Vice President Pence speaks in Washington in March 2018.
AP

WASHINGTON — The Human Rights Campaign launched a campaign Thursday to highlight Vice President Pence’s record on issues important to the LGBTQ community, calling him “one of the greatest threats to equality in the history of our movement.”

The gay rights organization argues Pence has taken advantage of the chaos of the Trump administration to amass “enormous power” under the radar.

“He has become not only the most powerful vice president in history, but also the least scrutinized,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “No more.”

Joel Goldstein, an expert on the vice presidency at the Saint Louis University School of Law, agrees that Pence has received relatively little scrutiny — a combination of “Pence being very careful and Trump keeping the spotlight on himself.”

While Pence’s overall level of influence is difficult to discern, Goldstein said, Pence has “probably exercised some influence on issues that are of concern to the social conservative segment of the Republican Party, the Religious Right.”

"It's no secret where Pence has been (on social issues)," Goldstein said. "But, on the other hand, that's an issue that is pretty much been back-burnered for a lot of people."

The gay rights group’s campaign — dubbed “The Real Mike Pence” — includes a website and videos that they say examine Pence’s “career of attacks on LGBTQ” people.

Much of Pence’s record on gay rights, however, has been in the spotlight for years. The first big examination came when, as Indiana’s governor, Pence signed a “religious freedom” law that critics said allowed for discrimination against gay men and lesbians.

This year, the question of whether Pence supported “conversion therapy” was nationally debated after gay Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon objected to Pence heading the U.S. delegation to the Olympics because of that issue.  (Pence’s office maintains that he’s been “abundantly clear” that he’s never supported conversion therapy.  Gay rights groups say that while the language he used on a 2000 campaign website wasn’t explicit, it included language that both supporters and opponents of the practice would recognize as a clear reference.)

Pence’s opposition to gay marriage was in the spotlight again last month when comedian John Oliver published a book about the Pence family rabbit. In the spoof — which came out the same day as another book about the rabbit written and illustrated by Pence’s wife and daughter — a male bunny marries another male bunny over the objections of a stink bug judge who has a resemblance to Pence. 

This month, a gay pride festival in Pence’s hometown of Columbus generated national media attention after the organizer, a high school student, said she wanted to show that not everyone in the community is “anti-LGBT.” (Pence, through his spokeswoman, said he was “heartened to see young people from his hometown getting involved in the political process.”)

Despite that coverage, HRC communications director Chris Sgro argues Pence’s record hasn’t received the scrutiny it deserves because President Trump’s “scandal after scandal” has sucked all the oxygen out of the room.

“His record needs to be exposed before he potentially becomes (the next president), Sgro said. “Average Americans, unfortunately, are not hearing about Pence’s part in this administration’s dangerous agenda.”

The influence Pence has had in the Trump administration on issues important to the gay rights community is difficult to discern. That’s in part because Pence rarely takes credit, preferring to give Trump the accolades.

Sgro says Trump told Pence he wanted “the most consequential vice president ever,” according to a report in The Atlantic.

HRC’s report cites other media coverage to assert that Pence was involved in the drafting of Trump’s “religious freedom” executive order, pushed for Congress to block transition-related care for transgender members of the military, and helped draft the administration’s new rules for transgender service members.

Pence, who led early efforts to defund Planned Parenthood while serving in Congress, cast the deciding vote in the Senate last year to allow states to withhold some federal funds from Planned Parenthood and other health care providers that perform abortions. This is an important issue for HRC because some Planned Parenthood centers offer transition-related care, and LGBTQ patients say the clinics are “one of the few spaces in which they feel comfortable and validated in seeking out treatment.” Pence opposes public funding for Planned Parenthood because it provides abortion services.

Goldstein, the vice presidential expert, said Pence’s overall record on social issues is not a secret. And while it may not be getting as much attention from the general public as it might in a less chaotic administration, Goldstein said, “People who disagree with it are talking about it and people who agree with him like him for it.”