Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY
Wired spotlighted the growing influence of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC) on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. The publication wrote that FRC is now “as well positioned as ever” to propagate its brand of regressive anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience through “lower level government officials” who have the power to “overrule scientific advisory committees.”
FRC has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 due to FRC’s “distortion of known facts to demonize gay men as child molesters and similar false claims.” Despite initial reservations about Trump’s candidacy, FRC president Tony Perkins quickly embraced and endorsed him as a “teachable” candidate after he secured his party’s presidential nomination. Their relationship gave Perkins an opportunity to “shape” Trump into a nominee who embodies the former’s anti-LGBT extremism and to garner support from evangelicals for Trump.
Wired’s Emma Ellis revealed just how much Perkins has taken advantage of that opportunity in a November 30 article about Trump’s transition team members who are affiliated with the hate group. They include:
- Ken Blackwell, Trump’s domestic policy chair as well as an FRC senior fellow;
- former FRC Vice President Kay Coles James, who co-leads the transition team in management and budget affairs;
- Ed Meese, who has written for FRC and is co-leading the team in management and budget affairs; and
- Ken Klukowski, the transition team’s “constitutional rights” leader, Breitbart editor, and the former director of FRC’s center for religious liberty.
Ellis’s profile also noted that many of Trump’s “cabinet appointees and soon-to-be staffers” have spoken at FRC’s annual conference, the Values Voter Summit, as did Trump.
Despite FRC’s reputation for peddling misinformation and extremism, the group’s members “are treated as reasonable by many in Congress,” Ellis wrote. This is largely due to FRC’s success in what an English professor who studies homophobic language referred to as “‘cultivating a scientific identity,’” and in pushing an ideology that Ellis wrote “comes packaged in a way that looks like real science but is really just cherrypicked data stitched together to serve its agenda.”
Media outlets a have largely ignored Trump’s selections for his transition team, instead mostly focusing on his cabinet picks, whom they’ve dissected in long articles exploring their professional histories and affiliations and speculating on their potential impact on policy. But Ellis noted that the “lower level political hires the transition team has the authority to make-- the undersecretaries, the assistant undersecretaries--have the power to overrule scientific advisory committees” -- and they could do so with FRC’s brand of anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience.
From the November 30 Wired article:
The Family Research Council isn’t content to oppose homosexuality on religious grounds; instead, it uses pseudoscience to give its homophobia a flimsy veneer of objectivity. And it could wind up shaping the incoming president’s policies.
“They’ve been highly sophisticated in cultivating a scientific identity, which makes them powerful,” says David Peterson, an English professor who studies homophobic language at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. (The FRC and Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.)
The group has been making political moves since the early 1980s. Since then, it’s grown to become the most successful progeny of an effort among social conservatives to move the basis of their policy recommendations away from Scripture and toward sociology. Not that legitimate sociology is where the FRC has arrived. Rather, the group is to homophobia what the National Policy Institute is to the alt-right—a bland, respectable-sounding, quasi-academic front for a hateful, regressive ideology. It comes packaged in a way that looks like real science but is really just cherrypicked data stitched together to serve its agenda.
Nevertheless, FRC members perspectives are treated as reasonable by many in Congress. And now it appears they’ll enjoy similar esteem from the Trump administration. In part, that success owes itself to the group’s public relations effort to appear of respectable. Their website is well designed and hides some of the FRC’s most outré work. Perkins seems like a pleasant enough fellow on television.
With current and former FRC staff all over the Trump transition team, the group seems as well positioned as ever to propagate its ideology. Perhaps most importantly—and least conspicuously—it may find a way to accomplish its goals through lower level government officials who buy into the FRC’s beliefs. “The headlines are about who is the secretary of this or that, but they deal with broad policy,” says David Himmelstein, a professor of public health policy at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. But the lower level political hires the transition team has the authority to make—the undersecretaries, the assistant undersecretaries—have the power to overrule scientific advisory committees, Himmelstein says, and have done so even under the relatively pro-science Obama administration. Such actions by a presidential administration can also provide political cover for more radical policy shifts at the state level.