President Trump’s nomination of an Army secretary who as a Tennessee state legislator spearheaded legislation allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBT people has inspired LGBT advocates to launch a campaign to thwart his confirmation.
LGBT rights supporters announced their opposition to Mark Green on Friday after the White House officially announced Trump’s intent to nominate him as civilian head of the U.S. Army.
Green is the CEO of Align MD, an emergency department staffing company. As a West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran, he had a distinguished career as a military officer, according to the bio provided by the White House. His military awards include the Bronze Star, the Air Medal, the Air Medal with “V” device for valor under heavy enemy fire, and numerous other medals for service.
During Operation Red Dawn, the military operation that captured Saddam Hussein, Green served as flight surgeon for special operations, sitting with the Iraqi leader for 24 hours and interrogating him for six hours after his capture. Green recounted this experience in a book titled “A Night With Saddam.”
But as a state legislator, Green spearheaded anti-transgender bathroom legislation. Last month, the Tennessee Senate approved the legislation by a 25-5 vote, sending it to the House, where it remains under consideration.
Other anti-LGBT measures Green has supported include a bill that would bar transgender students from using public restrooms in schools and colleges consistent with their gender identity and a “religious freedom” bill that would allow teachers to opt out of teaching anything that’s not “consistent with the educator’s own conscience.”
Green also backed a “religious freedom” measure, signed into law last year by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, that would allow mental health practitioners to refuse treatment for LGBT patients out of religious objections.
Amid media reports Trump would tap Green as Army secretary, the LGBT military group known as the American Military Partners Association issued a statement condemning the choice based on his anti-trans actions.
“We are deeply concerned over reports that Mark Green will be nominated as Secretary of the Army,” said AMPA President Ashley Broadway-Mack. “Green has made a shameful political career out of targeting LGBT people for discrimination. All soldiers and their families, including those who are LGBT, should have confidence that the Secretary of the Army has their back and is working for their best interest. Unfortunately, based on his vicious, anti-LGBT record, Mark Green cannot be trusted to ensure all those who serve have the support they need and deserve.”
In an article for Slate, Nathaniel Frank, a bisexual writer whose research helped pave the way for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and open transgender service in the U.S. military, called Green “a dangerous figure both because his policies are extreme and because he is shrewd at portraying them as moderate.”
“He works in lockstep with social conservatives who have learned in recent years to avoid both the wrath of the public and the jaws of justice using Orwellian word games to invert their bigotry by casting themselves as victims instead of discriminators,” Frank said.
During a town hall event in Tennessee before the Chattanooga Tea Party last year, Green responded to concerns about the perceived institution of a social agenda on the U.S. military by equating being transgender to a medical disorder.
“If you poll the psychiatrists, they’re going to tell you that transgender is a disease,” Green said. “It is a part of the DSM-6, I think it is, the book of diagnostic psychological procedures or diagnoses.”
Referencing the questioner’s concerns about going back in the U.S. military, Green said to applause it would constitute “me being the salt and the light to the people around me.”
“If you really want to bring this back to who’s at fault, I mean, we got to look a little bit inwardly,” Green said. “I mean, we’ve tolerated immorality, and we’re not reflecting light.”
Green during the same event railed against the Obama-era guidance assuring transgender kids have access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which the Trump administration has since repealed, calling it “absurd” and an example of “over-reaching government.” A letter Green co-signed urging the Tennessee governor to sue the Obama administration over this guidance compares transgender people to rapists and pedophiles.
Contrary to Green’s remarks, being transgender is not a disease. In 2012, the American Psychological Association removed gender identity disorder from DSM-5’s list of mental disorders, replacing it with gender dysphoria. There is no DSM-6.
Also during the event, Green said he’d encourage state officials to disregard through acts of civil disobedience the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide.
“The governor can do stuff like that, no we’re not going to issue marriage licenses to gay people because our state voted differently,” Green said. “OK, Supreme Court, you said it. I don’t care. I’ll back you up.”
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement the confirmation of Green as Army secretary would be “a danger to every LGBTQ soldier bravely serving our country.”
“Mark Green has called for states to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and appallingly said that being transgender is a ‘disease,’” Griffin said. “He has used his office in Tennessee to push ‘license to discriminate’ legislation and undermine the basic civil rights of LGBTQ people at every turn. It would be unconscionable to put this man in charge of our Army. We call on every U.S. senator to stand up for LGBTQ service members and reject this nomination.”
Also condemning the nomination was Stephen Peters, press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, who said as a Marine discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” he’s “appalled that Donald Trump would seek to put this man in charge of the U.S. Army.”
“Under President Obama’s leadership, we finally ended policies that forced service members, their partners, and families to hide who they are and treated them as second class citizens,” Peters said. “There are thousands upon thousands of us who fought this injustice so that we could serve openly today — and who are now threatened by the appointment of a man who has spent his career working to undermine our rights.”
In contrast to Green, his predecessor for the position during the Obama administration, Eric Fanning, was the first openly gay person confirmed as head of a military service and the first senior defense official to come out in support of lifting the now-terminated ban on openly transgender people in the U.S. armed forces.
Aaron Belkin, director of the San Francisco-based Palm Center, predicted in a statement that the confirmation of Green would lead to the restoration of the ban on openly gay personnel in the U.S. military.
“Mark Green is a perfect nominee for the people around President Trump who want to start a culture war in the United States military, and who would bring back ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” Belkin said. “The priorities Green has made a career on in Tennessee directly contradict the core military value of treating everyone according to the same standard. They have the potential of sowing confusion and undermining good order and discipline.”
It should be noted that Defense Secretary Gen. Jim Mattis said during testimony prior to his confirmation as Pentagon chief that he has no intention of restoring bans on open military service for LGBT people and “never cared much about two consenting adults and who they go to bed with.”
The defeat of Green would send a strong signal that supporting initiatives aimed at undermining transgender rights would derail the future of those seeking to advance their political careers, potentially discouraging anti-trans proposals like the Tennessee bathroom bill.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has signaled concerns with Green based on his anti-LGBT record and called on the Senate Armed Services Committee to rigorously question him during his confirmation hearing.
“Sen. Schumer has concerns with nominee Mark Green, particularly regarding his history on issues that affect the LGBTQ community,” said Schumer spokesperson Justin Goodman. “The Senate minority leader is strongly urging the Armed Services Committee to ask the nominee tough questions during his hearing and take a very close look at his history.”
Thwarting the confirmation of Green will be an uphill battle. Assuming the Democratic caucus is united in opposition to him, which seems unlikely given Sen. Joe Manchin’s (W.Va.) general willingness to accept nominees, at least three Republicans would have to vote against his confirmation to derail it. The most likely Republicans would be supporters of LGBT rights like Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).
The White House didn’t respond to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on concerns from LGBT rights supporters about the Green nomination.