Who is Mike Pence? Where does he stand on LGBTQ+ rights?

Mike Pence, First Baptist Dallas, Robert Jeffress, coronavirus
Mike Pence Photo: Shutterstock

While Mike Pence is largely remembered as the vice president of Donald Trump, the man considered to be the most anti-LGBTQ+ president of all time, he actually has an extensive political career filled with anti-LGBTQ+ policy positions. These positions are all the more important to remember as Pence is rumored to be a future potential presidential candidate.

Mike Pence at a glance

  • Location: Carmel, Indiana
  • Party affiliation: Republican
  • Race/ethnicity: White
  • Sexual orientation: Straight
  • Gender identity: Male
  • LGBTQ+ ally: No

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Born in June 1959 as one of six children, Pence received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Hanover College in 1981, and a Juris Doctor from the Robert H. McKinney School of Law at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis in 1986.

Afterward, Pence became a privately practicing attorney before his two unsuccessful campaigns to become a U.S. representative in 1988 and 1990, losing both times to his Democratic opponent Philip Sharp.

Pence began hosting political talk programs on WRCR-FM radio in 1988 and hosted a political TV show on WNDY-TV in 1995. He also served as president of the self-described “free-market think tank” the Indiana Policy Review Foundation in 1991 and also served as a board member for the Indiana Family Institute, an anti-LGBTQ+ group.

He ended his radio and TV career in 1999 to focus on his successful run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as a Hoosier representative from 2001 to 2013, belonging to the so-called Tea Party Caucus of conservative legislators. Even though he introduced 90 bills and resolutions while in Congress, none ever became law.

Pence announced his successful campaign to become Indiana’s governor in May 2011. He won the 2012 election and then assumed office in 2013. During his time in office, he opposed expansions of LGBTQ+ civil rights and measures to prevent HIV outbreaks.

Pence became Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate in the 2016 election, winning the office despite losing the popular vote by over 2.8 million votes. Trump was considered the most anti-LGBTQ+ president of all time.

Trump and Pence grew estranged after Pence refused to overturn Trump’s loss in the 2020 elections. After leaving the vice presidency, Pence became a distinguished visiting fellow for the anti-LGBTQ+ conservative think tank Heritage Foundation and formed the transphobic policy group Advancing American Freedom. He also narrated a Fox Nation TV series praising anti-LGBTQ+ radio host Rush Limbaugh.

Pence’s stand on LGBTQ+ issues

Throughout his political career, Pence has opposed marriage equality, LGBTQ+ military service members, and any expanse of LGBTQ+ civil rights.

He has advocated for teaching Christian creationism alongside evolution in schools, opposed federal guidelines to accommodate transgender students and soldiers, opposed needle-exchange programs to prevent an HIV outbreak in his state, and signed a law allowing religious discrimination against LGBTQ+ people.

Same-sex marriage

In 2006, Pence supported the Marriage Protection Amendment, a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman, IndyStar.com reports. He called homosexuality a “chosen lifestyle” and warned that same-sex marriage could cause “societal collapse” that Christians needed to build a “firewall” against. In 2013, then-Gov. Pence signed a bill to jail same-sex couples in Indiana who applied for a marriage license as well as any government employees who issued such a license.

He expressed disapproval when, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law that prevented the federal recognition of same-sex marriages. His disapproval at the time was echoed in his 2014 letter to a constituent which stated, “I firmly believe that the sacred institution of marriage is between one man and one woman,” adding, “Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.”

He sought to ban same-sex unions in Indiana’s state constitution after a June 2014 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Young declaring Indiana’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality in 2015, Pence said, “Our citizens are free to disagree with decisions of the Supreme Court, but we are not free to disobey them.”

Same-sex couples’ right to adopt

In 2019, Pence praised the Trump administration for a rule change that will allow adoption and foster agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ+ families.

The rule restored federal funds to religious adoption agencies that refused to allow LGBTQ+ individuals to adopt children. The denial of federal funds for such queerphobia, Pence said, “Jeopardized the ability of faith-based providers to serve those in need by penalizing them for their deeply held religious beliefs,” adding, “We will stand for the freedom of religion.”

