The Trump Presidency and LGBT Rights: A Study in Managing Expectations

On April 22, 2016, an article in The New York Times–not exactly a pro-Trump paper– carried the headline, “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on LGBT Rights Set Him Apart in GOP.” The article went on to describe what it saw as the soon-to-be presidential nominee’s moderately liberal positions on LGBT rights in contrast to other leading Republicans. The article did acknowledge that, “Of course, Mr. Trump is not as embracing of gay rights as the Democratic candidates are; he said during this campaign that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, a position he has held since at least 2000, when he briefly flirted with a bid for the presidency.” Nonetheless, the thrust of the article was to portray Trump as a new kind of Republican on LGBT rights. In fairness, Trump did sound a more moderate note on LGBT rights than past Republican nominees and many prominent Republicans. But that is not saying a whole lot. LGBT rights began being discussed by presidential candidates in the 1970s. By that point, the GOP had shifted to being the more conservative party on civil rights. Had they been operating in today’s political climate, many past Republican nominees, presidents, and other politicians would likely have held liberal positions on gay rights given their stances on other civil rights issues. It is difficult to say this for sure, but we saw glimpses of this possibility with Republican politicians who defended gay rights in the 1970s, such as Charles Goodell and Edward Brooke, as well as elderly, retired GOPers who spoke up for same-sex marriage more recently, such as Daniel J. Evans, William G. Milliken, Lowell Weicker, Alan Simpson, Thomas Kean, and Jim Thompson. And as I pointed out here, saying that Trump is less anti-LGBT than people such as Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, George W. Bush, and Mitt Romney is akin to saying that a colonoscopy is better than a fecal transplant. Additionally, by the time that the aforementioned article was written, Trump had already stated that he would consider appointing Supreme Court judges to reverse marriage equality. And just as the article was published, he declared support for a “states’ rights” position on transgender bathroom use.

Most LGBT voters apparently agreed with my assessment of Trump; he won only 14% of LGBT voters, almost twice as few as John McCain, nine percentage points less than Bush, Jr., and eight less than Romney. Trump did worse with LGBT voters than he did with women voters, Hispanic voters, or Jewish voters. Despite this, however, Trump’s anti-LGBT views have gone largely unmentioned by the media. Many gay Republicans have touted Trump as an ally. And last month, even Washington Post columnist, Jennifer Rubin, one of the president’s most strident critics on the Right, incorrectly wrote, “Ironically, Trump has been supportive of gay marriage in the past and never made it an issue in the campaign. So the Trump base doesn’t even have Trump on its side on this one.” But as his recent tweet on transgender soldiers shows, he has been quite bad on LGBT rights thus far. So, six months into his presidency, let’s recap some of the lowlights of his record on LGBT rights:

  1. In addition to having Mike Pence as his vice president, he has hired a slew of people with anti-LGBT records as Cabinet secretaries and Cabinet-level officials, including but not limited to Jeff Sessions, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Nikki Haley.
  2. Rescinded President Obama’s executive order allowing transgender public school students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity
  3. Praised, kissed up to, and pursued alliances with Russia, where being openly gay is effectively illegal, and Saudi Arabia, where homosexuality is a capital crime.
  4. Turned a blind eye to the ongoing anti-gay genocide in Chechnya and refused to offer asylum to gay Chechen refugees
  5. Appointed Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, where he promptly dissented to support anti-gay discrimination in Arkansas’s marriage law.
  6. Nominated other anti-gay individuals as judges for lower courts.
  7. Shown little-to-no interest in passing anti-discrimination legislation for LGBT Americans.
  8. Rescinded key enforcement provisions of Obama’s executive order that banned discrimination by federal contractors based on gender and sexual orientation.
  9. Announced, on the anniversary of President Harry Truman’s executive order desegregating the armed forces, that transgender individuals are banned from serving in the military.
  10. Literally during the time between me writing a draft of this blog and posting it, Trump has allowed the Department of Justice to file an amicus brief stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. This is in direct opposition to the stance of the EEOC, as well as a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, and represents a departure from the Obama Administration’s position of neutrality on the meaning of Title VII.

It ought to be clear by now that the narrative of Trump the LGBT Rights Supporter is just as imaginary as Trump the Populist or Trump the Tough Guy. Yes, he is less anti-LGBT than George W. Bush was. It would be impossible for any president in 2017 not to be. Hell, you could have made Ted Cruz president, and he wouldn’t have been as anti-LGBT in 2017 as Bush was. But Trump’s LGBT rights record cannot be judged on him being less homophobic than a right-wing former Texas governor was ten years ago. Rather, we must ask, is he at least as supportive as our previous president? Are his positions on LGBT rights liberal for a politician now? Clearly, he fails to pass muster when judged by these criteria. If there was ever a time when he deserved the benefit of the doubt from LGBT rights activists, that time is gone. Trump is no more a friend to LGBT people than he is to women, racial minorities, immigrants, disabled people, or Muslims.

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