Mike Pence has indicated a Donald Trump administration would roll back guidance issued by the Obama administration that prohibits schools from discriminating against transgender students and assuring them access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity.
Pence made the remarks on the day after the vice presidential debate on the “Family Talk Broadcast” hosted by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. The Christian Post, a conservative media outlet, reported on the interview after obtaining an audio file in advance.
Dobson’s question was not just about the guidance, but a rule from the Department of Health & Human Services mandating non-discrimination for transgender people in health care, including transition-related care and gender reassignment surgery, but Pence’s response was focused on the transgender student guidance.
Accusing the administration of overreach, Pence said the trans initiatives demonstrate “there’s no area of our lives too small for them to want to regulate, no aspect of our Constitution too large for them to be willing to ignore.”
“These questions that come up, Donald Trump and I both believe not only can be resolved with common sense at the local level, but they are every single day, working with parents and administrators and teachers,” Pence said.
Without outright saying Trump would rescind the guidance, the Indiana governor made that clear by asserting decisions on whether schools should be able to discriminate against transgender students should be left to schools, not the federal government.
“These issues, I can tell you, are resolved in the state of Indiana whenever they come up, and they should be resolved with the safety and well-being of our children first and foremost, their privacy interests and rights and with common sense,” Pence said. “Donald Trump and I simply believe that all of these issues are best resolved at the state level by the people of communities, by the standards they want to set.”
Pence’s remarks affirm a campaign promise Trump made to rescind the guidance during an interview with The Washington Post the week the guidance was published.
Nathan Smith, director of public policy for GLSEN, said Pence’s comments come up short in recognizing the role of the federal government in protecting the civil rights of students, including those who are LGBT.
“In the absence of the federal guidance, these issues have been addressed at the state and local level,” Smith said. “A lot of cities and a lot of localities have been very good on addressing those issues. A lot of them have also not been very good, and that’s led to really a patchwork of protections for transgender students across the country.”
In the same interview, Pence indicated Trump would be willing to eliminate the contraception mandate for religious organizations in Obamacare challenged by the Little Sisters of the Poor in the case of Zubik v. Burwell, saying a Trump administration “will be dedicated to protecting the liberties of our people, including our freedom to religion.”
Pence’s remarks follow his generally well-regarded performance in a vice presidential debate in which many observers believe he was the winner, although many of his responses sought to dodge questions that were posed and deny Trump said controversial remarks the candidate in fact articulated.
A favorite among social conservatives, one-in-three Trump supporters say in the aftermath of the debate they would rather vote for Pence as president instead of Trump, according to a new poll from Morning Consult published on Friday. Comparatively, one-in-10 supporters of Hillary Clinton after the debate say they would prefer to vote for her running mate Tim Kaine instead of her.
Pence has a long anti-LGBT history and rose to national prominence last year after signing into law a “religious freedom” bill enabling discrimination against LGBT people. Amid a media firestorm and outcry from the business community, Pence was forced to sign a fix to the law limiting the scope of the discrimination.
The term “religious freedom” continues to be used as code among social conservatives to justify anti-LGBT discrimination as well as bias against minority groups — an observation recently made by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Asked about the commission’s findings by Dobson and whether “religious freedom” would be a priority in a Trump administration, Pence offered a general response in which he said a Trump administration would uphold the First Amendment, but courts will be the ultimate arbiters.
“We live in a diverse country with people with different viewpoints and different lifestyles, and I don’t believe in discrimination or mistreatment of anyone,” Pence said. “I believe we should love our neighbor as ourself, but neither do I think that anyone should ever fear persecution because of their deeply held religious beliefs. When those two things come into conflict, that’s what we have the courts for. The courts sort out those issues and have done so throughout the history of this nation.”