Editor’s note: This is an opinion editorial and not reflective of the author’s reporting on LGBTQ issues for this site.
The revolving door of Trump’s White House may be about to hit Rex Tillerson on the way out.
Recent reports published in The New York Times and Washington Post suggest the Secretary of State will be the latest member of the administration to step down. At just over nine months in office, at least 10 key officials in the White House have resigned, including former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The Times believes Tillerson could be next on the chopping block of a volatile president who tends to blame his staff for a chaotic regime defined by infighting and scandal.
“[Trump] has been said to have soured on Mr. Tillerson and in general is ready to make a change at the State Department,” the Grey Lady alleged in a Nov. 30 report.
Should Tillerson receive his pink slip before the infant Trump administration turns a year old in January, the history books are unlikely to be kind to his prematurely aborted tenure. The Atlantic called him a “disaster” and the “worst Secretary of State in living memory.” That characterization is difficult to dispute. The United States’ highest-ranking diplomat has struggled to restaff the State Department, firing longtime employees and continuing to leave major positions unfilled.
What might have seemed improbable a year ago, however, is what Tillerson’s loss will mean for LGBTQ rights.
It would require a gritty reboot of the entire English language to call Tillerson an “ally” to the community (or even anywhere adjacent). ExxonMobil received an unprecedented negative score from the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index under his tenure. No other company has been awarded that dubious honor. When Exxon and Mobil merged in 1999, the new company eliminated partner benefits for Mobil employees and continually opposed any efforts to adopt LGBTQ-inclusive policy.
The company had to be all but forced into supporting equality: The Obama administration mandated in 2015 that nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation would henceforth be a prerequisite of earning federal government contracts.
His record as a Secretary of State is marginally better, meeting the bare minimum requirements of a passing grade. On Tillerson’s high school report card, his tenure would be a D-minus with about seven more dashes next to it. The 65-year-old has failed to take tangible action on the anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya, which have collectively imprisoned over 200 gay men this year. Tillerson didn’t even bring up the Chechen purge with Russian diplomats until seven months after the arrests began.
But the Secretary of State has been willing to do what nearly every single one of his colleagues has not: voice any support for LGBTQ rights whatsoever, even something as minor as a tweet.
Tillerson has been one of the few White House officials to acknowledge either the Transgender Day of Remembrance or LGBTQ Pride Month. He put out proclamations recognizing both. After acknowledging global violence against transgender people, he claimed in a Nov. 20 statement that the federal government “remains committed to advancing the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons.”
The press release has an “All Lives Matter” vibe to it, but it’s better than what the LGBTQ community got from Donald Trump. In June, President “Better For the Gays” recognized Great Outdoors Month, National Ocean Month, and National Home Ownership Monthbut not Pride month.
It’s a doleful reminder of the dithering dirge of this administration that one of the worst CEOs for LGBTQ rights is immeasurably further ahead on the issue than virtually anyone around him. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson believes transgender people are the “height of absurdity.” The family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos donated millions to blocking marriage equality. Attorney General Jeff Sessions once tried to prevent the University of Alabama from hosting an LGBTQ conference. Vice President Mike Pence was the guy Trump joked “wants to hang” the gays.
Tillerson won’t do much to advance LGBTQ rights were he to remain in his position. He certainly has done little to live up to the high standards set by previous Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, the latter of whom famously declared that “gay rights are human rights” on the world’s stage. The best thing his State Department has done is not fire Randy Berry, Obama’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQ Persons. He was moved to another position.
But as more moderate voices are pushed out of the White House for not towing the line on the president’s increasingly extremist agenda, LGBTQ people are left withyou guessed itextremists.
The next in line for Tillerson’s post is reportedly CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The former Kansas House representative won a seat in Trump’s Cabinet due to his hardline stance on Iran, and that’s more or less the sledgehammer Pompeo whacks every mole with. The Republican referred to the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on Obergefell v. Hodges as a “a shocking abuse of power” and has said that the United States must “preserve [traditional marriage] for the sake of our community and our culture.”
Pompeo was also a co-sponsor of the State Marriage Defense Act, which would have given the state definitions of words like “spouse” and “marriage” primacy over the federal definition. Texas or Oklahoma could, thus, simply choose to ignore the Obergefell ruling.
He also signed onto the “Marriage and Religious Freedom Act,” a bill that prevents the government from taking action against any person who believes that marriage is a union solely between one man and one woman. That legislation, which was put forward in the House in 2013, is remarkably similar to later bills like Mississippi’s discriminatory HB 1523. It could also permit discrimination against single women, unwed mothers, or couples who engage in intercourse outside of wedlock.
Is someone who wants to fight for your right to fire Jack Mcfarland and Erin Brockovich really the person we want running the State Department? Probably not.
Given that the White House is currently a constant septic tank leak of rank bigotry, it’s of little surprise that the man waiting in the wings behind Pompeo inspires even less confidence than he does. Should the CIA director be promoted to Secretary of State, reports suggest his position would go to Tom Cotton. The Arkansas Senator, who fought the repeal of DOMA, famously justified discriminating against the LGBTQ community by pointing out that the Republican Party is better than Iran. (Note: Given that the GOP is poised to anoint Roy Moore to his gilded outhouse in the Senate, it’s not by much these days.)
As Trump kowtows to the most fanatical elements of the right, it’s not going to get better for LGBTQ people in the White Houseor anyone else. It just gets worse and worse, seemingly as a matter of principle.
When Sean Spicer left, he would be swapped out for the daughter of a man who has compared homosexuality to incest and polygamy. Reince Priebus’ replacement as White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly, has spent his career defending torture. The vacuum left by Steve Bannon’s departure was quickly filled by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who believes gay men are responsible for the Holocaust. He has used his new position of power to push for a ban on open trans military service.
It must be noted that this stack of bigoted dominos has yet to falland very well may not. For the moment, Tillerson’s departure remains an open question. The president claimed the story of Tillerson’s firing was “fake news” in a tweet posted on Dec. 1, and close colleagues like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker have denied the Secretary is a marked man.
But news of apparent discord between the two shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone following the daily drama pouring out of the White House like the river of blood in The Shining. Tillerson reportedly referred to Trump as a “moron” in October, hardly the words of a man long for his position. The two have clashed over their differing approaches to diplomacy in North Korea. The Secretary of State has urged Kim Jong-Un to dismantle his nuclear weapons program. Trump, meanwhile, calls the dictator “little rocket man” in their ongoing Twitter squabble.
Even as Press Secretary Sarah Sanders dismissed reports of Tillerson’s departure, her response was extremely telling. She claimed the former ExxonMobil CEO would “close out what has been a successful year” before adding a pointedly cryptic addendum.
“When the president loses confidence in someone, they will no longer serve in the capacity they’re in,” Sanders said on Nov. 30.
Tillerson isn’t great. Aside from that time he let gays be in the Boy Scouts, he’s actually pretty terrible. But if Trump flip-flops on the Secretary of State as he has so many times in the past, just think what the next version headed down the White House conveyor belt will be like.
Photography:Riccardo S. Savi/WireImage