WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the most controversial appointments thus far in the Trump administration, Betsy DeVos faces a confirmation hearing before she can take her post as head of the Department of Education. Known for exercising their wealth to achieve political influence, the DeVos family has a shaky record on LGBTQ issues. As legislators question the candidate to evaluate her fitness for the position, one issue that may get swept under the rug is how a DeVos education department will treat LGBTQ students.
These students are among the most vulnerable, facing extreme bullying and its mental repercussions. The Trevor Project reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-25, and LGB youth attempt suicide at four times the rate of straight youth. Forty percent of transgender adults report having attempted suicide, 92% before the age of twenty-five. The Trevor Lifeline offers struggling people the chance to talk and can be reached at 866-488-7386.
But a call center isn’t always enough to address the widespread bullying and violence faced by many LGBTQ students. That is why the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights under President Barack Obama issued a guidance letter last year, stating that discrimination against LGBTQ students constitutes sex discrimination. The move inspired heavy push-back from conservatives. So where does Betsy DeVos stand on these issues, and how would her Department of Education treat LGBTQ youth?
Considering the DeVos family record, LGBTQ advocates may be discouraged. The family is known as one of the largest-scale donors to the Christian right. Mother Jones reports that various members of the clan have donated $200 million to various conservative and Christian causes, including a group called Focus on the Family that promotes conversion therapy. In her first Senate hearing, DeVos denied supporting this practice herself.
However, Betsy and her husband have supported the Acton Institute, a conservative organization known to support anti-LGBTQ legislation. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin spoke out against DeVos’ nomination for the education post.
“The DeVos family has a long, well-documented history of funding organizations dedicated to undermining and restricting the rights of LGBTQ people,” Griffin told Politico.
Nevertheless, DeVos herself has yet to take a clear stance on LGBTQ rights and issues. Greg McNeilly, one of DeVos’ political advisers, is openly gay. But would she work to protect children like McNeilly through administrative practices that affirm LGBTQ equality and protection? Some advocates are uncertain.
“We’re having to read the tea leaves in terms of what DeVos is going to do on LGBT issues,” GLSEN Public Policy Director Nathan Smith told the Daily Beast.
One of the issues DeVos is clear about is her desire to direct taxpayer money to private schools through a voucher program. However, even if federal protections for LGBTQ students didn’t change, the government’s civil rights directives don’t apply to religiously-affiliated private schools.
“Public money could go to private schools that don’t uphold students’ rights, or to religious schools that could be unfriendly or even psychologically dangerous to those students,” Smith said.
DeVos’ leadership at the Department of Education isn’t confirmed yet. The final vote on her appointment will take place on Jan. 31.