Capitol Hill rally calls for rejection of Jeff Mateer nomination

LGBT rights advocates, mothers of transgender children and congressional Democrats joined forces at a rally Tuesday before the U.S. Capitol to stand against the confirmation of Jeff Mateer to the federal judiciary, urging President Trump to withdraw the nomination.

The nomination of Mateer to a federal judgeship in Texas has invoked the ire of LGBT rights advocates after recent recordings were unearthed in which the nominee endorsed widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy, said marriage equality would lead to polygamy and called transgender kids part of “Satan’s plan.”

Among those speaking out against Mateer was Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who called the nominee’s comments on transgender children “one of the cruelest, most malinformed comments ever” for a judicial pick.

“This is very, very disturbing that it has come to this point that we would have an administration that doesn’t have a vision of justice, in fact, such a malshaped determination that this person would ever be nominated,” Merkley said. “That is deeply, deeply disturbing.”

Mateer made the comments about transgender kids during the same 2015 Iowa conference organized pastor Kevin Swanson, who became infamous in the LGBT community for taking that opportunity to call for the death penalty for LGBT people. (Others in attendance were then-Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal.)

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who has submitted articles of impeachment for Trump, said the Mateer nomination represents the lack of qualifications of the president who has proposed nominating him to the federal bench.

“This nominee is nothing more than further evidence that we have a president who is unfit to be president,” Green said. “We have a president who has made hate a part of his agenda it seems. He tends to incite hate.”

Other reporting has emerged in which Mateer was shown to have said the contraception mandate in Obamacare was similar to religious crackdowns in Nazi Germany. Additionally, Mateer proclaimed “we discriminate” against gay people in the Baptist Church to justify anti-LGBT discrimination in the name of religious freedom.

Also speaking out at the Mateer really was Nan Aron, executive director of the liberal judicial advocacy group Alliance for Justice, whose organization hosted the event.

“We need to say to Donald Trump and his allies enough is enough,” Aron said. “You cannot force us to accept a person like Jeff Mateer, who is so filled with hostility toward his fellow Americans, on the federal bench.” 

Julianna Gonen, policy director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the Mateer nomination is consistent with other anti-trans policies of the Trump administration, such as a transgender military ban and revocation of school guidance on bathroom access for transgender kids.

“We knew it before, but it has become all the more important now with this dangerous and reckless president: Courts matter, judges matter,” Gonen said. “We need federal judges who are fair and unbiased and free of extreme and hateful views, and that ain’t Jeff Mateer.”

The White House has stayed silent on Mateer’s anti-LGBT history and hasn’t responded to repeated requests from the Washington Blade to comment on whether Trump stands by the nomination.

The Mateer nomination remains pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has yet to hold a hearing for the pick. A Democratic aide said the committee has yet to obtain paperwork to proceed with the nomination.

Consternation over Mateer remains strong amid opposition to other Trump judicial nominees, such as Brett Talley, whom the Senate Judiciary Committee approved last week even though he has never tried a case as a lawyer.

Sharon McGowan, Lambda Legal’s director of strategy, warned during the rally the Mateer nomination was but one of Trump’s judicial nominees who could do damage for “generations to come.”

“Let’s be clear: There are many, many other Jeff Mateers in the pipeline,” McGowan said. “Nominees who would not only write LGBT out of the Constitution, but who fundamentally challenge our right to exist. These nominees deny the legitimacy of our relationships, take aim at our families and have declared open season on our children.”

On the same day as the Mateer rally, Lambda Legal unveiled a letter signed by 27 LGBT groups in opposition to three Trump judicial nominees: Don Willett and Stuart Kyle Duncan to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as well as Matthew Kacsmaryk to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.

“Their records reveal that they will be incapable of treating LGBT litigants fairly — no matter what body of law is at issue in the cases over which they may preside — because they do not acknowledge LGBT people as having a right to exist,” the letter says. “These are not the kinds of judges that this country wants, needs or deserves. We strongly urge you to reject their respective nominations.”

One of the mothers of transgender children at the rally was Sarah Watson, who grew emotional as she told the story of her middle-school aged son coming out to her as transgender after years of difficulty growing up.

“He finally told me because it was just too painful to keep it a secret any longer,” Watson said. “He was really at a breaking point. He knew at a very early age that there is hate in this world, that it is not always safe for kids like him. He knows that there are people like Jeff Mateer who try to shame him because he’s transgender.”

The incident that inspired her son to come out, Watson said, was the speech Human Rights Campaign National Press Secretary Sarah McBride gave at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

McBride, who was the first openly transgender person to speak at a major party convention, also urged rejection of Mateer.

“Equal justice cannot come from someone who has compared marriage equality to bestiality, equal justice cannot come from someone who participated in a conference hosted by a proponent of the death penalty for LGBTQ people,” McBride said. “Too many, including all of us standing here today, cannot be ensured equal justice in a courtroom presided over by Jeff Mateer.”