Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post‘s fact checker, wrote a column where he concluded, “There is little evidence that Pence supported conversion therapy.”
In 2000, when Pence was running for Congress, his campaign website’s policy section said Congress should conduct an audit to see if federal money is “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.”
To people familiar with how conservative Christians talk, the words “seeking to change their sexual behavior” are a clear reference to conversion therapy. That, taken with Pence’s long history of anti-LGBTQ statements and actions, is enough evidence that if Pence really does oppose conversion therapy, he should come out and say so.
But Kessler had a different take, arguing that since this is Pence’s campaign website, there’s no proof that Pence actually supported it.
“First, these are not words that Pence uttered,” Kessler wrote. “It’s a campaign website, and much of this page appears to be copied and pasted from a list of conservative talking points, presumably by staff members of his campaign. It’s his website, but not his words. We cannot assume he approved every word of this lengthy document.”
That’s Kessler’s strongest argument.
Second, Kessler writes that Pence – who Kessler says is a “skeptic of laws that seek to expand gay rights” – was referring to the Ryan White CARE Act, and Ryan White didn’t get the virus from gay sex.
“The law, named after an Indiana teenager who contacted AIDS through a contaminated treatment for hemophilia, provided grants to cities, states and organizations to care for people living with HIV/AIDS,” Kessler wrote.
“It makes little sense to direct federal funding for AIDS patients to organizations that would supposedly convert people from homosexuality.”
Kessler then says that Pence referred to “sexual behavior,” and being gay is a sexual orientation. While that’s true, Christian conservatives constantly refer to being gay as a behavior.
For example, Karen Pence’s school technically bans “homosexual or lesbian sexual activity” and tells parents to avoid “participating in, supporting, or condoning… homosexual activity or bi-sexual activity,” but it’s completely fair to say that this is a ban on LGBTQ people.
Last, Kessler says that Pence may have been referring to safer-sex practices when he mentioned “sexual behavior,” but that wouldn’t make sense in context.
Pence decried “organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus.” If he meant safer sex practices, then which organizations at the time were getting federal money and promoting bare-backing and sharing needles?
LGBTQ people aren’t impressed with this fact-check.
Sometimes it helps to open your eyes when you are really trying to find something.
— Janine Dupras 🌈 (@DuprasJanine) April 18, 2019
Using your role as a ‘fact checker’ to defend abject bigotry is really shameful.
— Matt McDermott (@mattmfm) April 18, 2019
"First, these are not words that Pence uttered."
THE WORDS WERE ON HIS CAMPAIGN WEBSITE. Are we really engaging in this kind of sophistry, so early in the morning?
— Lawrence (@SBinF) April 18, 2019
Seriously, @GlennKesslerWP, this is the equivalent of a colorblind person writing an article finding little evidence of the color red. If you don't know anything about the rhetoric used by conversion therapists, you shouldn't be drawing conclusions about it.
— Zack Ford (@ZackFord) April 18, 2019