The Education Department included anti-LGBTQ groups in a conference on family engagement on Thursday, which caused the National Parent Teacher Association to pull out of the event. The National PTA, which has 4 million members, told BuzzFeed those groups, Focus on the Family and Family Research Council, are “not in alignment” with its position on helping LGBTQ youth.
The Southern Poverty Law Center identified the Family Research Council as an anti-LGBTQ hate group. The FRC has labeled gay men as child molesters, and called same-sex relationships “more violent.” Focus on the Family has opposed laws that would protect transgender and gender-nonconforming people from discrimination and supports conversion therapy, a harmful practice that considers any non-heterosexual attraction to be similar to alcohol or drug addiction.
The event was a daylong conference about engaging fathers to take more of an active role in their children’s education ahead of Father’s Day. DeVos did not attend the event. But it does hurt her credibility on LGBTQ issues at a time when she continues to fight accusations that she is not supportive of LGBTQ students.
Soon after President Trump tapped DeVos for education secretary, the media reported on her connections to Focus on the Family, a far-right conservative group that has endorsed conversion therapy. DeVos and her husband gave money to the group many years ago, but DeVos pushed back against the accusation that she didn’t support LGBTQ rights. Before her confirmation, the DeVos family spokesman told BuzzFeed that she supports same-sex marriage.
After she was confirmed as secretary, the Education Department and Justice Department withdrew guidance that protects transgender and gender-nonconforming students from discrimination. Sources told CNN that DeVos opposed the plan to withdraw the guidance but she publicly supported it. DeVos issued a statement on the guidance, which read, “We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment,” but it’s unclear how the department defines a safe environment for trans and gender non-confirming students without the guidance.
DeVos’ support of LGBTQ students was further called into question when she refused to say she would rescind funding for private schools that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation during a Senate hearing this month. DeVos said that in areas where the law is “unsettled,” the department “is not going to be issuing decrees.” During a House hearing in May, she said, “state and local communities are best equipped to make these decisions.”
The decision to invite anti-LGBTQ groups to an Education Department event is consistent with the administration’s embrace of far-right religious conservatives. The Trump administration also decided not to recognize LGBTQ Pride Month this year. This month, the president spoke at an event supported by anti-LGBTQ groups and praised the founders of Focus on the Family and the far-right Faith and Freedom Coalition.