Karen Pence, the Second Lady of the United States, has come under harsh criticism this week after she began working at a private Christian school that bans gay and trans students and mandates its employees refrain from supporting or engaging in any form of an LGBTQ+ lifestyle. The school is in Northern Virginia, a diverse and predominantly left-leaning area, which was credited for turning VA for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 elections. Former second lady Jill Biden also worked at a school in the area, as an English professor at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). Pence will be the second ever Second Lady to hold a paying position while she holds the title.
The faculty application at Immanuel Christian School is lengthy and asks many questions about religious beliefs and principles, including those about evolution and one’s relationship with Christ. The school says, “Immanuel Christian School is a community of parents and educators who share a biblical worldview, rooted in Christ with an educational philosophy that inspires our students to excel, according to their own unique gifting and abilities.” The application also requires that its employees accept a statement of faith. This statement includes, “Marriage unites one man and one woman in a lifetime commitment to each other,” and “A wife is commanded to submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ.” This application has since been removed from the school’s website.
Many say that seeing as taxpayer money is paying for her housing, transportation, and security whilst at the school, Pence should be working at a less polarizing institution. Some support Pence’s current stance and say that it’s simply a job and shouldn’t be taken so seriously. Others believe in the school’s values, and the second lady’s right to work there. There is nothing that legally bars her from working there, and the school’s policy is also legal. Though the legality has not come under direct question, many question the morality of the choice. As the second lady of the country, she is an extension of both the highest office and the people. The second lady has a major platform and should recognize the polarizing nature of all of her actions. Her choices act as an endorsement by her, her husband, and the Trump administration. As some support her, and some push back, one thing it should be recognized: this is not just a job.
The Second Lady will be working as an art teacher, a position she held at that very school for 12 years during her husband’s time as a congressman. A spokesperson from Karen Pence’s team stated, “It’s absurd that her decision to teach art to children at a Christian school, and the school’s religious beliefs, are under attack.”
The Pence name has long been associated with anti-LGBTQ+ policies and stances. While Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which allowed businesses to deny service to members of the LGBTQ+ community on the grounds of religious beliefs. Pence was blamed for an HIV crisis within Indiana after he slashed Planned Parenthood funding so drastically in 2011, that in 2013 a Planned Parenthood facility had to close down. The same Planned Parenthood that Pence pressured into shutting down was the only HIV testing site in the county, and the loss of it led to a greater outbreak of HIV. While on the campaign trail for Congress, Pence said that he wanted to move funds from HIV/AIDS research into funding conversion therapy. Pence has suggested that “gaydom” is a “pathological condition,” and in 1993 he demanded that gay people not be allowed to serve in the military, claiming that, “Homosexuals are not as a group able-bodied. They are known to carry extremely high rates of disease brought on because of the nature of their sexual practices and the promiscuity which is a hallmark of their lifestyle.” Pence also declared that same-sex marriage would lead to “societal collapse.” Most recently, he spoke at an anti-LGBTQ+ summit shortly before promoting Trump’s new potential anti-trans policy. You can read a comprehensive list of Mike Pence’s anti-LGBTQ+ actions while serving as Vice President, here. While these actions are of Karen Pence’s husband, and not herself, they reflect values with which she is comfortable promoting and exemplifying.
When Mike Pence met his wife Karen Pence, she converted him further into an evangelical lifestyle, and he cites her for making him the Christian man that he is today. Pence herself wrote a letter to an Indiana Newspaper in the 1990s berating them for “promoting homosexuality.” Indy Star reported that the couple works very closely together when it comes to both their relationship and politics. As she said, “We’ve always been a team … we’ve always approached it as a team.”
As the morality of Karen Pence’s latest job is under scrutiny, with her previous stances, adamant support and encouragement of her husband’s beliefs, and the fact that she is referred to as the “prayer warrior” by close friends and advisers; her ease with the anti-LGBTQ+ policies of her place of employment should serve as no surprise to the American public. While Karen Pence will continue teaching and launched “art therapy” campaign in 2017, she remains far more synonymous for supporting another form of therapy: conversion therapy.