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Pence is first VP to speak at anti-gay group's Values Voter Summit

Vice President Mike Pence spoke of the Trump administration’s efforts to “protect religious liberty" at the Family Research Council's annual conference.
Image: Mike Pence
Vice President Mike Pence speaks at the 2018 Values Voter Summit in Washington, on Sept. 22, 2018.Susan Walsh / AP

Vice President Mike Pence over the weekend addressed the annual Values Voter Summit, a conference hosted by Christian activist group Family Research Council, which is designated an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Pence is the first vice president to address the group’s yearly event, and last year President Donald Trump became the first sitting president to do so.

According to the Family Research Council’s website, the Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to “provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”

In his address on Saturday, Pence checked off Trump’s deliveries to his evangelical Christian supporters, saying Trump took efforts to “protect the religious liberty of everyone.” He then looked forward to the 2018 elections and predicted that Republicans would retain control of Congress. “I know in my heart of hearts we will deliver another historic victory,” Pence told the attendees.

Pence spoke immediately after a panel titled “How Gender Ideology Harms Children,” which included Dr. Michelle Cretella from the American College of Pediatricians. The ACP, also designated an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, uses its name — nearly identical to the mainstream medical association the American Academy of Pediatrics — to obfuscate the fact that it pushes extreme views regarding the transgender community. The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) last year issued a scathing response to an article Cretella wrote, titled: “I’m a Pediatrician. How Transgender Ideology Has Infiltrated My Field and Produced Large-Scale Child Abuse,” saying it pushes “political and ideological agendas not based on science and facts.”

Other speakers at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit included Seb Gorka, the former presidential adviser who applauded Trump’s trans military ban; Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips, who won a narrow Supreme Court victory in June after refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding; and “Activist Mommy” blogger Elizabeth Johnston, who has defended the medically debunked practice of so-called gay conversion therapy.

Aside from Pence, several other Republican officials and lawmakers were also in attendance, including Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

One of the arguably more surprising guests to address the conference was “Superman” actor Dean Cain. Cain, who has claimed to be an LGBTQ-rights supporter, told gay blog Towleroad he was attending solely to promote his film “Gosnell,” a biopic about abortion doctor and convicted child murderer Kermit Gosnell.

The Family Research Council has been an opponent of LGBTQ rights since its founding in 1983. Since 1992, FRC’s lobbying arm, FRC Action, has fought legislation seeking to expand the rights of sexual and gender minorities, and its leaders have consistently compared gays to pedophiles and painted them as a risk to children. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the FRC uses “policy experts” to “make the case that the LGBT community is a threat to American society.”

Trump, who attended the Values Voter Summit last year, promised to support the LGBTQ community during his 2016 campaign and was the first Republican presidential nominee to mention LGBTQ people from the dais of a GOP convention, saying in 2016, “I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful, foreign ideology,” raising the specter of Islamist violence against LGBTQ people while ignoring allied groups like the Family Research Council.

Since becoming president, however, Trump has done much to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans. His State Department has removed a section about violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people from its annual human rights report, his Justice Department rescinded Obama-era guidance instructing public officers to interpret sexuality and gender discrimination under federal prohibitions on sex discrimination, and he twice failed to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month. Trump also tried to bar transgender people from joining the military, an effort currently tied up in court.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group, denounced the Values Voter Conference and its conversion-therapy-promoting attendees, saying those “peddling this sort of junk science are doing enormous harm to LGBTQ people and LGBTQ kids.”

“Once again, Mike Pence has made clear that he stands with many organizations and leaders who promote hate and fear,” HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy said. “We know those are not true American values.”