Update: Mike Pence's Support for Conversion Therapy Not a Settled Matter
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
PolitiFact California looks at claims made by elected officials, candidates and groups and rates them as: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False and Pants On Fire.
Update, Dec. 2, 2016: EDITOR’S NOTE: On July 28, 2016, PolitiFact California rated as True a statement by Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that Republican Indiana Governor and now Vice President-Elect Mike Pence "advocated diverting taxpayer dollars to so-called conversion therapy." We based that ruling on a statement Pence made in 2000 on his congressional campaign website, in which Pence says "Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior." Subsequently, our readers and other fact-checking websites examined the claim and made some points that led us to reconsider the fact check. Readers pointed out that Pence never explicitly advocated for conversion therapy in his statement and that he may have been pushing for safer sex practices. Pence’s words are open to other interpretations: Gay and lesbian leaders, for example, say his statement continues to give the impression that he supported the controversial practice of conversion therapy when his words are viewed in context with his long opposition to LGBT rights. Taking all of this into account, we are changing our rating to Half True and providing this new analysis.
PolitiFact California’s practice is to consider new evidence and perspectives related to our fact checks, and to revise our ratings when warranted.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined in the chorus of attacks on Donald Trump’s choice for running mate during a speech at the Democratic National Convention in late July.
Newsom, a prominent LGBT rights supporter, said Republican Indiana Gov. and now Vice-President Elect Mike Pence "advocated for diverting taxpayer dollars to so-called conversion therapy."
When asked about the claim in late July, Newsom’s campaign spokesman pointed to Pence’s own words. During his first successful run for Congress in 2000, Pence wrote on his campaign website, under a section called Strengthening the American Family:
"Congress should support the reauthorization of the Ryan White Care Act only after completion of an audit to ensure that federal dollars were no longer being given to organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus. Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior."
Many, including Newsom and other LGBT advocates, have interpreted the last portion of Pence’s statement, about "assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior," as evidence he supported conversion therapy.
The statement, however, does not explicitly mention conversion therapy. And Pence has said little, if anything, specific on the topic. We heard from a number of readers who said Pence’s words could be interpreted as supporting groups that aim to not necessarily change one’s sexual orientation, but instead as supporting groups that advocate for curbing sexual behaviors that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. Pence has, for example, advocated for abstinence as a way to prevent sexual diseases.
"Indeed, promoting safer sexual behaviour is a common intervention strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS," reader Justin Goddard of Ontario, Canada, said in an email.
Other fact-checking websites, such as Snopes.com, have examined the claim Pence supported conversion therapy and concluded it’s not a settled case.
LGBT rights advocates say given Pence’s extensive record of opposing gays and lesbians, his words are indeed confirmation that he supported conversion therapy.
"That is very specific language — some might call it a dog whistle — that has been used for decades to very thinly cloak deeply homophobic beliefs," Rea Carey, executive director of the National L.G.B.T.Q. Task Force told the New York Times in late November. "Particularly the phrase ‘seeking to change their sexual behavior,’ to me, is code for conversion therapy."
"It’s the most likely reading" of Pence’s words, Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, an LGBT civil rights group, told PolitiFact California. "We view this in the context of the whole record. … You can’t think of someone who is more hostile to LGBT people and people with AIDS than Mike Pence."
Also on the 2000 website, Pence wrote: "Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage." And "Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a 'discreet [sic] and insular minority' entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities."
In an email exchange with PolitiFact California in late July, Pence’s spokesman Marc Lotter did not directly answer whether Pence supported conversion therapy.
Four months later, Lotter told the New York Times, however, that it was "patently false" that Mr. Pence "supported or advocated" the practice of conversion therapy.
Lotter added that Pence had been calling for federal funds to "be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices" during his 2000 congressional campaign, and he said it was a "mischaracterization" to interpret the statement as a reference to conversion therapy.
Newsom’s campaign spokesman said in November he did not have any additional information pointing to Pence’s stance on conversion therapy.
As reported by McClatchy DC in July, Pence continues to be at the center of gay rights controversy: "Pence angered gay rights groups (in 2015) when he signed a religious freedom bill that opponents said would allow businesses to discriminate against customers based on their sexual orientation. Pence later backtracked, when state lawmakers changed the law to say that no discrimination would be allowed."
At the Republican National Convention this summer, the McClatchy news service noted: "Delegates voted to approve a platform that backs the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children. The platform makes no specific mention of gay conversion therapy, but critics say that passage is aimed at accepting the notion that one’s sexual orientation can be changed."
GOP Party Chairman Reince Priebus, who President-Elect Donald Trump has selected as chief of staff for the incoming administration, has denied that passage encourages conversion therapy.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Indiana Governor and now Vice President-Elect Mike Pence "advocated for diverting taxpayer dollars to so-called conversion therapy."
Pence’s own words on his campaign website from 2000, specifically a passage that calls for funding groups that give "assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior," have been interpreted by LGBT advocates as supporting the controversial practice.
Pence’s statement, however, does not explicitly mention conversion therapy. Readers and other fact-checking outlets have said Pence may have been calling for safer sexual sexual practices rather than pushing for efforts to change one’s sexual orientation.
When asked about the statement in July, Pence’s spokesman Marc Lotter did not directly answer whether the Indiana governor supports the practice. Months later, Lotter strongly denied that Pence supports conversion therapy and said Pence was calling for funds to "be directed to groups that promoted safe sexual practices"
Given Pence’s strong and extensive opposition to LGBT rights, his words in 2000 have been widely interpreted as supporting the controversial practice. Rea Carey, executive director of the National L.G.B.T.Q. Task Force, has called them "a dog whistle" for like-minded supporters of conversion therapy.
Newsom’s definitive claim, however, that Pence advocated for conversion therapy is not fully supported.
We rate it Half True.
HALF TRUE – The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context.
This story is part of California Counts, a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what’s important to the future of California.