Donald Trump has an answer to the right-wing debate over where transgender people should be able to go pee: Leave it up to the states to decide.
The billionaire CEO, who is currently the last man standing in the GOP presidential race, told ABC that trans equality is a “states’ rights issue.” In a Friday interview, Trump was asked about a pending statement from the Obama administration that will urge schools and universities to allow trans students to use the facilities that most closely correspond with their gender identity. The federal government will reportedly outline this stance in a 25-page document that, according to the New York Times, will be sent directly to public school administrators. Trump responded that he doesn’t believe top-down action on the issue is required. “Well, I believe it should be states' rights, and I think the state should make the decision,” he said.
Donald Trump has long been applauded for a relative centrist stance on trans issues, especially in contrast to the other Republicans who, until recently, were running against him. Sen. Ted Cruz has long been an outspoken opponent of LGBT rights. During his presidential campaign, Cruz came out swinging against the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on marriage equality, which made same-sex unions legal in all 50 states, and said he would not endorse it, calling the ruling “disastrous,” “tragic,” and “fundamentally illegitimate.” Cruz has taken issue with gay pride parades and has said that providing affirming bathroom access for trans people “opens the door for predators,” even though numerous research studies have proven that assertion to be a myth.
Trump’s recent statement, however, shows that he’s no LGBT rights hero, either, and he needs to stop being patted on the back for being slightly less terrible than other Republicans on the issue. In truth, there’s absolutely nothing moderate about his so-called support for the trans community, which he has already walked back once. By supporting the forced deportation of millions of undocumented workers across the U.S., his policies will also affect trans immigrants, many of which are already vulnerable to mistreatment. His presidency would be bad for queer Latinos, queer Muslims, and every other marginalized community in the United States. Whether you’re a person of color or literally anyone else who isn’t a wealthy, loud-mouthed businessman, Donald Trump is not your friend.
Trump’s Friday statement would be a huge step backwards from his earlier condemnation of legislation like House Bill 2 if he hadn’t already taken a step back. On March 23, North Carolina pushed through legislation that forces its trans residents to use the bathroom that corresponds with the sex they were assigned at birth, not their gender identity. During an April town hall event on NBC’s “Today” show, Trump argued that HB 2 is simply unnecessary. “There have been very few complaints the way it is,” he said. “People go. They use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble.” He was right: There’s never been a single reported case of a trans person harming someone else in a public restroom.
In response, Ted Cruz quickly lashed out at Trump for his stance on the issue, saying that his opinions make him “no different from politically correct leftist elites.” Cruz continued, “Today, he joined them in calling for grown men to be allowed to use little girls’ public restrooms. As the dad of young daughters, I dread what this will mean for our daughters—and for our sisters and our wives. It is a reckless policy that will endanger our loved ones.” Trump, rather than standing his ground, would take a different tack—later the very same day. In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, Trump said: “I think that local communities and states should make the decision. And I feel very strongly about that. The federal government should not be involved.”
His Friday statement is, more or less, the same argument spiced up with a bit of old-school racism. The phrase “states’ rights” is an oft-employed code word used in defense of racist policies; it was, in particular, a favorite term of Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Davis claimed that the issue of slavery should be decided by individual states, not through federal government interference, such as in a February 1860 resolution presented to the Senate. It argued that the “union of these States rests on the equality of rights and privileges among its members.” The states’ rights argument has since been used to oppose marriage equality (including in a pre-emptive Senate bill introduced by Ted Cruz in February 2015, in anticipation of the SCOTUS ruling) and also trotted out by Cruz during a March GOP debate when asked about same-sex adoptions.
Donald Trump isn’t just engaging in dog-whistle politics. The CEO is also illustrating the fact that he’s not nearly as liberal on LGBT issues as he is often credited to be. Last year, MSNBC’s Emma Margolin called Trump “the most LGBT-friendly Republican running for president.” Back in 2000, the candidate notably supported nondiscrimination protections for LGBT workers, even if it meant updating federal policy on the issue. “[A]mending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans—it’s only fair,” he told The Advocate. Even today, that’s a sadly progressive stance: Currently, just 19 states—as well as Washington D.C.—have laws on the books that prevent workers from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
His support of workplace protections, however, masks the fact that a Trump presidency would be a disaster for LGBT people. Although Donald Trump claimed in 2013 that he was “evolving” on the issue of marriage equality—like President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have—that has not been the case. Following the SCOTUS ruling Obergefell v. Hodges last year, he tweeted that legalizing same-sex unions was a mistake, one he blamed on the Bush family. "Once again the Bush appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has let us down,” Trump said. “Jeb pushed him hard! Remember!” Since then, Trump has further upheld his support for “traditional marriage.”
That might suggest that his opposition to the freedom to marry for all couples is passive. It is not. As the Huffington Post’s Michelangelo Signorile pointed out, Trump has repeatedly hinted that if he were in the White House, he would work to appoint Supreme Court justices that would nullify same-sex marriage rights. Speaking with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump had a message for right-wing evangelicals concerned that he wouldn’t take action to overturn the ruling: “Trust me.” He further told Fox News on the subject: “If I’m elected, I would be very strong in putting certain judges on the bench that I think maybe could change things, but they have a long way to go.”
His stance on marriage equality is only part of the issue with a Trump presidency. While Donald Trump’s campaign has largely singled out Latinos and Muslims as wedge issues, these populations also intersect with the LGBT community. Queer people are often portrayed in film and television as being white, but LGBT folks are every race, ethnicity, and religion. A 2013 report from UCLA’s Williams Institute estimated that 1.2 million Latino adults in the United States identify as part of the vast queer alphabet. While LGBT Muslims might struggle for visibility and acceptance, they are part of a vibrant, growing community—with increasing numbers of people coming out every year. This is the same emerging population Trump has suggested be listed in a national database to keep tabs on them.
Since announcing his candidacy for the president last July, Donald Trump has referred to Latino immigrants as “ criminals, drug dealers, [and] rapists.” He has further promised to expel 11 million undocumented workers from the United States, many of which are be queer-identified. In addition, LGBT immigrants—specifically transgender women—face some of the harshest treatment of any detainees in detention centers. Often housed in the general population with men, they face extremely high rates of abuse and even sexual assault. Donald Trump’s policies are bad for all Latinos and Muslims, but it’s trans women who will likely experience the most significant violence in Immigration and Customs Enforcement lockups.
The truth is that as long as Donald Trump’s hate-filled agenda continues to give a platform to white supremacists and bigots, his campaign will provide a safe haven for all forms of discrimination. When Trump won the South Carolina primary in February, research from the Public Policy Polling showed that a third of those who supported him also favored blocking LGBT immigrants from entering the U.S. As The Advocate pointed out, that figure was “nearly twice the percentage of supporters of any other Republican candidate.” For reference, only 17 percent of those who backed Sen. Marco Rubio in the S.C. primary agreed with that same statement.
Trump’s recent stance on “states’ rights” might shock those who believe him to be the lesser evil when it comes to LGBT equality, but make no mistake—his policies are pretty evil.