Unlike many in the pool of GOP presidential possibilities in the 2016 election, Donald Trump could rightly boast a long history of advocacy and respect for the LGBTQ community harkening back to his efforts in the ’80s and ’90s to promote AIDS awareness.
Pin it to his time spent in the more progressive climate of Manhattan or his work across the globe, in which he unquestionably become familiar with a more diverse selection of people than your average U.S. politician. Whatever the cause, Trump’s public stances on the issues impacting the LGBTQ community gave some solace to people who might, due to the woeful history of negative views espoused by the GOP rank and file, distrust a Republican politician. This wasn’t lost on Trump, and his administration touted his inclusive nature in a statement:
“President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election. The president is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.”
Despite all this, though, some are losing faith that Trump will be able to live up to both his promises and his past gloating that he would be a better friend to the LGBTQ community than Hillary Clinton would have been. This likely comes down to the company he keeps and one key position he has taken.
President Trump’s Inner Circle And Early Actions
Vice President Mike Pence may not be in the driver’s seat, but his influence over Trump and caustic history with LGBTQ issues are seen as a dark cloud hanging over Trump’s stated desires to be a friend to the community.
As Indiana governor, Pence ignited a firestorm in 2015 when he signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law — a bill that allows businesses and other ventures to say “no thanks” to LGBTQ customers while using their religious beliefs as legally permissible justification. It doesn’t stop there, as Time points out that Pence’s record is filled with black marks against the LGBTQ community. If Pence is really poised to be the most powerful vice president in U.S. history, it stands to reason that he may have a hand in shaping Trump policies that will impact the LGBTQ community.
As of now, rumors that Pence might push a federal version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act haven’t yet proven true, but many fear this will change as time goes by, and they are worry that rights pertaining to marriage, adoption, and equal opportunity could also be targeted.
Trump tried to quell these fears early on in an interview with 60 Minutes, when he said that same-sex marriage is safe because it is settled law.
Pence isn’t the only member of the Trump administration with anti-LGBTQ ties, though, and despite Trump’s reassuring words about his own views and intentions, those influences are making progress. In fact, he has already revoked a landmark protection for transgender students.
That Obama-era executive order was designed to let transgender students use the bathroom of their choosing, free from fear of bullying. Members of Trump’s cabinet reportedly tussled on the topic before the administration acted, but ultimately, any objections fell on deaf ears. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos even placed blame upon Obama while accusing him of a “huge overreach” to begin with. Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National LGBTQ Task Force, clearly disagrees and says that revoking these rights is helping no one:
“This is an outrageous attack on the most vulnerable in our education system, transgender children. At a time when young people need all the help they can get to reach their full potential, all Trump has to offer is more opportunities to discriminate against them. When every parent of a trans child needs hope and optimism for their families, all the president has to offer is pain and despair.”
While this decision represents Trump’s first strike against the LGBTQ community, there is some concern that the ball will really get rolling after Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, is confirmed, giving this president — with his imagined mandate, aggressive demeanor, GOP-controlled Congress, and an additional conservative jurist on the court — something close to free reign.
Discrimination And The Weight Of Words
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) says that nearly a quarter of lesbian and gay people will experience a hate crime in their life, and homicides against the LGBTQ community have been rising since 2007. It doesn’t stop with physical violence, as a report from NCAVP showed that roughly 15 percent of their poll subjects also faced psychological abuse.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, laws adversely impacting the LGBTQ community could have a psychological impact, especially on transgender children, who are impressionable at young ages:
“Transgender children are already at increased risk for violence, bullying, harassment and suicide. They may be more prone to depression and engaging in self-harm. … Policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being.”
As with all negative trends, there is a danger in accepting this new way as a kind of new normal. Especially when such behavior is surrounded by the often cynical and combative rhetoric that has become par for the course from the top down in the era of Trump.
How can that effect be countered? Vigilance and unity are a good start. HRC spokesperson Jay Brown reflected on the possible side-effects of this era in a Buzzfeed article: “This administration gives us a great reason to band together and fight as a unified coalition with our progressive allies.”
But while the effort to fight Trump on his policies and push him to resist the anti-LGBTQ voices on his staff is important, he also needs to realize pointing to his past statements and advocacy are not nearly enough. The opposite of being a vocal critic of the LGBTQ community isn’t resting on one’s perceived laurels and doing no additional harm. Instead, one must kick down barriers and passionately push back against the aura of hate that exists, in part, as a reflection of divisive remarks that Trump has made about women, Muslims, and others.
Donald Trump isn’t a man who is quick to accept responsibility for his actions or those of his administration or cabinet, but if he wants to live up to his past promise on LGBTQ issues, owning up to shortcomings would be a step in the right direction.