Trump’s head of NASA raised eyebrows this week by lifting sanctions against an anti-LGBTQ Russian official to allow him to speak at its Houston facility.
Jim Bridenstine, who was appointed to lead NASA in April following months of gridlock, reportedly invited Dmitry Rogozin to its headquarters in early 2019. The former deputy prime minister, Rogozin was tapped by Russian President Vladimir Putin to lead Roscosmo—which manages the country’s aeronautics program—last year.
The 55-year-old has also served as Russia’s ambassador to NATO and the head of Russia’s Arctic Commission.
Normally, a visit from a little-known foreign bureaucrat wouldn’t make national headlines. But as Politico was the first to report, Rogozin is currently banned from entering the United States.
In 2014, Rogozin was sanctioned for his part in the annexation of Crimea, widely viewed as trespassing international law.
Adding to the controversy is Rogozin’s staunch record of opposing rights and recognition for the LGBTQ community. When Madonna protested St. Petersburg’s ban on Pride events at a 2012 concert in the Russian city, he called her a “whore” on Twitter.
“Every former [whore] wants to give lectures on morality when she grows old,” tweeted Rogozin, an active social media user. “Especially during foreign tours.”
Rogozin also took aim at Conchita Wurst after she won the famed Eurovision song contest in 2014. He claimed the Austrian drag queen’s victory was a harbinger of LGBTQ supremacy should Russia embrace Western ideology, saying it “showed supporters of European integration their European future: a bearded girl.”
Meanwhile, when Latvian politician Edgars Rinkevics publicly announced on Twitter that he’s a gay man, Rogozin suggested that being LGBTQ is a matter ofpPride only for those who have “nothing else to be proud of.”
“Is that his point of pride?” Rinkevics asked in a tweet.
Despite his anti-equality record, Politico reports that Bridenstine “succeeded in temporarily waiving sanctions on Rogozin” last October so that the official will have the opportunity to meet with NASA in the coming weeks. He’s also scheduled to visit Rice University, Bridenstine’s alma mater.
The former Congressman from Oklahoma defended his decision as part of his mission to maintain a “strong working relationship” between the United States and Russia.
NASA spokeswoman Megan Powers elaborated on that defense in an email.
“The U.S. / Russian relationship in space dates back to the 1970s,” Powers told Politico. “NASA has historically invited the head of the Russian space agency to visit the United States.”
“Following this precedent, and Administrator Bridenstine’s October visit to Russia to participate in crew launch activities to the International Space Station,” she continued, “NASA invited the Director-General of Roscosmos to visit NASA facilities in the United States and discuss our ongoing space-related cooperation.”
LGBTQ groups disagree that the invitation is benign in intent. Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, claimed it “sends an extraordinarily dangerous and discriminatory message to LGBTQ students and other marginalized groups.”
“Leave it up to the most anti-LGBTQ administration in recent memory to grant an anti-LGBTQ activist and Russian nationalist the opportunity to promote his hateful and out-of-touch rhetoric to students,” said Ellis in a statement. “Dmitry Rogozin has no business visiting our nation in the first place, much less being offered a speaking engagement at an academic institution.”
The national watchdog group called on Rice University to block him from campus.
The Houston, Texas university—where Bridenstine graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, Psychology, and Business—has not responded to criticism of Rogozin’s impending appearance.
While former Obama administration official Evelyn Farkas told Politico the visit is “appalling” and Senate Intelligence Committee member Sen. Mark Warner claimed it “sends the wrong message” following reports of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, the controversy isn’t all that surprising.
Although NASA appointees are generally met with little blowback, Bridenstine’s nomination faced widespread opposition. In addition to being a climate change denier, the 43-year-old’s views on LGBTQ people aren’t that different from Rogozin’s.
Bridenstine called the Supreme Court’s decision on Obergefell v. Hodges a “disappointment.” He said the 5-4 ruling was a letdown “not only because it is contrary to millennia of human experience, but also because it is clearly contrary to the choice of the people as expressed in a constitutionally valid process.”
In addition, the former lawmaker opposes same-sex adoptions, affirming bathroom access for trans students in schools, and LGBTQ inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America.
“The left’s agenda is not about tolerance, and it’s not about diversity of thought,” he claimed after BSA announced it would permit openly queer and trans youths to participate. “It’s about presenting a worldview of relativism, where there is no right and wrong, then using the full force of the government to silence opposition and reshape organizations like the Boy Scouts into instruments for social change.”
At the time, GLAAD condemned his appointment as “yet another attack on LGBTQ people” by the Trump administration.
“It’s time for the Senate to take a hard look at the nominations they are confirming and the potential ramifications these anti-LGBTQ politicians stand to have on the LGBTQ employees in their agencies and within our country as a whole,” said Vice President of Programs Zeke Stokes in a press release.