February 14, 2019 at 4:44 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
LGBT groups wary as William Barr confirmed as U.S. attorney general
The U.S. Senate has confirmed William Barr as attorney general. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate confirmed William Barr on Thursday as President Trump’s next U.S. attorney general — a move that has made LGBT rights supporters wary amid indications he’d continue anti-LGBT policy at the U.S. Justice Department.

The Senate confirmed Barr on a largely party-line 54-45 vote, although Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) broke with Democrats to vote for the nominee and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) broke with Republican to vote against him. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) didn’t vote.

Each of the 2020 presidential candidates or potential hopefuls in the Senate — Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) — voted against Barr.

Many Democrats expressed concern about Barr over a 2018 memo he wrote asserting a more limited authority for Special Counsel Robert Mueller as well as the nominee’s refusal to make public Mueller’s upcoming report on the Russia investigation.

LGBT rights supporters, however, had different reasons to oppose his confirmation.

Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, was among the LGBT rights supporters who expressed concern over Barr’s anti-LGBT record.

“There’s little doubt that William Barr will carry on this administration’s ongoing efforts at rolling back the progress LGBTQ Americans have made in recent years,” Ellis said. “This confirmation today reminds us once again that the Trump administration is no friend to us.”

During his confirmation hearing, Barr hinted he’d continue the anti-LGBT policies of Jeff Sessions, who resigned on the behest of Trump following the mid-term elections after he recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Barr’s answers suggested he’d continue to uphold the Justice Department’s view that LGBT people aren’t protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights of 1964, which bars sex discrimination in the workforce. Additionally, Barr suggested he’d uphold religious freedom even at the expense of anti-LGBT discrimination.

But Barr also said during his confirmation he’d have “zero tolerance” for hate crimes, including those committed against LGBT people, and make investigating and prosecuting them a “priority” as attorney general.

Sharon McGowan, chief strategy officer for the LGBT group Lambda Legal, said in a statement must uphold civil rights as attorney general.

“As attorney general, William Barr will be responsible for defending the civil rights of all people, not just the wealthy and the powerful,” McGowan said. “From his first day on the job, he must make clear that, unlike his predecessor, he will not use the Department of Justice as a weapon of discrimination and bigotry. He must bring new leadership to the Department of Justice, and get it back in the business of defending civil rights and equal justice under law for all people.”­

But Barr, who also served as attorney general 30 years ago during the administration of George H.W. Bush, also has a record troubling to LGBT rights supporters.

The Trump appointee once made anti-gay comments expressing concerns about greater tolerance for the “homosexual movement” in the United States than the religious community in a 1995 article for “The Catholic Lawyer,” a conservative Catholic publication for St. John’s University School of Law, 

“It is no accident that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand,” Barr once wrote. “How has that come to be?”

During his tenure at the Justice Department under Bush, Barr also acted to keep in place an administrative ban on people with HIV from entering the United States. Barr implemented a policy using the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay to detain people with HIV from entering the United States, including Haitians seeking asylum in the country.

Despite this record, one longtime gay friend of Barr’s, former Time Warner general counsel Paul Cappuccio, has come to his defense. Upon Barr’s nomination, Cappuccio told the Blade, “He’s not going to ever let people be discriminated against, OK?”

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Barr’s confirmation spells trouble for LGBT people.

“William Barr has made clear that as attorney general he would not defend and uphold civil rights laws for all Americans — including LGBTQ people,” Stacy said. From his deeply disturbing opposition to nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people to his record of undermining HIV and AIDS prevention, treatment and awareness — Barr would perpetuate Jeff Sessions’ work to license discrimination and double down on the Trump-Pence administration’s harmful attacks on the LGBTQ community.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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