Given the sheer number of White House firings over the relatively short presidency of Donald Trump — most recently, the ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — Last Week Tonight thought it would be prudent to cover the one member of Trump's administration whom he can't fire. So John Oliver's Mike Pence segment on Last Week Tonight was a deep dive on how the Vice President leads.
Oliver pointed to Pence's history of bad takes before he got to the White House, from believing that women shouldn't serve in the military (according to Oliver, he had some thoughts on Mulan), to how we should be teaching intelligent design in public schools, to his hope that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned in the foreseeable future. And, of course, Oliver brought up one of Pence's most disturbing scandals from his time as Governor of Indiana: he exacerbated an HIV outbreak in his home state by not responding to calls for a needle exchange quickly enough.
But Oliver found Pence's record on LGBTQ+ rights among his more unsavory characteristics as the man one heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Even President Trump, Oliver noted, joked about how Pence "wants to hang 'em all" in reference to LGBTQ+ people, according to a New Yorker profile of the Vice President.
Vice President Pence has opposed LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination laws and he was opposed to allowing gays to serve in the military. In fact, Oliver dug up an old campaign website in which Pence was quoted as saying, "Homosexuality is incompatible with military service." Furthermore, he supported amending the constitution to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.
In 2015, as Governor of Indiana, Pence signed the "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," essentially legalizing LGBTQ+ discrimination for businesses. After swift backlash, including commitments to boycott doing business in the state from national organizations like the NAACP and Apple, the law was eventually amended to include language for protecting LGBTQ+ rights.
In the 1990s, Pence's congressional campaign website supported directing resources to "those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior," which is a pretty broad statement, but clearly dogwhistles conversion therapy. His White House spokespeople, however, denied that he's ever supported conversion therapy, and Pence has been infuriatingly convoluted when answering interview questions on the subject.
One of Pence's mentors, Oliver points out, is James Dobson, better known as the founder of Focus on the Family, an organization which has historically put its weight behind conversion therapy. In his book, Dobson even wrote that homosexuality is "treatable and preventable." He left the organization in 2010 and the group has since claimed a softened stance on the practice. But their website still states that they support "sexual orientation change efforts."
Last November, Pence gave a speech at Focus on the Family's 40th Anniversary celebration, acknowledging Dobson as its founder and his close friend. In June, he presented Dobson with another award. Both of these acts he performed in an official capacity as the Vice President of the United States, implicitly endorsing both Dobson and the organization, or at the very least, giving them all the credibility that the Office of the Vice President has to offer. Joked Oliver of Pence's contradictory behavior:
Look, saying you don't support conversion therapy and then calling Dobson your mentor is like saying you're a staunch vegetarian and a law-abiding citizen and, by the way, please meet my lifelong friend and mentor, The Hamburglar.
To close out the episode, Oliver revealed that he was releasing a children's book loosely fashioned after the one being put out by the Office of the Vice President about Mike Pence's pet rabbit Marlon Bundo. Oliver's book shares the same main character, but his version is about how Marlon Bundo falls in love with another boy rabbit. There's even a villainous stink bug who seeks to thwart them, and you'll never guess who he resembles.
The audiobook version features a host of queer celebrity voices and proceeds are going to The Trevor Project, a crisis-intervention and suicide-prevention service for queer youth, and AIDS United, which works to end AIDS in the United States. You can grab the book on Amazon.
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