 2009, he signed on to a letter demanding federal appointee Kevin Jennings be fired due to his “role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools-an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children.” (Jennings is the founder of GLSEN – the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.)

That same year Pence continued speaking out against hate crimes laws claiming they’re meant “to advance a radical social agenda.” He said:

“We ought not to use the American military as a backdrop for social experimentation or debating domestic policy issues. The focus ought to be on readiness, it ought to be on recruitment, it ought to be on retention, unite cohesion. I have to tell you, John, what I heard when I was in Afghanistan about a week ago, I was in a mess hall. I sat down completely unscripted conversation with about a dozen different soldiers on the front lines in operation enduring freedom. There were Democrats at the table, Republicans at the table. To my memory every single combat soldier said, go back to Congress and tell them don’t do this. When you look at that pentagon study, there’s a difference between the opinions expressed in that survey by people that are down range in combat versus other people serving in different roles in the military. So I don’t believe the time has come to repeal don’t ask don’t tell. I really believe our soldiers that are at the tip of the spear know that. We ought to put their interests and the interests of our national security first.”

In the years following the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Pentagon study Pence maligned appears to have been proven out as Pence’s fears (based on alleged one-on-one interviews) never materialized.

The following year in 2010, Pence re-upped his attack on LGBTQ military service claiming a repeal of the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy would make the military a “backdrop for social experimentation.”

Thereafter he made the now-infamous comments about “mainstreaming” homosexuality in military. He said:

“I would still have a problem with it because there’s no question to mainstream homosexuality within active duty military would have an impact on unit cohesion would have an impact on recruitment, an impact on readiness, that’s been established and written about and chronicled for many many years and I believe we need to continue to keep the focus of our military on the mission of the military. Don’t ask don’t tell was a compromise back in the early 90s, it’s been a successful compromise we ought to leave it like it is and and not run the risk of impacting the readiness of our military or recruitment for our military because of an effort to advance some liberal domestic social agenda.”

He later went on to support the virulently anti-LGBTQ Federal Marriage Amendment saying not only that LGBTQ status is a “chosen lifestyle,” but that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”

He also attacked the Obama administration’s stance on transgender protections.

Pence isn’t well known for those positions and statements, though. When his anti-LGBTQ record is brought up, a specific set of statements and issues typically arise.

Conversion Therapy

During his first run for national congressional office, Pence made several of his public positions clear. Though his campaign webpage has since been taken down, the internet does not forget what he had to say about LGBTQ people:

• Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.

• 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.

• 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.

[emphasis mine]

In his campaign, Pence not only disparaged LGBTQ families, but made public his intent to redirect money from HIV prevention to ‘conversion therapy’ programs.

The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program “works with cities, states and local community-based organizations to provide HIV care and treatment services to more than 512,000 each year, reaching approximately 52% of all those diagnosed with HIV in the United States.”

And Pence wanted to divert funds from that program to target LGBTQ people for practices condemned by all major medical and psychological organizations.

His “conversion therapy” stance is but one of the two major anti-LGBTQ positions Pence is well-known for; the other is his role in the abject failure known as SB 101 – Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Indiana RFRA

Vice President Mike Pence is perhaps most well-known for his controversial support for the unpopular RFRA his legislature pushed through (SB 101).

The bill – which he signed surrounded by a group of Indiana’s most virulently anti-LGBTQ personalities – prohibited state and local government in Indiana from “substantially burdening” the exercise of religion.

While many claimed at the time that it was no different from the federal level RFRA, the truth is it went much further in its intent and wording than its federal counterpart even going so far as to offer explicit protection to for-profit businesses.

A highlighted section of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Section 7 of the bill. (As the Indianapolis Star pointed out:

Unlike the federal law, the Indiana bill explicitly protects the exercise of religion of entities, which includes for profit corporations.

Opponents of the bill say it would grant religious liberty rights to any corporation, any group of people and any business, regardless of whether or not members of that corporation or business share a religious belief. The federal law grants such rights only to people, nonprofit organizations and, in the case of the often-cited Hobby Lobby ruling, to closely-held corporations where owners share the same religious beliefs.

That difference is a concern, said Katherine Franke, a Columbia University law professor, because the law would grant religious rights to broad entities.

“It completely expands the idea that anything can have a right to religious liberty even if they’re incorporated for secular or commercial purposes,” said Franke, who’s one of 30 legal scholars who raised concerns about RFRA in a letter to Rep. Ed Delaney last February. “We haven’t seen this broad definition.”

They outlined several other frightening differences in their coverage worth revisiting.

His support for and signing of the RFRA in large part foreshadowed his & Trump’s ‘religious liberty’ actions upon ascending to the Vice Presidency.

Selective Amnesia

In a response to Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon’s comments, Mike Pence said:

Jarrod Agen, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Communications to the Vice President, followed up with a third tweet:

David Baden, Rippon’s agent, contradicted that statement commenting the USA Today reporting is accurate.

“We were contacted by his office and I think the objective was to have a conversation with Adam,” he said. he added the request “went through the various proper channels and that message was then sent to us.”

He went on to say Rippon “obviously respects the office of the vice president and took the request seriously,” adding that the skater “respectfully declined and said after he was done competing he would revisit the request.”

“Fake news” comments aside, Pence’s inability to own up the black-and-white statements and positions he’s held on LGBTQ equality and promotion of “conversion therapy” isn’t surprising. After all, this is the same man who colossally failed to defend his egregiously unpopular RFRA when given ample opportunity by George Stephanopoulos.


Tim Peacock is the Managing Editor and founder of Peacock Panache and has worked as a civil rights advocate for over twenty years. During that time he’s worn several hats including leading on campus LGBT advocacy in the University of Missouri campus system, interning with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, and volunteering at advocacy organizations. You can learn more about him at his personal website.


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