The following is a guest post by Jeremy Hooper, special projects consultant at GLAAD and lead researcher on GLAAD's Trump Accountability Project.
Tony Perkins is fiery mad. Having himself invested some capital in getting Donald Trump elected, the viciously anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council (FRC) president cannot believe that the President-elect would choose a Secretary of State nominee who, in Perkins’ words, has “[risked] the well-being of young boys under his charge in an attempt to placate radical homosexual activists.”
Perkins’ comments refer to the Boy Scouts of America’s (BSA) 2013 vote to allow openly gay youth to participate in Scouting. Rex Tillerson, the man who President-elect Trump this week tapped as his Secretary of State nominee, was reportedly instrumental in getting the BSA to move forward with the change. In fact, it was Tillerson, a past BSA national president, who spoke immediately after the BSA National Council voted on the new policy of inclusion, encouraging the organization to move forward with its mission.
In his rant against Tillerson’s record on LGBTQ issues, Perkins also could have referred to Tillerson’s decade-long service as CEO of ExxonMobil. While the company is historically notorious for its resistance to pro-LGBTQ policies (scoring a 0% on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index the year Tillerson entered as CEO), that reputation has changed somewhat during Tillerson’s tenure at the top. After a 2013 decision to reinstate health coverage for same-sex spouses and, especially, a 2015 change in company anti-discrimination policy to, at long last, protect workers on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, ExxonMobil has jumped to an 85% on HRC’s annual ratings board. Many are skeptical that these changes in corporate policy came at the company’s will; rather, it’s speculated that the changes were due in large part to federal orders that forced the company’s hand. Even if this is the case, however, anti-LGBTQ activists like Tony Perkins would likely still fault the CEO who, after decades of debate and holdout, led a company long adored by social conservatives for its anti-LGBTQ stances to take on inclusive policies that hate organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC) oppose.
So does this all mean the Trump administration has made a serious inroad to LGBTQ rights with the Tillerson pick, and that groups like GLAAD should quiet down? No. Not by a long shot. In fact, Tony Perkins’ decision to issue a fiery press release regarding this pick is the exception that proves the rule about Trump and the anti-LGBTQ voices he has selected for his administration so far.
Tony Perkins hasn’t raged against Ben Carson, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, because Ben Carson is a great friend to anti-LGBTQ activists, who has appeared on Perkins’ radio show numerous times and has been the centerpiece of FRC fundraising campaigns. Perkins didn’t come after Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers when she was Trump’s first reported pick for Interior Secretary, because Rogers is the kind of friend who gives in-house speeches on “American values” to FRC staff. And Perkins hasn’t blasted Rep. Ryan Zinke, the man who seems to now be choice for the Interior slot, because FRC Action endorsed his reelection. Tony Perkins hasn’t come out against Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for Energy Secretary, because Perry is the kind of pal who was outspoken about his staunch opposition to marriage equality and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Perkins at events condemning the Boy Scouts for even considering openly gay Scouts. Perkins hasn’t said anything about KellyAnne Conway because she’s the kind of FRC friend who shows up at FRC headquarters the day after losing elections to commiserate with her friend Perkins. Perkins hasn’t had any issue with Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff pick, because Perkins told us all long ago that Priebus is such a good friend that the two spend their weekends chatting on the phone about the gay men they did not hire.
And so on. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, Rep. Tom Price, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Rep. Mike Pompeo---all have been regulars on the FRC outreach circuit (see here and here and here and here). A few members of the Trump team, domestic policy head Ken Blackwell and transition policy adviser Ken Klukowski, have even served as senior officials at FRC, where both spend considerable time flexing their anti-LGBTQ bona fides. Tony Perkins hasn’t had a need to issue fiery press releases because Tony Perkins has been happy seeing his anti-LGBTQ pals get promotions.
So is Tillerson as moderate on LGBTQ issues as some seem to think? Possibly. But don’t let one raging rejection of one Cabinet pick from the head of one SPLC-designated hate group lead you to believe that this means positive things for next year’s White House pride celebration. All evidence suggests that the Trump White House in formation is going to be a place where anti-LGBTQ activists like Tony Perkins are much more likely to be on speed dial than on the “do not call” list.