Tennessee state Sen. Mark Green sits at his desk in the Senate chamber in April 2013. (Erik Schelzig/AP)
Advocacy groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have launched an effort on Capitol Hill to block President Trump’s new Army secretary nominee, saying his record of antagonism and hostility toward them is unacceptable.
The Trump administration announced Friday it was nominating Mark E. Green, a retired Army officer and Tennessee state politician with business experience. He has served most recently in the Tennessee state senate and was preparing for a run for governor.
But Green, who once interviewed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein while serving on the Special Operations team that captured him, has suggested that being transgender is a disease and sponsored legislation in Tennessee that critics say would allow businesses to discriminate against their own employees on the basis of sexual orientation. He also suggested last fall that while most millennials are accepting of transgender people, he wanted to be a “light” that set the record straight.
“If you really want to bring this back to who’s at fault, I mean we gotta look a little bit inwardly,” he said. “I mean, we’ve tolerated immorality and we’re not reflecting light.”
Officials with the Human Rights Campaign and the American Military Partners Association said in a joint conference call with journalists Monday that Green’s views are radical and outdated, and that they are rallying support against him. Stephen Peters, the national press secretary for Human Rights Campaign, said he found it “appalling” that Green was selected, and found him to be an unacceptable choice. Green has “gone out of his way” to target LGBT people, he said.
The Trump administration and Green did not respond to requests for comment. On Twitter, Green has retweeted support from other lawmakers and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis over the last several days but has not addressed opposition to his nomination.
The potential fight comes less than a year after the fall of the Pentagon’s ban on transgender people serving, and less than five years after President Barack Obama repealed the ban on gays and lesbians serving in the military.
Green would replace former Army secretary Eric Fanning, who was appointed to the position by Obama in 2016 and became the first openly gay service secretary. Green is Trump’s second Army secretary nominee, after Vincent Viola, an Army veteran and billionaire founder of an electronic trading firm, withdrew from consideration because of concerns it would be difficult to untangle his finances with Pentagon conflict-of-interest rules.
Aaron Belkin, a sociologist who has researched gender issues, said that at this point “the cake has really been baked on LGBT policy” in the military, but Green’s “virulently homophobic track record” would set a bad precedent for the rest of the government.
“It’s disconcerting,” said Belkin, who is director of the Palm Center, which worked with the Pentagon through some of its recent gender policy changes. “On the one hand, Trump portrays himself as a friend to the LGBT community. But on the other hand, he is on the verge of nominating someone who has a track record for denigrating LGBT troops and women.”
Trump’s Air Force secretary nominee, Heather A. Wilson, has also prompted some concerns among LGBT advocates, primarily because as a congresswoman (R.-N.M.) she opposed a bill intended to reduce bullying against LGBT people. At the time, Wilson said that people who face bullying should be “comfortable with themselves” and stand strong. She also said that she tolerated LGBT people, but “do not approve” of their actions.
Heather Wilson during a interview with Roll Call’s politics desk. (Douglas Graham/Roll Call)
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D.-N.Y.) raised the issue during Wilson’s confirmation hearing, and the nominee responded that it was not her intention to change any policies already in place at the Pentagon. The important thing, she said, “is to treat everyone with dignity and respect.” Mattis also said during his confirmation hearing that he had no intentions of overturning existing Defense Department policy on gender issues.
In the conference call, Peters said Monday that while LGBT advocates are “not a fan” of Wilson past positions, they consider Green much more troubling.
“It’s just at a level that far exceeds anything we have seen from other nominees,” he said. “We think this is a non-confirmable nominee.”
Mattis released a statement Friday that praised Green’s service and expressed support for his nomination.
“Mark will provide strong civilian leadership, improve military readiness and support our service members, civilians, and their families,” Mattis said. “I am confident of Mark’s ability to effectively lead the Army.”