The New York Times reported this week that Vice President-Elect Mike Pence is now actually denying that he ever supported ex-gay therapy (also known as reparative or conversion therapy). It’s a wholly unbelievable claim.
The damning evidence against Pence is a statement on his 2000 website in which he conditioned support for funding the Ryan White Care Act, which funds HIV treatment for those most in need, on only supporting ex-gay efforts:
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.
Pence has not personally offered any comment on that statement in 16 years, including not once during the presidential campaign. But this past week, Pence’s spokesman, Marc Lotter, told the Times that the website statement was not advocating for ex-gay therapy, but calling for federal funds to “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices.”
Taking that claim on its face, one must then consider Pence’s beliefs on safe sex. As it turns out, he has none. In 2002, he openly rejected advocacy for condoms, calling them “a very, very poor protection against sexually transmitted diseases.” (This is false.) Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, he explained, “I just simply believe the only truly safe sex, Wolf, as the president believes, is no sex.”
So, even taking Lotter at his word, Pence was advocating for the money that funded HIV treatment for people who couldn’t afford it to instead go to institutions advocating against having any sex whatsoever. That would very much include ex-gay organizations.
For example, the now-defunct Exodus International, which was once the largest umbrella organization for ex-gay ministries, defined success for ex-gay treatment as “attaining abstinence from homosexual behaviors, lessening of homosexual temptations, strengthening their sense of masculine or feminine identity, correcting distorted styles of relating with members of the same and opposite gender.” Abstaining from sexual behavior and lessening homosexual temptation is exactly what Pence was describing, even according to Lotter’s framing.
The context is key. His 2000 statement doesn’t just refer to institutions he wants to fund, but also institutions he no longer wants to fund — those that “celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” It’s no secret that the highest risk sexual behavior for HIV transmission is anal intercourse between men. So he was calling for less money for organizations that respect gay people for who they are and more for organizations that specifically reject their sexual behavior.
Lotter claimed that it’s a “mischaracterization” of Pence’s statement to suggest he “supported or advocated” for ex-gay therapy. But even with Lotter’s clarification, the conclusion still rings true.
And Pence’s record on gay issues certainly substantiates it. For example, in 2007, then-Congressman Pence spoke on the House floor about his opposition to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would have protected people from being fired because of their sexual orientation. As Pence characterized it, ENDA “would mean employees around the country who possess religious beliefs that are opposed to homosexual behavior would be forced, in effect, to lay down their rights and convictions at the door.” He didn’t refer to lesbian, gay, or bi sexual people — just “homosexual behavior.”
Perhaps even more obvious was a position he took in 1993 in the Indiana Policy Review, a magazine published by a conservative think tank he once ran. In a column titled “The Pink Newsroom,” Pence suggested that gay journalists should have to disclose their identity when writing about gay issues because of conflict-of-interest bias in promoting homosexuality:
Will a gay [sic] writing on gay issues be identified as would the owner of the local Ford dealership if he were to write on the issue of Fords?
As we understand the nature of both the political and scientific debate, the demand is that gaydom [sic] be elevated from a pathological condition or mere sexual preference to the status of one of several natural human divergences like hair or skin color.
It might be easy to shrug off this homophobic rhetoric as being two decades old, but when Pence wrote them in 1993, it had already then been 20 years since the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental disorder. And yet, there was Pence, 20 years later, describing it as a “pathological condition.”
It’s indisputable that Pence’s 2000 statement endorsed ex-gay therapy. But even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t matter, because it’s still not even the most anti-gay thing he’s ever said or done.
Pence’s anti-LGBT record is extensive, and has been thoroughly documented throughout his career as a member of Congress, governor, and vice presidential candidate. Why Lotter chose this moment to address this one particular controversy from his record is unclear, but it’s also patently unconvincing.