QUEER VOICES
08/23/2017 01:54 pm ET

How Trump's Homophobic USDA Chief Scientist Pick Directly Threatens LGBTQ People

Sam Clovis' bigotry is dangerous to LGBTQ workers in agriculture.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Donald Trump’s grotesquely homophobic choice for chief scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s in business and a PhD in public administration. In other words, he has no qualifications to serve in a scientific capacity at the USDA. He also is a climate change denier, and he helped stoke the racist birther lie about President Obama. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer yesterday called on Trump to immediately withdraw the nomination, calling Clovis “wildly unqualified.”

As reported this week by CNN’s KFile, Clovis peddles junk science about LGBTQ people: Specifically that homosexuality is a “choice” and that legalizing same-sex marriage would lead to pedophilia. His views are not just an insult to queer Americans: They are a direct threat to those who benefit from USDA efforts aimed at aiding LGBTQ farmers and others in the industry who’ve struggled with discrimination for many years, and who will likely be harmed if Clovis is put in such a prominent position. 

As a radio host and blogger, Clovis, who was a co-chair of the Trump-Pence 2016 election campaign and is currently a temporary advisor to the USDA, has argued that LGBTQ people should not be protected under civil rights laws. At one campaign stop during his failed 2014 run for the U.S Senate in Iowa he stated

“There’s no equivalency there between the civil rights issue associated between those protected classes and the civil rights of someone who engages in a particular behavior Follow the logic, if you engage in a particular behavior, what also becomes protected? If we protect LGBT behavior, what other behaviors are we going to protect? Are we going to protect pedophilia? Are we going to protect polyamorous marriage relationships? Are we going to protect people who have fetishes? What’s the logical extension of this? It can’t be that we’re going to protect LGBT and then we’ll pull up the ladder. That’s not going to happen, it defies logic. We’re not thinking the consequences of these decisions through.

Some people might believe that even though no one with such beliefs has any place in government, Clovis couldn’t do much harm to LGBTQ people at the USDA, a department of the government that one doesn’t associate with civil rights. But in fact, under President Obama, discrimination in all aspects of society and governmental agencies was addressed over time, including at the USDA. The USDA’s non-discrimination statement includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Those protections extend to some (though not all) USDA-funded private programs. 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had created the LGBT Emphasis Program at the USDA to help queer farmers and others who face discrimination in the agriculture industry. Other USDA Special Emphasis Programs focus on women, minorities and people with disabilities, all under the umbrella of the Equal Employment Opportunity and Civil Rights Program. They help to promote equality in employment and business.

For rural LGBTQ people this has been an enormous boon, as they often face hostility and have no local, state or federal civil rights protections. But even urban farmers face discrimination. As the website Seedstock noted, people like Nathan Looney, a transgender urban farmer in Los Angeles who utilizes hydroponics and aquaponics in his start up business, benefit from the USDA’s National LGBT Emphasis Program.

Right now, while the Trump administration has rolled back efforts focused on queer equality at other government agencies ― from transgender student protections to data collection on LGBT seniors ― the USDA LGBT Emphasis Program is still up on the USDA website. How long will it stay there if an avowed opponent of LGBTQ equality such as Sam Clovis is put in a top job at the USDA? 

The Senate must reject Clovis not just because his anti-science beliefs are offensive; they’re dangerous to LGBTQ Americans who are seeing their rights affected by Trump in every walk of life.


Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile

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