With less than a week until Christmas, Special Counsel Robert Mueller still isn’t spilling any tea about how close his investigation is to President Donald Trump. But as the number of cooperating witnesses grows in his wide-ranging investigation into the election, the president, his business dealings and his family, the buzz around the White House and in Washington circles is not “if” Mueller has the goods on Trump, but when this miasma will come to a fitting end.
That hoped-for ending, however, simply raises another question: Without Trump, what kind of president would Mike Pence be? And what would his presidency mean for LGBTQ+ Americans?
The answers range from horrible to disastrous. The New Yorker reported in October 2017 that during a White House meeting, “the conversation turned to gay rights. Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!’”
So there's one indication.
“Mike Pence has spent his entire career working against the LGBTQ community,” Sean Meloy, senior political director for outreach at the Victory Fund, told OUT. “And if he became the most powerful person in the world, there is no doubt that he would use all the power of his office to continue to oppose us. And so we should be very, very scared of a person like that.”
Pence’s scary record speaks for itself, said Meloy.
In 2015, then-Gov. Mike Pence signed a “religious freedom” bill into law so odiferous and widely denounced as legalizing discrimination that it sparked a boycott of Indiana that cost the state $60 million in revenue. Indiana lawmakers swiftly passed an amendment intended to protect LGBTQ Hoosiers. Before the “fix” was enacted, Pence’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act allowed private and public individuals to refuse goods and services to anyone based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
That is just one of “10 Reasons Pence Is Even Scarier Than Trump,” cited by Hilton Dresden in a 2016 article in OUT. Among the others: Pence supports electroshock conversion therapy. He authored several articles urging businesses to not hire gay people. He opposed the Obama administration’s directive to allow transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identity.
He was also the first congressman to target Planned Parenthood, which happens to be the nation’s largest provider of transgender healthcare. Planned Parenthood told OUT in a statement they know exactly what kind of president Pence would be, as he’s been one of the organization's opponents for nearly 20 years.
“Let’s be clear: before he became vice president, Mike Pence made a name for himself by crusading against women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and sexual and reproductive health care,” said Tamika Turner, associate director of constituency communications for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Mike Pence has tried to block patients from hormone therapy and other reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood, and has tried to deny asylum to LGBTQ migrants feeling persecution. Mike Pence has been in lockstep with Trump every step of the way. In fact, Mike Pence has already begun to implement his agenda: stripping away our hard won rights and painting our families and our lives as illegitimate.”
Pence earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, the lowest possible score, having never supported a single piece of pro-LGBTQ+ legislation in the two decades he’s been in politics.
“Mike Pence has made a career out of attacking the rights and equal dignity of LGBTQ people, women and other marginalized communities,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a statement to OUT. “Now as vice president, he poses one of the greatest threats to equality in the history of our movement.”
HRC issued a report earlier in the year detailing what it called “The Real Mike Pence,” tracing the deep roots of Pence’s evangelical extremism, and “the threat he poses to equality.” An accompanying video, called attention to the Vice President’s history of failures around HIV and AIDS prevention for the past 18 years.
When he ran for Congress in 2000, Pence proposed diverting HIV/AIDS funding to pro-conversion therapy organizations, "which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior," according to BuzzFeed. And as governor, he repeatedly refused to lift a ban on programs that distribute sterile needles in response to an overwhelming outbreak of HIV. Although Pence finally gave in to pressure to at least partially rescind the ban, his action sparked an easily avoidable health crisis that continued because of insufficient local funding.
“Given Pence’s background,” journalist Nico Lang wrote for OUT in 2017, “there’s no limit to the grievous harm to which he could subject the LGBTQ community.”
Pence’s anti-gay views, as well as the Trump administration’s ongoing failure to show support for HIV/AIDS relief for LGBTQ Americans, didn’t prevent the veep from speaking at the White House to mark World AIDS Day in November. He managed to do so without once mentioning the words, “gay,” “lesbian,” “queer,” “transgender,” “LGBTQ,” or even “sex.”
Pence’s affiliation with far right conservative Christians likely has a lot to do with it, said gay historian Nathaniel Frank, the director of the What We Know project at Cornell University and author of Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America.
“There’s no question that Mike Pence is a true believer in a retrograde vision for America that casts not just LGBTQ people, but women and anyone who doesn’t fit a narrow, sectarian mold, as dangerous outsiders, and views their equality as a grave threat to our culture,” Frank wrote in an email to OUT.
“His is not an idealistic, hopeful or compassionate view inspired by the teachings of Jesus,” added Frank. “But, like Trump’s, a zero-sum understanding of power that seeks to elevate his own place at the expense of the rest of us. Unlike Trump, however, Pence genuinely seems to believe that achieving this twisted version of America is his mission from God, and that’s a tough thing to fight using reason, shame, or any tool we might hope to deploy.”
Pence made history in September as the first sitting vice president to address the Value Voters Summit, a conservative Christian confab organized by the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies FRC as a hate group. Pence played to his evangelical Christian base in his speech, saluting Trump for his efforts to, in his words, “protect the religious liberty of everyone.”
Well, not everyone, as evidenced by the administration’s efforts to erase transgender Americans and roll back federal protections. Pence has opposed transgender military service since at least 1993, writing that queer and trans troops should be banned because they “carry extremely high rates of disease.” Reports cite Pence’s influence in the creation of the administration’s March memo, officially banning trans military service. The VP reportedly recruited anti-trans activist Ryan T. Anderson, and FRC president Tony Perkins for his “panel of experts,” to craft the memo dictating that trans service members would be barred.
Meloy of the Victory Fund concludes that those religious backers would gain a greater voice in a Pence administration. “The evangelical far right religious political actors would have a partner in Pence to challenge marriage, to challenge nondiscrimination laws, to challenge qual access to care and employment opportunities for the federal government,” said Meloy. “Some of those protections have stayed in place [under Trump] and I think that those would go away if he became president.”
“The current administration has already gone beyond the pale in undermining the legal equality and human dignity of LGBTQ people,” wrote Masen Davis, the transgender man who is CEO of the Freedom For All Americans advocacy organization, in an email to OUT. “No matter who is in the White House, our health and safety should never be subject to the personal views of one individual. It’s clear that Congress must act now to protect all LGBTQ Americans from discrimination in their jobs, their homes, and their communities.“
And that call for action by Congress was echoed by a spokesperson for the National LGBTQ Task Force: “I’m sure a man such as Mike Pence would fancy his presidency to be something out of The Handmaid's Tale,” said media director Alex Morash.
“Fortunately the new House majority will be packed with progressive heroines such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, along with one of the staunches supporters of the LGBTQ community running the House named Nancy Pelosi, to deny him his desires,” Morash wrote to OUT. “As president, Pence would likely accelerate the federal government’s attempts to strip people of their reproductive rights and push through broader religious license to discriminate rules, and could even appoint another right-wing jurist to the Supreme Court. But, I do not see him being able to codify his bigoted agenda into law with the incoming Congress. In the end, he would be dangerous while in office, but unable to push through his agenda.”
Pence, who has never missed an opportunity to suck up to Trump and praise his leadership, could of course still be named in Mueller’s report, perhaps as a co-conspirator. Should Trump and Pence then resign or be forced from office, the order of succession would mean the Speaker of the House would serve as chief executive. If that happens in the new year, America would get its first woman commander in chief, President Nancy Pelosi.