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LGBTs angered by Pompeo confirmation

by Heather Cassell

New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Courtesy Ozy
New Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Photo: Courtesy Ozy  

LGBT advocates are outraged that Mike Pompeo's anti-gay record wasn't enough to disqualify him from being confirmed April 26 by the Senate as the United States' 70th secretary of state.

The vote was 57-42.

President Donald Trump appointed Pompeo, 54, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency and member of the House of Representatives, to replace former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whose last day was March 31.

Immediately after the vote, Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. swore in Pompeo. Trump attended a ceremonial swearing in for his new secretary of state Wednesday, May 2, at the State Department.

Pompeo's work started immediately as he was rushed to a plane last week at Joint Base Andrews to attend a NATO allies meeting in Brussels, reported the New York Times. Pompeo was greeted with applause by senior State Department staff.

Pompeo is a staunch conservative with deep relationships with anti-LGBT organizations.

Leading up to the Senate vote following contentious hearings during April, three Democratic senators supported Pompeo. Ultimately, six Democratic senators - Heidi Heitkamp (North Dakota), Joe Manchin (West Virginia), Joe Donnelly (Indiana), Bill Nelson (Florida), Claire McCaskill (Missouri), and Doug Jones (Alabama) - along with Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats - voted for Pompeo last Thursday. The Democrats' votes, along with a flip vote from no to yes from Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), handed Republicans a clear majority to confirm Pompeo, reported the Hill.

"Having a patriot of Mike's immense talent, energy, and intellect leading the Department of State will be an incredible asset for our country at this critical time in history," Trump said in a statement to the BBC following Pompeo's confirmation.

Long anti-gay history
Pompeo didn't stand down regarding his anti-LGBT views, describing queer people as "perversions" and his opposition to same-sex marriage. His support for the military's former "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy and co-sponsorship of the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act while he was in Congress angered and concerned some gay rights advocates.

Yet, during his confirmation hearing, Pompeo pledged to the Senate that he would "ensure that human rights, democracy, and the equal treatment of all persons will remain fundamental to the U.S. foreign policy," reported BuzzFeed News.

In a follow up written response to senators' questions, which included LGBT rights, he wrote that he would defend people's human rights and dignity regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Pompeo is a longtime supporter of the Family Research Council. During his stint leading the CIA, he regularly appeared on the organization's radio show and supported the group's anti-LGBT rhetoric.

FRC has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center's designated hate group list.

Anti-LGBT groups have been emboldened since Trump's election, but direct connections between the White House and the rise of anti-gay attacks from Chechnya to Uganda's recent threat to reintroduce the so-called "jail the gays" bill are difficult to confirm.

Uganda's bill was watered down from the notorious "kill the gays" version when it briefly became law in 2014, before the country's constitutional court struck it down later that same year.

Last year, Chechnya launched a brutal attack on its LGBT citizens by arresting, detaining and torturing more than 100 suspected queer Chechens. Human rights and LGBT advocates reported that 27 men were killed by government officials.

This year, Indonesia continued its more than two-year assault upon the country's LGBT citizens, this time focusing its attention on the transgender community in the Aceh province. Aceh police have routinely publicly humiliated transgender women hairdressers by cutting off their hair, stripping them naked, and forcing them to wear men's clothes.

"Given his record, it is difficult to imagine Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will make a priority of fighting the abuses committed against LGBT people worldwide. Whether it's the state-sponsored persecution of transgender women in Indonesia or the systematic violence and imprisonment of gay men in Chechnya, the world needs a strong presence fighting for the rights of the international LGBT community," wrote Mara Keisling, founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in an op-ed for YubaNet. "We do not believe Mike Pompeo will play that role."

Chechnya and Indonesia aren't the only countries. Similar crackdowns by police occurred throughout 2017 in Azerbaijan and Egypt. Last week, it was reported that Russian gamers developed a terrifying game where the goal is to hunt and brutally kill LGBT people.

'Sickening'
LGBT advocates around the world expressed low confidence in Pompeo halting the erosion of gains for global LGBT rights made by former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Global gay rights advocates expressed that Pompeo was a poor choice for America's top diplomatic position.

"Senators who cast their vote to confirm Mike Pompeo showed complete disregard for the global LGBTQ community by ignoring his ties to anti-LGBTQ hate and extremism, including his work promoting groups like the Family Research Council, which supported Uganda's efforts to execute LGBTQ people," Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement following Pompeo's confirmation.

Ellis told Pink News that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approving someone with ties to an anti-LGBT hate group that supported Ugandan lawmakers' anti-gay bill "to serve as our nation's top diplomat is sickening."

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement from the organization that the "Senate confirmation of anti-LGBTQ Mike Pompeo could have serious consequences for the United States and LGBTQ people around the globe."

Mark Bromley, council chair at the Council for Global Equality, agreed.

"Our secretary of state must reflect constitutional principles and America's call to equality," said Bromley, who called upon Pompeo to set aside his prior prejudices.

The advocates said that they didn't want to see homophobia become a major export of the U.S., and that it's America's responsibility to promote and protect human rights around the world.

Brian Macharia, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, had a dire assessment of Pompeo's new role on the global stage. He envisions Pompeo's time as America's top diplomat will "likely roll back LGBTQ global achievements in the last decade" and an era harking back to when other marginalized groups were "treated with disdain," he told BuzzFeed.

Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight, noted to BuzzFeed that Pompeo testified to uphold human rights, even for LGBT people.

"We will hold him to his commitments," she said.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell or oitwnews@gmail.com.

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