Former Vice President Mike Pence was forced to defend his anti-LGBT+ stances after a weeping mother of a transgender child confronted him.
Mr Pence declared at a NewsNation town hall on Wednesday that as president he would “protect our kids from that radical gender ideology that’s taken hold in too many public schools.”
Leland Vittert, the moderator, then called on Melissa McCollister, a professor of social work in Iowa, who had a question for the 2024 hopeful.
The camera cut to the crying professor. She sniffled and collected herself before addressing Mr Pence. “Good evening, vice president. I am an LGBTQ member and I have trans individuals in my family. Recent anti-LGBTQ bills have been signed into law all around the United States, including here in Iowa. So far, in 2023, 15 transgender individuals and gender-nonconforming people have been murdered,” Ms McCollister said.
“The vast majority of those people have been Black and Latinx transgender women. It is very hard for me to ask these questions after just hearing what I heard,” the Iowa-based professor added, before asking Mr Pence: “What is your policy plan to protect the transgender community, specifically Black and brown trans women from historically high levels of violence?”
The former vice president replied, “Well, Melissa, let me say I’m deeply grieved to hear about those tragic circumstances, and I hear your heart, and I’m moved by your emotion. I truly am.”
He added, “If I’m president of the United States, I’m going to see to the protection of every American and the rights of every American — whether that squares with my values or not.”
“I’m a Bible-believing Christian. I have particular views of these matters and you have a different view of those, perhaps, but I want you to know I believe in the freedom of religion, I believe in the freedom of conscience, I believe in the right of every American to live, to work, to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and I’ll respect that. But I hope you also hear my heart on this,” Mr Pence said.
“For me, what adults do in their lives, decisions that they make, including transgender adults, is one thing, but for kids under the age of 18 — there’s a reason why we don’t let you drive ’til you’re 16. In the state of Indiana, you can’t get a tattoo until after you’re 18, you can’t drink until after you’re 21, that’s because we understand that kids don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions,” the former vice president said.
“When it comes to surgical or chemical procedures, I just— I really believe that we’ve got to protect our kids from decisions that will affect them the balance of their lives, while at the same time saying adults can make decisions according to the dictates of their own conscience,” Mr Pence concluded.
Vittert then cut in: “Melissa, do you understand the vice president’s idea that there is a difference between how adults conduct their lives and make decisions and that of how kids do?”
“Absolutely,” Ms McCollister replied. “I am a social worker. I’ve been in this profession for 25 years. I have worked with kids most of my profession. I started an LGBTQ youth program in my own hometown, I started one in Terre Haute, Indiana, where I was threatened with KKK and Xs on my doorstep, and that was in 2020.”
She continued, “I have worked with kids as young as five years old that have gender-nonconforming and identities that are transgender, and I’ve raised one.”
Ms McCollister added firmly: “And so to hear somebody tell me that it’s not okay for young children to make decisions about their gender identity and to ask their school officials for support, protection, and help is appalling.”
Vittert then turned to the former vice president, asking if there’s a way to have children who are struggling with their identities seek help “without going all the way in these, what you would call, extreme procedures.”
Mr Pence replied, “Having been married to an elementary school teacher for all these years, I just think we gotta protect our kids.” He added that he is “saddened” by her experiences, and said he doesn’t think “anyone should ever be mistreated or harassed or discriminated against because of who they are or what they believe.”
“The idea that we are telling young and impressionable kids…that little boys can become girls or little girls that they can become boys, I just think is wrong,” Mr Pence added.
He said he wishes he could “put my arm around any one of those young people and say, ‘We love ya, but wait. Wait until you reach an age of majority, wait until you have a better of who you are and then live the life that you want to live in this free country.’”
Mr Pence has long been an outspoken opponent of trans rights. In June, the former vice president said he would support a federal ban on gender-affirming healthcare for minors and transgender people serving in the military.
His record as a public official also reflects his anti-LGBTQ+ positions. In 2006, while in Congress, Mr Pence spoke in support of the Marriage Protection Amendment—which sought to “concretely define” marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He said, “in the wake of ominous decisions by activist courts across the land, I come to the well today to defend that institution that forms the backbone of our society: traditional marriage.”
A year later, Mr Pence voted against the 2007 Employment Non-Discrimination Act — a law that aimed to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. Three years after that, he voted against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”