The Extreme Worldview of Bill Barr
Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General views LGBTQ people as a threat to the moral fabric of society.
By Gillian Branstetter
This week, the Senate held confirmation hearings for Bill Barr, President Donald Trump’s pick to replace the embattled Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. Much of the Senators’ questioning focused on Barr’s stance on Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.
But Barr, who first entered public life as the Attorney General of President George H.W. Bush, has built his lengthy career on other extreme stances, frequently advocating for archaic policies that strip LGBTQ people of our most basic rights. He literally wrote the handbook for mass incarceration, and has endorsed the terrifying view of our immigration system held by Jeff Sessions. Barr’s fringe ideology should disqualify him from consideration for Attorney General, where he would continue Sessions’ dangerous anti-trans policies.
In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Barr went so far as to endorse the worst actions taken by Sessions, including his repeated efforts to strip LGBTQ people of the legal right to live, labor, and learn as who we are. Written after the President fired Sessions, Barr hailed the outgoing Attorney General for his horrific immigration policies, decrying what Barr calls “the rampant illegality that riddled our immigration system” before Sessions. On Tuesday, he backed Trump’s demand for a wasteful and inhumane border wall.
Likewise, Barr endorsed Sessions for withdrawing lifesaving guidance supporting transgender students. In the same op-ed, he praised a Sessions memo that grossly distorted the principle of religious liberty and argued that preventing discrimination against LGBTQ people is not a “compelling government interest.”
This glowing review of Sessions’ time at the Justice Department is alarming, given the disastrous impact he and his policies have had on immigrants, transgender people, and many other marginalized groups in this country. His “zero tolerance” approach to immigration separated thousands of children from their families at the border, a “moral failure” described by many as the worst crisis of Trump’s first two years.
Sessions’ actions against LGBTQ people, likewise lauded by Barr, have further pushed the misconception that gay and transgender people are unprotected by federal civil rights law. Sessions’ Justice Department argued against the right of LGBTQ people to work without fear of prejudice forcing them out of a job, and defended other extreme Trump policies like the proposed ban on transgender troops.
Barr and Sessions share a worldview where LGBTQ people are not merely invisible under the law, but active threats to society. Sessions courted far-right groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and others who make a living by defending conversion therapy or maligning transgender youth and their families. Sessions even went so far as to open a new office in the Justice Department devoted to faulty notion that religious liberty and the rights of LGBTQ people can never co-exist.
As Attorney General, Barr would be no different. In a 1995 article, he decried what he called “the homosexual agenda,” blaming queer people for “efforts to marginalize or ‘ghettoize’ orthodox religion.” Reacting to a District of Columbia law mandating the equal treatment of LGBTQ support groups on college campuses, Barr wrote, “This kind of law dissolves any form of moral consensus in society.”
Such rhetoric is not new — LGBTQ people have endured it for generations. It has been used in defense of laws limiting LGBTQ rights, and was even a frequent argument against helping people with HIV/AIDS at the height of that crisis. In fact, Barr himself vilified efforts in the early 1990s to prevent the epidemic by distributing condoms, and instead touted policies focused on “sexual responsibility.” He encouraged a view of AIDS as a “cost” for immoral “personal misconduct,” arguing the government should not act to lower that “cost” through public health prevention efforts.
In Barr’s view, LGBTQ people are part of an evil within society — not a marginalized group that endures the weight of discrimination and hate every day of our lives. Far from a destructive force, transgender people are frequently the target of violent hate crimes, abuse by law enforcement and the prison system, and the overwhelming prejudice that makes us three times more likely than the general population to be unemployed and five times as likely to live in poverty.
Through proper enforcement of existing laws and the enactment of new ones, our country can mitigate many of these harsh realities. The Justice Department has a legal and moral duty to create that path towards a more equitable future for every person in this country. With his extreme worldview, Barr is not only willing to neglect that duty but fight actively against it, picking up the destruction of civil liberties for LGBTQ people right where Jeff Sessions left off.
If confirmed as Attorney General, Barr will seek to freeze — if not destroy — much of the progress advocates and allies have made in expanding legal protections for LGBTQ people. What we already know of his ideology is disqualifying enough, proving Bill Barr a backwards-looking anachronism of an era that saw the rights of queer and trans people as not merely wrong, but an active threat to our country.