On Monday, The New Yorker released its long-awaited profile of Vice President Mike Pence, entitled "The Danger Of President Pence." The article includes a number of revelations about Pence's relationship with Trump and the veep's own political ambitions. However, the comment that is catching the most attention is not actually from Pence himself — it's from President Donald Trump. According to Jane Meyer's reporting, Trump once joked that Pence should not be asked about issues that affect the LGBTQ community because "he wants to hang them all." (The White House has denied the veracity of the report.*) The comment, which is attributed to two anonymous sources, has been reverberating across the internet, both for its flippant tone and for its implications.
"I don't think the President personally cares about the LGBTQ community at all," says Alaina Kupec, a transgender woman and Navy veteran. "But [he] sees the LGBTQ community as an easy way to appease a base that has not seen progress on their other issues or policy areas."
But while Trump's position on LGBTQ issues has flip-flopped in the past, Pence's have remained steady. "Hate groups such as the [Family Research Council] have found their voice in the vice president, who in turn has the ability to use these issues to ignite the far right Christian base in the Republican Party," Kupec says.
White Evangelicals voted for Trump and Pence by a large margin. Experts believe this was because they trusted the pair would champion their worldview when it came to certain social issues, like opposing LGBTQ rights and abortion. And while many challenge the notion that Trump truly is anti-LGBTQ and abortion, Pence's voting and legislative record has remained steadfast through the years.
Pence was the architect of the "religious freedom" law in Indiana, which would have allowed businesses to discriminate against the LGBTQ community — if the huge outcry hadn't forced Pence to amend it. Pence also backed a law that would have required funerals for aborted fetuses, no matter whether the pregnancy ended because of miscarriage or abortion, and no matter how far along the woman was. (A federal judge blocked the law as unconstitutional.)
"There is no ambiguity as to Pence's animosity toward the queer community," says Jake Goodman, a founding member of Queer Rising, a grassroots organization dedicated to gaining equal rights for everyone under the LGBTQ umbrella. "Regardless as to whether he actually expressed the desire to hang all gay people, there is no doubt that he wishes to do us harm through policy. He has already tried."
The New Yorker's sources noted that the President likes to needle Pence on his beliefs, often poking fun at his faith when it comes to abortion and LGBTQ rights in order to "let Pence know who's boss." According to the piece, the President also asks people leaving meetings with Pence whether "Mike [made them] pray." And upon learning that overturning Roe v. Wade could lead to states legalizing abortion on their own, Trump also denigrated Pence over his persistent desire get rid of that court case's precedent.
During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence's determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. "You see?" Trump asked Pence. "You've wasted all this time and energy on it, and it's not going to end abortion anyway." When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, "Don't ask that guy — he wants to hang them all!"
Ames Simmons, the director of transgender policy at Equality NC, was especially horrified by the article not only because of the hate at the heart of the White House, but because it gives everyone else permission to act on that impulse.
When an authority figure such as the President makes killing LGBTQ people seem like an appropriate subject for cocktail party banter, that emboldens others in our country to make even more extreme homophobic and transphobic public remarks, which only increases the prospects that members of our community will face violence as we try to go about our daily lives.
What's especially problematic, LGBTQ allies say, is that the "joke" is emblematic of how the Trump White House is governing when it comes to these issues. The Justice Department has rolled back protections designed to curtail discrimination against transgender employees, and the United States refused to support a U.N. proposal that condemned the death penalty for gay people. Trump has banned transgender service, and just last week, he spoke at an event that distributed a pamphlet warning of the dangers of homosexuality. He's done all this despite his promises to the LGBTQ community that he would support them.
"The President's comments, policies, and disregard for the LGBT community are examples of total hypocrisy," says Kupec. "The President has continued to bully the LGBTQ in the worst ways possible."
Pence's press secretary tells Bustle in a statement:
Articles like this are why the American people have lost so much faith in the press. The New Yorker piece is filled with unsubstantiated, unsourced claims that are untrue and offensive.
But for LGBTQ advocates, the damage has already been done. "Trump is often callously oblivious to the message his hateful comments send to vulnerable communities," Goodman says, about the joke. "Even when he does become aware, he doesn't seem to care."
*This article was updated to include the White House's response.