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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters. 

After President-elect Donald Trump annouced he would nominate billionaire conservative activist and megadonor Betsy DeVos as education secretary, Politico highlighted civil rights groups’ deep concern about LGBTQ student equality under a DeVos Department of Education. While the DeVos family has a “long history” of supporting anti-LGBTQ causes, Betsy DeVos’ personal stance on LGBTQ student equality is unclear.

On November 23, news reports confirmed that Trump named conservative megadonor DeVos as his nominee to head the Department of Education under his administration. DeVos is part of the “ultra-rich, ultra-conservative” DeVos family — which routinely bankrolls education privatization, anti-choice, and anti-union causes nationwide — and her education advocacy work is an epicenter of the right-wing corporate “education reform” echo chamber. The DeVos family also has a long record of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes and organizations, including giving more than $6.7 million to the anti-LGBTQ group Focus on the Family since 1998. Focus on the Family promotes the harmful and discredited practice of so-called “ex-gay” conversion therapy and has accused anti-bullying programs in schools of “promoting homosexuality.”

Politico spotlighted those donations in a November 25 article detailing concerns about DeVos’ potential to dismantle the Obama administration’s protections for LGBTQ students. Those protections include urging schools to extend anti-bullying policies to LGBTQ students, allow LGBTQ student groups on campus, and protect transgender students’ right to use facilities that match their gender identity.

While the DeVos family’s opposition to LGBTQ equality is well-documented, Stephanie White of Equality Michigan told Politico that she believes Betsy DeVos’ personal views aren’t “accurately reflected by her family’s past donations” and said she hopes that DeVos will protect LGBTQ students. Politico also interviewed Eliza Byard, executive director for the LGBTQ student advocacy group GLSEN, who pointed out that DeVos’ support for school vouchers threatens at-risk LGBTQ students by undercutting federal civil rights enforcement and draining public funds from traditional public schools.

Notably, DeVos did not respond to a request for comment for Politico’s story. Given the critical importance of nondiscrimination and anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students, journalists should continue to push DeVos to articulate her views on LGBTQ student equality.

From the November 25 Politico article:

Civil rights groups say they’re “deeply concerned” that the extension of civil rights protections to gay and transgender students by President Barack Obama’s Education Department will be dismantled by Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s pick to lead the department.

They note the DeVos family has a long history of supporting anti-gay causes — including donating hundreds of thousands to groups that push “conversion therapy” — raising questions about how, if at all, she would address discrimination against gay and transgender students.

[…]

Advocates point to one DeVos relationship that they say gives them hope for how she may approach LGBT issues: Greg McNeilly, a political adviser to DeVos and the chief operating officer of the DeVos family’s company Windquest Group, is gay and was one of the first to marry his same-sex partner in Michigan after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. McNeilly declined to comment for this story.

Stephanie White, executive director of Equality Michigan, said she believes that with McNeilly as an influence, DeVos’ views on LGBT issues have evolved. She noted that DeVos doesn’t speak out against gay rights, and even called on Dave Agema, a Michigan Republican National Committee member, to step down from the RNC in 2014 after making comments highly critical of gays.

[…]

Still, the DeVos family has a long history of supporting groups that espouse anti-gay rights views.

DeVos and her husband have given hundreds of thousands to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group whose founder called the battle against LGBT rights a “second civil war,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group has also pushed so-called “conversion therapy” — discredited practices aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation — according to the Human Rights Campaign.

DeVos’ ties to a group that pushes “conversion therapy” is “most alarming,” and DeVos needs to clarify her stance on the practice, Griffin said.

[…]

Eliza Byard, executive director of GLSEN, a group that advocates for LGBT rights in education, said her concerns extend beyond what DeVos might do with the Office for Civil Rights. She contends that DeVos’ support for measures such as school vouchers undercut civil rights enforcement and drain public funds from public schools.

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