Trans athletes in school sports

In an April 2022 speech at the University of Virginia, Pence said that transgender collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas had unfairly won a 500-yard freestyle race at the NCAA championship.

“I know that in his State of the Union address, President Biden promised to stand for the God-given right of men to compete in women’s sports,” Pence said. “But common sense needs to reign and it will reign…. We need to defend the integrity of women’s sports in America for the benefit of women everywhere.”

Don’t Say Gay/LGBTQ+ discussions in schools

Pence said he “fully supported” Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law, otherwise known as the Parental Rights in Education Act. The law prohibits any acknowledgment of LGBTQ+ people in K-3 classrooms. He said the law assists with “protecting kids” from being offered transgender healthcare without their parent’s consent.

In 2009, Pence signed a letter demanding that a federal appointee be fired because of his “role in promoting homosexuality and pushing a pro-homosexual agenda in America’s schools—an agenda that runs counter to the values that many parents desire to instill in their children,” The Hill reported.

Transgender access to public bathrooms

In May 2016, Pence opposed a guideline from the administration of then-President Barack Obama (D) stating that transgender public school students should be allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities. Pence said, “The federal government has no business getting involved in issues of this nature.”

In February 2023, Pence’s group Advancing American Freedom launched a campaign attacking transgender-inclusive policies in Iowa schools. His group opposes school policies that help trans students socially transition without their parent’s permission. This includes using toilets and changing facilities that match a student’s gender identity.

Discrimination protections

In 2007, Pence voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) which would have prohibited workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. He also opposed the 2009 Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act because he felt it would “advance a radical social agenda” and be used to legally intimidate Christian pastors for “simply expressing a Biblical worldview on the issue of homosexual behavior.”

He also opposed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the law forbidding out LGBTQ+ people from serving in the military. “Homosexuality is incompatible with military service because the presence of homosexuals in the ranks weakens unit cohesion,” Pence said.

Pence signed a so-called “religious freedom” that allowed business owners to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people on the basis of “sincerely held religious beliefs.” After a national outcry and threats of boycotts, he signed an amended version specifically stating that the law didn’t allow anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.

In October 2022, Pence said that the Constitution doesn’t guarantee Americans “freedom from religion,” the idea that people shouldn’t have other people’s religious beliefs forced on them.

Conversion therapy

In opposing Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act, Pence said he worried that LGBTQ+-inclusive hate crime legislation would “silence” conversion therapy groups. Conversion therapy is the widely disavowed form of pseudoscientific mental torture that purports to change one’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

Pence’s 2000 congressional campaign website said that instead of spending money on national HIV prevention efforts through the Ryan White Care Act, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior,” a comment widely interpreted as supporting conversion therapy — though Pence denied such support.

Other LGBTQ+ issues

As vice president, Pence gave a keynote address at an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group conference, refused to mention LGBTQ+ people during his World AIDS Day addresses, gave a speech at a conference about “how gender ideology harms children,” and is rumored to be one of the chief architects behind the transgender military ban.

In 2003, Pence argued that the administration of then-President George W. Bush should use abstinence-only sex education rather than condom distribution to solve Africa’s HIV epidemic. In 2015, his opposition to a needle exchange program worsened his home state’s HIV rates.

Pence’s career

  • Received a B.A. in history from Hanover College in 1981
  • Received a J.D. from the Robert H. McKinney School of Law in 1986
  • Worked as a political radio and TV host from 1988 to 1999
  • Served as a board member for the Indiana Family Institute
  • Served as Indiana’s U.S. House representative from 2001 to 2013
  • Served as Indiana’s governor from 2013 to 2017
  • Served as Donald Trump’s vice president from 2016 to 2021
  • Became a visiting fellow for the anti-LGBTQ+ think tank The Heritage Foundation
  • Formed the transphobic policy group Advancing American Freedom

In Conclusion

Pence has been steadfastly aligned with religious conservatives opposed to any expanse of LGBTQ+ civil rights.

Stay informed about his career by subscribing to the LGBTQ Nation newsletter.

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