Mike Pence says that he never supported conversion therapy, despite his apparent support for the practice in 2000.
Earlier this week, gay Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon said that he was not happy with the White House picking Pence to lead the 2018 Winter Olympic delegation to South Korea.
“You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy?” he told USA Today. “I’m not buying it.”
“If it were before my event, I would absolutely not go out of my way to meet somebody who I felt has gone out of their way to not only show that they aren’t a friend of a gay person but that they think that they’re sick,” he continued.
After USA Today published that interview, Pence’s press secretary Alyssa Farah issued a statement:
This accusation is totally false and has no basis in fact. Despite these misinformed claims, the vice president will be enthusiastically supporting all the U.S. athletes competing next month in Pyeongchang.
Rippon was referring to a statement on Pence’s 2000 congressional campaign website about the Ryan White Care Act that really looks like an endorsement of conversion therapy to prevent HIV/AIDS:
Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.
In 2016, the Trump/Pence campaign denied that that statement referred to conversation therapy, instead saying that he wanted federal funding to “be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices.”
They never specified which organizations receiving federal money “celebrate and encourage” barebacking, or why an opponent of comprehensive sex education like Pence would want more funding directed at safe sex education.
If he was referring abstinence – the practice of only engaging in sexual behavior within the confines of marriage – then he was promoting celibacy for gay people at a time when marriage equality was not recognized in any state (and which Pence himself opposed). Celibacy for gay and lesbian people has been promoted as “success” in conversion therapy by some advocates and is the position of the Mormon and Catholic churches.
But it’s more likely that the “I was referring to sex education, not conversion therapy” is just a lie made up to explain away what has become a fringe position in the last two decades.
“[I]nstitutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior” is an odd way to describe organizations that show people how to use condoms, and it’s an even stranger way to refer to abstinence programs (which try to stop sexual behavior, not change it).
National LGBTQ Task Force executive director Rea Carey said at the time that the phrase “is code for conversion therapy.”
In 2000, advocating conversion therapy was more mainstream than it is today. In the late 1990’s, anti-LGBTQ hate groups spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads promoting conversion therapy, and mainstream publications like Newsweek were writing articles about the possibilities of changing one’s sexual orientation.
It wasn’t until 2001 that the Surgeon General first denounced conversion therapy. In the 2000’s, ex-gay organizations like Exodus International heavily promoted the practice, and poorly-constructed studies were used to convince people that there was scientific evidence for conversion therapy.
It has only been a few years since conversion therapy started to be seen by a broader portion of society as a particularly backwards and destructive homophobic practice.
Since it appears that Pence has changed his position on conversion therapy, he should come out and say that he was wrong in 2000, apologize, and support efforts to ban the practice.
What he’s doing now – lying about his record, gas-lighting LGBTQ people who speak about it, and doing nothing to stop conversion therapy – means that Rippon’s characterization of Pence as someone who isn’t a “friend” to LGBTQ people is accurate.