December 13, 2016 at 12:04 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Trump nominates ExxonMobil CEO as secretary of state
Rex Tillerson, gay news, Washington Blade

President-elect Trump on Dec. 13, 2016, announced he has nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. (Photo by William Munoz; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

President-elect Trump on Tuesday announced he has nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as his nominee for secretary of state.

“I have chosen one of the truly great business leaders of the world, Rex Tillerson, chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, to be secretary of state,” said Trump on his Twitter page.

Secretary of State John Kerry in a short statement congratulated Tillerson on his nomination.

“The State Department will continue to provide our full support for a smooth transition, so that the incoming administration can pursue the important work of U.S. foreign policy around the world,” said Kerry.

State Department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday during his daily press briefing that Kerry plans to personally reach out to Tillerson this week.

Tillerson has been ExxonMobil’s CEO since 2006.

His company in 2015 added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy. Freedom to Work, an LGBT advocacy group, two years earlier filed a complaint against ExxonMobil that alleged it showed bias against gay prospective employees.

Tillerson was a member of the Boy Scouts of America’s executive board when it voted to allow openly gay scouts into the organization in 2013.

Advocates express concern over Tillerson’s ties to Russia

NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on Saturday that Trump planned to announce Tillerson’s nomination this week. She cited sources “close to the transition” who said the president-elect would “likely” tap former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton as deputy secretary of state.

The transition team announced last week that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was no longer in the running to become secretary of state. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Monday wrote on his Facebook page that it was “an honor to have been considered for secretary of state of our great country.”

“My discussions with President-elect Trump have been both enjoyable and enlightening,” said Romney. “I have very high hopes that the new administration will lead the nation to greater strength, prosperity and peace.”

Trump last month nominated South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley to become the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

Tillerson’s nomination comes against the backdrop of mounting evidence that suggests Russia tried to sway the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. U.S. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) are among those who have expressed concerns over Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Tillerson in 2011 signed a $300 billion agreement with Russia that would allow ExxonMobil to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Sanctions that the Obama administration imposed against the Kremlin in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea and other interventions in Ukraine derailed the project.

Putin in 2013 signed a controversial law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors in Russia. He honored Tillerson with his country’s Order of Friendship in the same year.

“Just days after it was revealed that Russian intelligence operatives are apparently still in possession of stolen Republican campaign emails, President-elect Trump has selected a Secretary of State with deep ties to Vladimir Putin’s regime and zero foreign policy experience,” said gay Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline in a statement that sharply criticized Trump for nominating Tillerson.

Jay Brown of the Human Rights Campaign reiterated HRC President Chad Griffin’s concerns about Tillerson

“Democrats and Republicans alike need to ask some tough questions at Rex Tillerson’s hearing,” Brown told the Blade on Tuesday. “Will Trump and Tillerson stand up to brutal dictators like Vladimir Putin, who has inspired attacks against Russia’s LGBTQ community? Will they give the desperately-needed help to LGBTQ Muslims refugees fleeing ISIS? Will they maintain a principal that LGBTQ rights are human rights and human rights are LGBTQ rights? These aren’t idle questions but a matter of life and death for millions of LGBTQ people around the world.”

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, agreed.

“We are concerned with Rex Tillerson’s reportedly close relationship with Putin, who is a leading global opponent of equality,” Bromley told the Washington Blade. “That said, we trust that he has come to appreciate the strong business case for equality, and that he will understand that it is in our country’s security and economic interests to continue to defend human rights, democracy and LGBT equality abroad.”

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern told the Blade in a statement that “we’re all asking ourselves if would-be Secretary of State Tillerson will think of U.S. foreign policy like a business. In the best scenario, it could mean we wouldn’t have to worry.”

“Countries that support full and equal human rights are countries that enjoy high levels of education, a thriving workforce, healthy people and safe communities,” she added. “Worst case, it means making deals and compromising human rights and the environment for dollars. We hope that Tillerson will be as loyal to the American public as to corporate shareholders and fight for LGBTI and human rights globally.”

Gregory T. Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview the “notion (Tillerson is) going to be soft on Russia is incorrect.”

“It’s important to have relationships with powers in the world,” said Angelo.

Kirby on Tuesday deflected reporters’ questions about Tillerson’s ties to Putin.

“It is the president-elect’s decision to nominate Cabinet officials,” said Kirby.

The promotion of LGBT rights abroad has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy during President Obama’s second term. It remains unclear whether this policy will continue under a Trump administration.

“It would look bad for Trump personally and for his administration more broadly if they were to suddenly just say no more Pride flags on embassies, no more Pride celebrations, ambassadors should not march,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest last week during a panel at the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute’s International LGBT Leadership Conference that took place at the Washington Hilton. “I just can’t quite imagine he would do that because it would look bad for him and it’s about the way he is viewed personally.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told the Blade on Tuesday that “it’s hard to tell exactly what this particular personnel announcement says about the kinds of policies that President Trump will pursue once he is in office with regard to ensuring that Americans are not discriminated against because of their sexuality.”

“I think, to put it generously, we’ve gotten some mixed signals publicly about what the president-elect’s intent is,” he said. “So as with so many other issues that are important, we’ll have to wait and see what policy he intends to pursue.”

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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