By Lisa Keen
“Horrifying” is the term one LGBT health activist used to describe President-elect Trump’s choice to head up the Department of Health and Human Services. Another characterized Trump’s choice for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development as “disasterous.” But there’s less worry, so far, over his announcement last night that he is nominating a life-long bachelor, General James Mattis, as his Secretary of Defense.
Here are the basics on Trump’s most recent nominees:
Secretary of HHS: Tom Price
The position: This department can have enormous impact on the access LGBT people have to non-discriminatory health care and benefits and on the funding of medical research into HIV and breast cancer, two illnesses that disproportionately affect this population. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued regulations stating that the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on sex discrimination in health coverage and care includes a prohibition on discrimination based on gender identity. It did not take a position whether the ACA’s regulations covered discrimination based on sexual orientation. Instead, it said it would cover instances “where the evidence establishes that the (sexual orientation) discrimination is based on gender stereotypes.”
The person: U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., is a strong supporter of repealing the ACA. He has earned the lowest possible score (zero) from the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional voting scorecard for four out of his six terms in the House (and only a 10 on the other two).
The concerns: Darryl Cummings, a spokesperson for the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center, the largest LGBT health provider in the country, called the choice of Price “horrifying.” “Price is opposed to the very idea of government-provided health and human services,” said Cummings. “Further, Price has a long record of hostility towards the LGBT community, so I sadly expect a very, very rocky road ahead for those of us who actually care about the health and well-being of historically marginalized and underserved communities in the United States. Price represents a major setback from the progress made under President Obama.”
Carl Schmid of the AIDS Institute said Price has been both a fiscal and social conservative. “On the budget front, we are very concerned about the funding for our domestic HIV program,” said Schmid. LGBT health groups are also concerned about the potential for loss with the ACA, about HHS giving states more waivers to states to deny some Medicaid benefits, and a refusal to fight discrimination in health care. The new HHS could also rescind efforts to fund educational programs and social research, and it could propose significant tax cuts to both HHS programs and entitlements.
Signs of hope: Rep. Price worked with then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin in 2006 to introduce a bill — pre-ACA — to encourage health care insurance coverage for the nation’s many uninsured.
Secretary of Defense: General James Mattis
The position: The Department of Defense is the federal government’s largest employer, with over 2 million military and civilian personnel. Under President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates supported the move to repeal a policy of banning openly gay military personnel. His successor, Leon Panetta, supported extending benefits to the families of gay service members. And the current secretary, Ashton Carter, announced that transgender people may serve openly in the military.
The person: James Mattis is a retired four-star Marine general and a 44-year veteran of several wars, beginning with the Gulf War. A longstanding law requires that a Defense Secretary have been out of uniform for at least 10 years, and Mattis has been out only three years, so he’ll need Congressional approval of legislation to allow an exception of that requirement.
The concerns: Some interpret words he helped author as suggesting he thinks allowing gays, transgender people and women to serve has a negative impact on the military. In a book called “Warriors and Citizens,” he and his co-author wrote: “We fear that an uninformed public is permitting political leaders to impose an accretion of social conventions that are diminishing the combat power of our military.”
Signs of hope: Mattis has earned the praise of both Gates and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen, who supported repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. And Panetta likes him because, as he told the Washington Post, “You wanted Jim Mattis in the room because he speaks truth to power.”
Secretary of HUD: Ben Carson
The position: HUD’s mission is to ensure there’s safe and affordable housing for American citizens and to protect consumers from unfair and discriminatory practices. Under President Obama’s first HUD Secretary, Shaun Donovan, the department announced that, although the Fair Housing Act (FHA) does not explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identity-based housing discrimination, such discrimination may be covered by the FHA in other ways. It also announced $9.1 million in grants to address the housing needs of people with low-incomes living with HIV/AIDS.
The person: Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon by profession, was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. As such, he endorsed the National Organization for Marriage’s statement endorsing the First Amendment Defense Act. And he said that supporting marriage equality was like throwing the word of God “into the garbage.”
The concerns: The Human Rights Campaign predicted that Ben Carson’s “hateful views” could, in the role of HUD Secretary, “have disastrous effects on LGBTQ people.” It noted that Carson likened marriage between same-sex couples to bestiality and pedophilia.
Signs of hope: Carson apologized for comparing same-sex marriage to bestiality and pedophilia, telling CNN, “I love gay people. I love straight people. So this was really, I think, on my behalf, somewhat insensitive and I certainly apologize if I offended anyone, because I was not in any way comparing gays with people who engage in bestiality or sexual child abuse.” He also said, during his brief stint as the frontrunner in the Republican presidential nomination race, that he believes “our Constitution protects everybody regardless of their sexual orientation.”