Let’s be clear: Rex Tillerson was a terrible Secretary of State, particularly when it came to international LGBTQ issues. Whenever or wherever queer people were under attack around the world, Tillerson could be counted on to ignore their plight completely. It’s a relief that he’s been fired by Trump. But his replacement, Mike Pompeo, is much, much worse.
It wasn’t always like this. Under previous Secretaries of State — Hillary Clinton, for example — the United States took an active role in promoting the civil rights of queer people around the world. Clinton’s State Department imposed sanctions on countries that victimized LGBTQ citizens.
But now that Republicans are in power, they’re making it easier for violent regimes to kill queer people. This is nothing new. Several years ago, Mike Pence stood up in Congress and defended countries that murder people for being queer. Pence claimed it was inappropriate for the United States to be a global leader in human rights, adding that many Americans support the criminalization of homosexuality.
While Hillary Clinton was a champion for queer civil rights, Tillerson did nothing to defend LGBTQ populations when they were being abducted, tortured and murdered in countries like Putin-controlled Chechnya, Egypt and Indonesia. His neglect was bad enough, but Mike Pompeo’s outright malice is sure to be worse.
Pompeo is Trump’s unpleasant pick for Tillerson’s replacement, and he’s about as awful as they come. He thinks same-sex couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry. He defended companies that fire workers for being queer. He voted against protecting queer women from violence. And he wants to make it easier for companies to turn away gay customers.
What’s worse, he’ll be joining the terrible Sam Brownback at the State Department, who’s already working to justify the criminalization of homosexuality abroad. Brownback has been vocal in advancing what he called “religious freedom” policies, but when questioned about what that means he refused to condemn the jailing and killing of queer people abroad.
Pompeo has also worked closely with recognized hate group the Family Research Council, which had a role in the development of Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill. When he worked at the CIA, he worked to end the agency’s hiring of LGBTQ employees. And he also blocked Matthew Shepard’s parents from giving a speech to government employees.
Having such a dangerous extremist leading the State Department is a national embarrassment. But it’s far more dire for queer people in other countries, who face neglect and persecution every day. Pompeo’s nomination signals to anti-LGBTQ regimes that the United States will no longer impose penalties or pressure them to reform policies that target queer citizens.
Pompeo isn’t Secretary of State yet, as he’ll need to be confirmed by the Senate. And while it’s looking likely that Republicans will rubber-stamp his appointment, it’s possible that Democrats will find some way to slow the process or at least force him to address his cruel actions. Will that be enough to protect the victims of homophobic violence abroad? Probably not. It’s up to the rest of the international community to step up and resist whatever dangerous policies may soon originate under Mike Pompeo’s watch.
Featured image by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call