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Mike Pence’s reply to Pete Buttigieg ignores the brutality of anti-LGBTQ policies

Vice President Mike Pence's policies are oppressive and violent for LGBTQ people. Niceties won't change that.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a press conference after the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Venezuela at United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States on April 10, 2019.  (Photo by Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence speaks during a press conference after the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Venezuela at United Nations Headquarters in New York, United States on April 10, 2019. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Vice President Mike Pence portrayed his anti-LGBTQ rights record as just a matter of opinion in an interview Thursday and suggested Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg should be more respectful.

Buttigieg singled Pence out during a speech last weekend at the LGBTQ Victory Fund National Champagne Brunch in Washington, D.C.

“If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” Buttigieg said. “And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand. That if you got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me — your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Pence responded to Buttigieg’s remarks in an interview with CNBC Thursday, maintaining that this a matter of faith and opinion.

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“He said some things that are critical of my Christian faith and about me personally,” Pence said. “And he knows better. He knows me. But I get it. You know, it’s — look, again, 19 people running for president on that side in a party that’s sliding off to the left. And they’re all competing with one another for how much more liberal they are.”

Pence added, “I have my Christian values. My family and I have a view of marriage that’s informed by our faith. And we stand by that. But that doesn’t mean that we’re critical of anyone else who has a different point of view.”

By framing the issue as a matter of civility between two men who have worked in government in the same state — Buttigieg is now mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and Pence is the former governor of the state — Pence is ignoring the substance behind Buttigieg’s critique.

Pence has a long record of fighting against LGBTQ rights — as a member of Congress, as governor of Indiana, and now as vice president.

When Pence suggests Buttigieg, a gay man running for president, is criticizing his record for media attention or just to move the Democratic Party to the left, he willfully ignores how he has worked to prevent Buttgieg from enjoying the same rights as him for his entire career. In doing so, Pence also dismisses LGBTQ rights as a frivolous concern and ignores the fact that his actions have real economic and health consequences for LGBTQ people facing discrimination and violence.

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When Pence ran for Congress in 2000, he opposed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” a policy which prohibited discrimination against queer people serving in the military, so long as they were closeted. He didn’t oppose it because it discriminated against queer people, but because it didn’t altogether ban queer people from serving in the military.

His campaign website read at the time, “In addition to defense spending, Congress should lead a national debate on reforming the military by … bringing an end to the ‘don’t ask/don’t tell’ policy of permitting homosexuals to serve in the armed forces. Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion.”

After being elected, Pence changed his mind only to fight against the policy’s repeal, calling it a “successful compromise” in 2010. 

Pence also campaigned on a platform to suspend the Ryan White Care Act, the largest federally funded program for people with HIV/AIDS. Under a section on his campaign website called “Strengthening the American Family,” Pence said that Congress should reauthorize the bill only after an audit to confirm 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 did not use the words conversion therapy outright, but it’s clear that he was referring to the practice. The American Psychological Association opposes the discredited medical practice to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity, and research has found that conversion therapy during adolescence is associated with poor mental health outcomes, including a higher likelihood of attempting suicide.

In 2006, Pence said he supported a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, arguing on the House floor that “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.” In 2007, Pence opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would have prohibited discrimination against transgender and queer people by employers with at least 15 workers.

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While governor of Indiana, Pence signed into law the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The law, enacted in 2015, said that government can’t infringe on someone’s ability to practice their religion without a compelling reason, which LGBTQ advocacy groups said would result in discrimination against queer people. Indiana only amended the law to protect queer people after mayors of major cities and several governors moved to ban city- and state-funded travel to Indiana.

Pence’s policy decisions have real financial consequences for LGBTQ people.

There is only a patchwork of laws protecting LGBTQ people against discrimination across the country. According to the Movement Advancement Project, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing. A 2017 nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for American Progress found that among those who experienced sexual orientation or gender identity-based discrimination in the last year, 52.8 percent reported that it negatively impacted their work environment. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

Pence opposed the Obama administration’s guidance allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and other spaces corresponding to their gender. He told a talk radio host in 2016, as he campaigned with President Donald Trump, that when it came to transgender protections, “they should be resolved, for the safety and well-being of our children first and foremost, their privacy and rights, and with common sense.”

When Pence mentioned the safety and well-being of children, he was playing into baseless fears about transgender children, and transgender people in general, using their gender to commit violence or harassment against cisgender people. But transgender students are often the students on the receiving end of bullying and harassment, which is why they advocate for inclusive school policies.

The Trump administration has proposed a 2020 budget that would slash many programs LGBTQ people rely on, nominated U.S. Supreme Court justices who are likely to trample on LGBTQ rights, and moved forward on a trans military ban. The administration has also rescinded guidance protecting transgender people’s rights, such as access to bathrooms and other facilities according to their gender, erased LGBTQ people from government websites and data, and filed a brief arguing against LGBTQ worker protections.

This is beyond a difference of opinion; it is an infringement of people’s human rights.