The following is a guest post by Jeremy Hooper, special projects consultant at GLAAD and lead researcher on GLAAD's Trump Accountability Project.
January 2005. Just one day after she was confirmed as President George W. Bush’s second Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings wrote a letter to the then-head of PBS warning her to not air a planned episode of a popular children’s program. The episode in question was to feature a real-life parent of lesbian parents and their children, who were simply living their lives in Vermont. Even though the show in question, called Postcards from Bunny, regularly featured all kinds of families, Spellings determined that this particular portrait of this particular American family was a bridge too far, and “that many parents would not want their young children exposed to the life-styles [sic] portrayed in the episode."
The move worked. PBS decided not to air the program, and the episode only ended up running on public broadcast stations willing to go against the order. The Department of Education, which partially funds PBS, had weight to throw around, and Secretary Spellings chose to throw it around in this crude way. That’s what happens with people who have agendas: they tend to find areas where they can work their discriminatory ideas in whatever limited ways they can.
Cut to February 2005. Just two weeks after Secretary Spellings’ own actions against PBS, a woman by the name of Betsy DeVos addressed the state convention of the Michigan Republican Party, where she said the following about loving Americans who wanted equal civil marriage rights, their support base, and their effect on the overall culture:
“There is one party that takes millions of dollars from celebrities and elites and in turn enthusiastically embraces their values, that chuckles at or cheers the destruction of our traditions and the coarsening of our culture, and that believes it is no big deal to redefine the most fundamental institution of mankind. But fortunately, there is another party in America that recognizes marriage between one man and one woman as an institution that was created not by man, but by God. That party will not be intimidated by the coastal elites in Hollywood or Boston. That party is not ashamed to stand up for marriage.”
Like Spellings, Ms. DeVos pushed the offensive idea that “elites,” be they celebrity or PBS, were somehow imposing the idea of committed love onto the rest of the public. But you could actually say Ms. DeVos went even further than Ms. Spellings with her deliberate invocation of words like “coarsening” and “destruction” as she pitted God against man. These are the words of a true activist with a true agenda.
And keep in mind that Ms. DeVos’ comment came in a pre-Glee, pre-Modern Family time. Heck, this was even pre-Brokeback Mountain. This was a time when people like me and organizations like GLAAD were pleading with “elites” to make strong, resounding cases for marriage equality in our institutions. This was a time when we were asking politicians to just say the words marriage equality, much less come out and support it. Even though it was not so long ago in linear time, it was a wholly different time in terms of cultural willingness to stand for what’s right and what’s fair. But to Ms. Devos, there was already a destructive “coarsening” happening. Even then.
This is of course no surprise for anyone who knows Ms. Devos’ history. Not only is she part of a mega dynasty of conservative donors from both the family she was born into (her father was a founder of the Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group) and the family she married into (her family’s foundations have funded Focus on the Family and the Heritage Foundation), but Ms. Devos was herself an instrumental player in imposing a constitutional marriage equality ban in Michigan. The reason she was giving this speech at the Michigan GOP convention was that she was serving as the state party’s chair during this particular moment in time -- a moment in time when banning marriage equality and flogging LGBTQ rights was all the rage.
Which brings us to today -- her confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Education. This very same Betsy DeVos goes today before the very same U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions that confirmed Margaret Spellings 11 years ago, where she too will be seeking the job of U.S. Secretary of Education. In the 12 years since Ms. Spellings turned the Education Department. into her personal bully pulpit, we have seen monumental progress for LGBTQ people. We have seen enormous advances in public schools specifically, where recent policies have been built toward more accommodating rather than excluding. We have a generation of kids who have grown up knowing marriage equality as a firm, fair, and friendly part of our culture, born not out of “elitism” but out of love.
So what threatening letters to which accepting cultural “elites” can we expect from a Secretary DeVos? Perhaps someone should ask her -- in the name of education. And while you’re at it, take a moment to check out her full anti-LGBTQ record on GLAAD’s Trump Accountability Project page.