Yesterday was a busy day for Tony Perkins.
Just hours after putting out a statement in support of the Trump administration’s rollback of protections for trans prisoners, Perkins was tapped to lead the White House’s U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. After being tapped by Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Family Research Council president will serve as commissioner for a standard two-year term.
After confirming he would not step down from his position as leader of one of America’s most powerful anti-LGBTQ hate groups, Perkins thanked the Senate Majority Leader for appointing him to the “prestigious position” in a statement.
“I look forward to doing all that I can to ensure that our government is the single biggest defender of religious freedom internationally,” he said.
Established under the Clinton administration via passage of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, the independent governmental organization is “dedicated to defending the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad,” as the bureau notes on its website.
Although the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is intended to be a bipartisan entity, it remains to be seen whether Perkins will use the office to push his extreme anti-LGBTQ agenda.
Days after the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced it would be rolling back Obama-era guidelines mandating that housing assignments for trans prisoners be made on a “case-by-case basis,” Perkins applauded the Trump administration for putting transgender people at severe risk for harm, abuse, and even murder.
“It doesn’t take a genius to realize that criminals, especially men, would do anything including lie about their gender identityto gain access to women,” he said of the updated Transgender Offender Manual released Friday evening, which makes housing determinations on the basis of “biological sex.” “As someone who used to work in the prison system, let me tell you: that’s a recipe for disaster.”
“Mixing populations in a cell block or bathrooms puts everyone, including the prison staff, at risk,” he added. “Essentially, Obama’s regulations turned an already volatile situation into a predator’s paradise.”
Although Perkins claims these revised regulations “restore common sense,” what his statement fails to recognize is that it’s not cisgender women who face harm from being housed with trans inmates. Transgender people, especially women of color, face extraordinarily high rates of violence and rape behind bars.
A California study found that trans prisoners were 13 times more likely than cis inmates to be targeted for sexual assault. Ashley Diamond sued the Georgia Department of Corrections after being raped at least seven times in a male lockup.
But Perkins’ remarks are highly consistent with his 15-year stint as one of the country’s most vocal activists fighting equality for queer and transgender Americans.
Just for starters, the militant evangelical has called LGBTQ people “intolerant,” “evil,” “hateful,” “abnormal,” “vile,” “deceptive,” and “pawns of the enemy.” He has compared homosexuality to adultery, terrorism, alcoholism, drug addiction, pedophilia, Nazism, and man-horse marriage, while claiming it’s a “fact” that being gay results in “eternal damnation.”
Perkins also supports conversion therapy, wants to bring back “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” opposes the “It Gets Better” project, and urged Uganda to pass a law in 2014 mandating the death penalty for same-sex activity. He said the country’s notorious “Kill the Gays” bill “upholds moral conduct.”
As one of the closest advisors to President Trump, Perkins is reportedly one of the chief architects of the POTUS’ ban on open trans military service.
Surprising no one, LGBTQ advocates aren’t happy with his appointment.
“Tony Perkins is the most recognizable anti-LGBTQ activist in America,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, in a statement. “He has espoused the most extreme views of LGBTQ people and other vulnerable communities including vocally supporting foreign laws that punish LGBTQ identity with death.”
“The idea that Perkins would be making policy recommendations to an administration that is already anti-LGBTQ is dangerous and puts LGBTQ people directly in harm’s way,” she continued.
“Tony Perkins does not embody the values that many Americans would associate with religious freedomvalues like treating others the way we’d like to be treated ourselves, respecting those with whom you disagree, and demonstrating a reverence for the many different faiths and types of people who make our country so strong,” added Freedom for All Americans CEO Masen Davis in a statement.
“It’s unfortunate that this appointment to the USCIRF will provide Tony Perkins and his colleagues at the Family Research Council yet another platform to spread deceptive and, often, hateful messages about many peopleincluding LGBTQ Americans,” he added.
Perkins is only the latest anti-LGBTQ figure, however, to be tapped as America’s face of “religious freedom” abroad.
Following a tight 50-to-49 vote, the Senate confirmed Republican Sam Brownback as its ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. As governor of Kansas, he nixed an inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance and opposed hate crimes protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity out of fear it would silence people from speaking “their beliefs about homosexuality.”
Brownback has called same-sex marriage “radical social experimentation,” “a grave threat to our central social institution,” and “harmful to the future of the Republic.”
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