At the confirmation hearing of Betsy Devos, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Department of Education, Sen. Al Franken grilled Devos on conversion therapy.
Franken: Mrs. DeVos, your family has a long history of supporting anti-LGBT causes including donating millions of dollars to groups that push conversion therapy, the practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, you and your family have given over $10 million to Focus On the Family, an organization that currently states on its website that, ‘homosexual strugglers can and do change their sexual behavior and identity. Mrs. DeVos, conversion therapy has been widely discredited and rejected for decades by every mainstream medical and mental health organization as neither medically nor ethically appropriate. It has been shown to lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide, particularly in LGBT youth. In fact, many of the leaders and founders of conversion therapy, including both religious ministries and mental health professionals, have not only publicly renounced it but have issued formal apologies for their work and how harmful it has been to the individuals involved. Mr. Chairman, I would ask that this be included in the record. Mrs. DeVos, do you still believe in conversion therapy?
Devos: Senator Franken, I’ve never believed in that. First of all, let me say I fully embrace equality and I believe in the innate value of every single human being and that all students, no matter their age, should be able to attend a school and feel safe and be free of discrimination. So let’s start there and let me just say that your characterization of our contributions I don’t think accurately reflects those of my family. I would hope you wouldn’t include other family members beyond my core family.
Though Devos deflected the question, tax forms show her as Vice President of the family foundation that donated to Focus on the Family and other anti-LGBTQ groups. She says the inclusion of her name on the foundation tax filings of her mother’s foundation, the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, was a clerical error even though it had been on there for years.
Even so, her own foundation did give to anti-LGBTQ groups as recently as 2010, as Mother Jones notes:
The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation gave $275,000 to Focus on the Family from 1999 to 2001 but hasn’t donated since; it gave an additional $35,760 to the group’s Michigan and DC affiliates from 2001 to 2010. The Prince Foundation donated $5.2 million to Focus on the Family and $275,000 to its Michigan affiliate from 2001 to 2014. (It also gave $6.1 million to the Family Research Council, which has fought against same-sex marriage and anti-bullying programs—and is listed as an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FRC used to be a division of Focus on the Family before it became an independent nonprofit, with Dobson serving on its board, in 1992.)
Equity for LGBTQ students has been a major priority for Sen. Franken since her arrived in the U.S. Senate. He’s authored the Student Non-Discrimination Act and used his platform to advocate for school safety for LGBTQ students including on the Late Show with David Letterman and the Daily Show.