The White House remains silent on President Trump’s reported meeting with anti-LGBT activist Ginni Thomas, the spouse of conservative U.S. Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, despite objections from LGBT rights advocates who say the meeting was inappropriate.
On Monday during the regular news briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ignored the Washington Blade, which was prepared to ask questions about the discussion. (The White House spokesperson has declined to call on the Blade for more than a year.) No other media outlet asked about the meeting.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that Trump met last week with anti-LGBT activists led by Thomas in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. During the meeting, Trump was reportedly “listening quietly” as members of the group denounced transgender people serving in the U.S. military.
The meeting came the same week the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on court orders barring enforcement of his transgender military ban, essentially allowing the anti-trans policy to go into effect.
In addition to decrying transgender military service, the anti-LGBT activists said women shouldn’t serve in the military “because they had less muscle mass and lung capacity than men.” They also said the Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality is “harming the fabric of the United States” and sexual assault isn’t pervasive in the military, according to the New York Times.
The New York Times reported the White House didn’t respond to a request to comment on the meeting for the article, nor did Thomas.
Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, said the meeting between Thomas and Trump was concerning.
“It is no secret that Justice Thomas’s Supreme Court opinions often embrace the most extreme of far-right-wing perspectives, and routinely work to erode the wall of separation between church and state,” Pizer said. “But while the reactionary nature of his approach is well known, it’s still shocking to hear that his wife is leading a delegation of religious and political extremists in overt, aggressive political lobbying of the president on issues actually pending before the Supreme Court at this very moment.”
It’s not unusual for Trump to meet with anti-LGBT activists. For example, last year, heads of anti-LGBT advocacy groups met with Trump in the White House after he announced his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Afterwards, those leaders emerged from the White House to thank Trump for anti-LGBT policies, such as the ban on transgender military service and “religious freedom” orders seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
As the Blade has reported, Trump’s meetings with anti-LGBT advocacy groups represent the restored influence of those organizations after they were shut out for eight years during the Obama administration.
Some have criticized the Thomas meeting as inappropriate not just because anti-LGBT policies were discussed, but also because a sitting U.S. president shouldn’t meet with the spouse of a justice on the Supreme Court.
Pizer said the meeting between the spouse of a Supreme Court justice and Trump smacks of a violation of separation of powers.
“One of the most fundamental principles of our constitutional system is that the three branches of government must be independent of each other, with the Supreme Court charged to check and correct unconstitutional actions of the political branches,” Pizer said. “The court is not to be just one more political branch. Although we all know that reality sometimes falls short of that principle, every Supreme Court justice must nonetheless take proper steps to maintain the appearance of impartiality. It is truly appalling to see such a brazen violation of that basic standard.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of the LGBT media watchdog group GLAAD, is calling on the White House to issue “official bookkeeping notes” on the meeting.
“The fact that President Trump is taking counsel from known anti-LGBTQ activists like Ginni Thomas regarding policies that could impact LGBTQ people and families should have Americans gravely concerned about the foundations of our government, and they deserve to see the official notes that came from that meeting,“ Ellis said. “LGBTQ people know President Trump wants to roll back their hard-fought progress, but this clear display of coordination between the executive branch and the wife of a U.S. Supreme Court justice shows Americans the Trump administration will do anything to push an agenda — even if it means shredding the checks and balances system.”
The Washington Blade has submitted several questions to the White House via email on the meeting and will update this story as appropriate.