Last Wednesday, on what LGBTQ advocates have called the “administration’s anti-LGBT day,” President Donald Trump said he would nominate Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a vocal opponent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.
If confirmed, Brownback would lead the Office of International Religious Freedom, a section of the U.S. Department of State responsible for “promoting religious freedom as a core objective of U.S. foreign policy.”
In addition to Trump's tweets stating transgender people will not be able to serve "in any capacity in the U.S. Military" and the Justice Department's brief opposing the extension of Title VII discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation, Brownback’s nomination last week appears to be a nod to Trump’s conservative base, and some commentators see this as a reinvigoration of culture wars thought to be over.
An Unpopular Governor
Brownback is the country's second-least popular governor (behind Chris Christie of New Jersey), according to the latest ranking from Morning Consult. And for much of 2016, the Kansas Republican held the number one spot on the list.
“I haven’t seen any editorial or commentary expressing regret that he’s leaving,” Burdett Loomis, professor of political science at the University of Kansas, told NBC News. “Most people are saying 'good riddance.'"
“He is going to be known for his extreme and large-scale tax cuts. They failed — objectively. And after four and half years, a legislature filled with more moderate Republicans and more Democrats overturned almost all his tax policies,” Loomis explained. “He’s also gutted the government. A lot of people have quit. He just doesn’t believe in government — sort of like Trump.”
Of his appointment to the Office of International Religious Freedom, Loomis called it a “reward” for a “failed” governorship. “To me, this seems like the most consolation of consolation prizes. Most people don’t even know this position exists.”
“I think it’s highly symbolic,” he added. In the past 15 years, Loomis noted Brownback has become even more religiously conservative. He has moved “from conventional to Midwest Protestantism to a sort of Evangelical Christianity to becoming a member of Opus Dei.”
“He is utterly anti-abortion. He’s never seen an anti-abortion bill he won’t sign in a second, and he is a believer in ‘traditional marriage,’” Loomis said. “His religious beliefs definitely affect his policy decisions.”
Brownback’s LGBTQ Track Record
As a congressman, Brownback actively opposed same-sex marriage. Once elected governor of Kansas, Brownback revoked a 2007 executive order signed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that provided non-discrimination protections to state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Then in 2016, Brownback signed SB 175, a piece of state legislation that allows university groups to exclude LGBTQ students. Student groups can claim that LGBTQ membership violates their religious convictions and still be entitled to receive university funds. At the time, the Human Rights Campaign called it “part of an onslaught of anti-LGBT bills being pushed … by anti-equality activists around the country.”
Equality Kansas, a group dedicated to ending LGBTQ discrimination in the state, said Brownback is "unsuited to represent American values of freedom, liberty, and justice" and urged Kansas senators, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, not to confirm him in the position.
"Since his inauguration in January of 2011, LGBT Kansans have faced near-annual assaults on our liberties and our dignity in the name of 'religious freedom,'" the organization said in a statement. "His goal is not to use religion as a way to expand freedom, but to use a narrow, bigoted interpretation of religion to deny freedom to his fellow citizens. He has caused enough damage here in Kansas. We do not wish him upon the world."
Professor Loomis said the idea of Brownback being an ambassador for religious freedom is "staggering."
“As with many of Trump’s appointees, he’s appointed someone who needs to be fairly open about religion and human rights, but instead it’s someone who is fairly closed about it," Loomis added.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment on this story.