The video of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos confirming that she would allow private schools to receive federal dollars while they blatantly discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students is simply stunning. Congresswoman Katherine M. Clark, a Democrat from Massachusetts, asked DeVos point blank in a hearing yesterday if she would allow federal funds to go to a school that bans LGBT students or students with gay or lesbian parents, and she used the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Indiana as an example.
DeVos, in an eerily calm manner, said that it would be up to the states to make the decision to allow “parents to make choices” when it comes to putting their kids in a hostile anti-LGBTQ environment, where lies and distortions that lead to bullying and violence are taught to children about queer people, while receiving federal money in the form of vouchers.
“DeVos, after mentioning something vague about civil rights protections being 'broadly applicable,' still deferred to 'parents making choices' as the most important principle.”
Even when Clark raised the issue of a school that might discriminate against African-Americans, DeVos, after mentioning something vague about civil rights protections being “broadly applicable,” still deferred to “parents making choices” as the most important principle. DeVos made it clear that it was up to the state to decide, and, as Clark pointed out, couldn’t give “one example,” in which a state’s discriminatory practice in education would be stood up to by the Department of Education in the form of withholding money.
This is the same Betsy DeVos who some media outlets told us just before her confirmation hearings had gone through some sort of transformation, or was always, in fact, supportive of LGBTQ rights and was simply misunderstood. It was an odd, convenient narrative coming at a time when she needed it. DeVos had been portrayed in previous weeks ― ever since her name was floated as Secretary of Education ― rightly as the Michigan Amway billionaire whose family has contributed millions of dollars to anti-LGBTQ groups and causes.
But now, here was reporter Jeremy Peters in a New York Times piece in late January, headlined, “Betsy DeVos, a Friend of L.G.B.T. Rights? Past Colleagues Say Yes,” reporting that DeVos’ “support for her gay friends and for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are a largely unknown but deep-seated aspect of her history, dating as far back as the late 1990s.” The piece centered around DeVos having given a glowing reference to a GOP colleague, Republican operative Greg McNalley, and his husband, when they filed paperwork to adopt a child in 2015. Wrote Peters:
This aspect of Ms. DeVos’s personal story is not only at odds with the public image of her and her family as prominent financiers of conservative causes, but it also stands out in a nascent administration with a number of members who have a history of opposing gay rights. A Senate confirmation vote on her nomination is scheduled for this week.
DeVos was one of the most embattled of Donald Trump’s nominees. She squeaked in, with two Republicans defecting and Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie. So that Times story, picked up by other outlets, certainly helped her. It would not be the first time the Times had been seemingly used by the Trump team in a moment of need, wittingly or not: There was the bizarre story by Maggie Haberman in April of 2016, about Trump himself, headlined “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.,” and of course there was the consequential story late in the campaign that threw cold water on reports of a serious and ongoing investigation of the Trump campaign for possibly colluding with Russia, using unnamed sources in the FBI. (The Times has yet to offer an explanation for these stories.)
“DeVos has said in the past that she wanted public education to 'advance God’s kingdom.'”
As with Trump himself, just because Betsy DeVos might help out her well-off Republican gay friends ― who might return the favor by helping her in other ways ― doesn’t mean she’s not devoted to her family’s longtime goals, nor to putting religious beliefs before LGBTQ rights. While she gave McNalley and his husband a reference letter in their successful effort to adopt a child as gay parents, she also financially contributed to the campaign of GOP legislator Andrea LaFontaine ― a zealous religious conservative ― who spearheaded a draconian Michigan law passed in 2015, weeks before the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality ruling, that allows state-funded faith-based adoption agencies to turn away gay and lesbian couples based on their sexual orientation.
That law seems right in line with DeVos’ statements yesterday, refusing to rule out giving federal money to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and parents. DeVos has said in the past that she wanted public education to “advance God’s kingdom.”
But she has tried in recent years to differentiate herself from her family’s donations of millions of dollars ― via both her husband’s parents’ foundation and her own parents’ foundation ― to groups like the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, which has claimed that overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act amounted to a “fatwa,” and the anti-LGBTQ National Organization for Marriage. This, even though she was listed as a vice president of her mother’s foundation, which is a major donor to anti-LGBTQ hate groups Focus on the Family and Family Research Council. At her confirmation hearings, DeVos called it a “clerical error.”
In the Times piece from January, DeVos’ defenders point to what they couch as her quiet advocacy for LGBTQ rights. And DeVos claimed during her confirmation hearings, “I fully embrace equality” and rejected “conversion therapy,” which is promoted by many of the groups to which her family donates.
But once in office, DeVos went right along with the Trump administration action of rescinding guidelines for the treatment of transgender students, put in place by the Obama administration. According to unnamed sources, again in the Times, DeVos fought with Attorney General Jeff Sessions about keeping the guidelines, in a battle she lost.
But there she was at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, denying any rift, and saying she believed the guidelines were an example of “executive overreach”on the part of the Obama administration. And now we have her clear statements on allowing schools to get federal funds even if they discriminate against LGBTQ people ― or any group.
Whatever Betsy DeVos might or might not truly believe really doesn’t matter. It is her public statements, and her actions, that are the only important barometers. And so far, she’s proven to be an enemy of LGBTQ people.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile