Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s “homophobia” is perhaps this election’s most noisome shibboleth. Pence is no defender of LGBT rights, but the evidence Trump’s running mate is America’s nastiest anti-gay politician is surprisingly thin.
Gay pundits portray Pence as some 21st century Jesse Helms. To John Aravosis, he’s a “raging homophobe” and Michelangelo Signorile lamented his “blatant anti-LGBT extremism.” Many LGBT Americans were disappointed moderator Elaine Quijano did not challenge Pence on his “bigotry” during the vice presidential debate.
But gay Democrats unfairly distort Pence’s record with distractions – and sometimes outright lies. Facing the most gay-friendly Republican nominee in history, the LGBT intelligentsia have engineered a phobic Frankenstein Veep to keep their minions from considering non-leftist alternatives.
Start with the most fabulously contrived lie about Mike Pence: that he supports “conversion therapy,” or in one grotesque iteration, that Pence “advocated for public spending on conversion therapy in Indiana.” (Bold in original.) The article’s hyperlinks provide no support for the baseless charge.
Conversion (or “reparative”) therapy noxiously tells people, including teens participating involuntarily, that navel-gazing, role-playing, and prayer can “heal” their homosexuality. I’ve been denouncing this fraudulent practice for a decade, since it doesn’t work, misrepresents genuine religion, insults the integrity of queer experience, and tortures innocent youth.
But by definition, CONVERSION therapy (sometimes called “reorientation therapy”) exploits the lie that homosexuality is a curable orientation, not some set of behaviors. A celibate reparative patient who remains drawn to the same sex is an utter failure to the conversion crowd. The “ex-gay” focus on orientation rather than behavior is why the phenomenon is so destructive.
Obviously a queer person can temporarily stop having sex – or at least reduce their same-sex encounters. But the “conversion” model is devastating to participants and, in fact, to the entire gay community, because it causes Americans to think, “they wouldn’t be gay anymore if they only got some help.”
By contrast, an anti-HIV program helping gay men reduce or eliminate high-risk sexual activity seems almost quaint.
And that’s what the people penning Mike Pence’s Web site (I’ve seen no evidence he wrote it personally) referred to in 2000 when they said federal AIDS money should be redirected “toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”
Those 14 words are the only evidence Pence’s detractors have proffered to show the man supports conversion therapy. But conversion therapy is about changing sexual orientations, not behavior. That’s why we’ve been fighting it so hard!
Then there’s the widespread claim that in 2006 Pence called being gay a choice, or – as Signorile and others have quoted it – “a choice.”
Even novice journalists don’t treat paraphrases as quotes. Anything between quotation marks must have been literally spoken. Try, for fun, to find the phrase “a choice” in the only relevant section of Pence’s speech that year:
“This debate today is not about discrimination. I believe that if someone chooses another lifestyle than I have chosen, that is their right in a free society.”
A tendentious but fair reading would interpret “lifestyle” as sexual orientation, thus allying Pence with the silly notion that people pick “lesbian” out of the sexuality catalog. A more generous reading, though, suggests “lifestyle” in the dictionary sense of “habits, attitudes, tastes, moral standards, economic level, etc. that together constitute the mode of living.” Under that denotation, gay people really do choose their lifestyle. Nobody is “born that way” loving show tunes or the LPGA.
But even a journalist who’s sure Pence meant people select a sexuality at will must acknowledge the ambiguity – and never snuggle a two-word invented phrase (“a choice”) between quotation marks as if Pence said it himself.
(By the way, Signorile and Aravosis would be well-advised to stop hyperlinking to articles that demonstrate their own deceit. Come on, make this a little challenging!)
Many complaints about Pence relate to dead issues like gay marriage and gays in the military that courts and Congress have settled, with dubious prospects for revival. It’s possible given a few years of gay marriage normalcy that Pence’s views would evolve like President Obama’s did, and it’s unfair to fossilize his defunct positions.
Finally, Pence’s promotion of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) attracted unflattering attention. I’ve already written about this subtle topic at length, but briefly: Pence did not try to help people refuse services to LGBT people as people. In fact, the notorious bakers and florists have repeatedly said they’re happy to sell a lesbian a cookie or select a gay guy’s corsage. They simply refuse to celebrate an EVENT solemnizing a union they consider unholy.
If I tried to buy a wedding cake for my straight cousin, they’d serve me whatever my own sexuality. But if my straight brother ordered a cake for MY same-sex wedding (dream on, Mom), they’d politely decline. Because they’re not discriminating on sexual orientation, just – pardon the wordplay – on ceremony.
Perhaps the rectitude of Pence’s protection of religious freedom would be more clear regarding a non-gay issue like Jewish remarriage
The people at my Orthodox synagogue observe Divine legislation with harsh consequences for the remarriage of a religiously un-divorced woman: a near-curse on the social and religious status of the descendants of that union for eternity. You probably don’t understand, but that’s almost the point – you don’t have to embrace Orthodox Judaism to agree that Indiana should not force a Jewish florist to succor a ceremony she believes would inflict spiritual carnage. (I’m not exaggerating here. Ask any Orthodox Jew.)
Now, on LGBT concerns, Pence is no Tim Kaine – or Donald Trump. He is an Evangelical Christian with no doubt some old-fashioned, even off-putting attitudes. But not more than most Evangelical Republicans – and many Southern Democrats until a few years ago, for that matter. People grow.
Which is my hope for Pence. For the first time in his life, he has a boss who operates at complete ease with LGBT people and has admirable instincts on gay issues. As Pence gets to know the country he serves, he may gain comfort with gay concerns, though pundits should holding him accountable if he says anything inaccurate or hurtful about LGBT lives. I intend to do so myself.
Criticism of Pence for lacunae on matters important to America’s gay community – he doesn’t support a federal non-discrimination law, for example – is also fair. But the chattering class has to stop – right now – abusing thin reeds of evidence to portray him as the most hateful kind of bigot.
I mean, some internet memes even assert Pence supports federal spending on electroshock therapy for gay teenagers.
Scapegoating Pence as some monster may help Democrats raise money and rally troops, but it’s not what’s best for the LGBT community. Why not instead cheer that he’s on the most gay-friendly Republican ticket in American history? America’s demagogue-elect achieved the White House by promiscuously bashing American subgroups – Mexicans, Muslims, the disabled, veterans – and inveighed against gays not a single time.
A dubious honor, I know, but a watershed moment nonetheless. Let’s encourage Pence to learn about gay lives, enticing him with honey, not acid. That’s how many once-hostile Democrats became LGBT allies. He’s going to be the Vice President. Shouldn’t we try for the same result with him?
David Benkof is Senior Political Analyst at The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.