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LGBTQ advocates see Pompeo as 'reckless choice' for top diplomat

Mike Pompeo, Trump's choice to lead the State Department, has an extensive record of opposing gay rights.
Image: Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing For Rep. Mike Pompeo To Become Director Of C.I.A.
President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for the director of the CIA, Rep.Mike Pompeo (R-KS) attends his confirmation hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on January 12, 2017 in Washington.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

In picking Mike Pompeo for his new secretary of state, President Donald Trump asserted that Pompeo would "do a fantastic job," and social conservatives quickly praised the announcement.

LGBTQ advocates, however, were just as quick to point to Pompeo's extensive record — mostly as a congressman from Kansas, before becoming CIA director last year — opposing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans and the potential negative impact he could have on them if confirmed.

His nomination “could have serious consequences for the United States and LGBTQ people around the globe," Chad Griffin, president of the national LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement.

“Mike Pompeo’s longstanding opposition to LGBTQ equality makes him a reckless choice to lead our nation’s diplomatic efforts,” Griffin said, adding that "the State Department has a crucial role to play in advancing human rights" — a role that he said was already rapidly declining under Rex Tillerson, who was fired this week as secretary of state.

In contrast, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank, praised Trump's choice of Pompeo, an evangelical Christian, saying that with him at the helm of the State Department, "there is hope for the United States."

Perkins, who Pompeo had consulted in an effort to expand chaplain services to CIA employees, also took the opportunity to criticize Tillerson, saying that under his leadership "religious freedom and human rights for all continues to take a backseat to the LGBT agenda."


A look into Pompeo's record on LGBTQ rights reveals why Perkins — who once referred to gay activists as "vile" and "pawns of the devil" — is pleased.

In his three terms in Congress, Pompeo opposed the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays, saying, "When you enter the Army you give up a few of your rights." On a panel at the Value Voters Summit in 2011, he also said, "We cannot use military to promote social ideas that do not reflect the values of your nation."

Following the 2013 landmark Supreme Court ruling, United States v. Windsor, which gutted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Pompeo co-sponsored two unsuccessful bills — the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act of 2013 and the State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 — which sought to undermine the high court's expansion of same-sex marriage rights.

In 2015, when the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges ruling came down effectively legalizing same-sex marriage across the nation, Pompeo released a statement condemning the decision.

"I am deeply saddened by the Supreme Court's ruling that imposes legalized gay marriage on the 70 percent of Kansans who voted to honor and protect the traditional definition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman," Pompeo stated. "It is a shocking abuse of power. It is wrong. I will continue to fight to protect our most sacred institutions."


Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international civil rights group, said there is "great reason to be concerned" about Pompeo's past record on LGBTQ issues.

"There could be some very serious consequences both here in the U.S. and also around the globe," she said. "Tillerson didn't really go after the LGBT portion of foreign policy. Now you're going to see someone who, if confirmed, is explicitly anti-LGBT, and I think you're going to see reversals in policy. It's very dangerous."

Among those policies, Margon said, is the Obama administration's explicit inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity into its broader human rights agenda and as part of its foreign policy.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ human rights organization, said the incoming secretary of state will be entering a fraught environment for LGBTQ people in various parts of the world.

"Mass arrests of LGBTIQ people globally hit an all-time high in 2017," Stern told NBC News. "We hope that Mike Pompeo will follow the legal and policy frameworks that have embedded LGBTIQ rights into U.S. foreign policy."

Stern also said Pompeo, as the secretary of state, will be able to wield influence over other nations and could affect the political landscape for vulnerable communities on an international stage.

"For better or for worse, the priorities of global superpowers like the U.S., China and Russia impact the rest of the world," she said. "America's top diplomat wields enormous power globally, so it is essential that he upholds the American value of human rights."


The Trump administration has previously come under fire for reneging on support for LGBTQ people, and sometimes, in the case of a proposed transgender military ban, outright targeting them. The ban failed in court, but the message was clear.

Trump has also been criticized for stacking the courts with anti-LGBTQ judges. Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ advocacy group, said Trump has caused a "judicial crisis" by nominating anti-LGBTQ judges, 18 of which the Senate has confirmed.

Pompeo did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment for this article.