Gregory T. Angelo, the president of an influential pro-LGBT group known as the Log Cabin Republicans, has expressed disappointment about President Donald Trump's new policy banning transgender individuals from the military. Earlier today he released a statement condemning Trump's new policy as "a disservice to transgender military personnel."
Angelo spoke to Salon by phone today about Trump's decision and why he still feels the president's relationship with the LGBT community is largely positive, his views on Trump's administration and his advice for members of the LGBT community. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Back in 2015, someone referred to Trump as the "most pro-LGBT Republican," and you said that you did not agree that he was the most pro-LGBT Republican, but that you did feel that he had a positive relationship with the LGBT community.
Do you still feel that way now?
Nothing has changed in that regard. I mean, what you have in Donald Trump is someone who has long had interactions with members of the LGBT community, going back to his days as a real estate tycoon in New York, continuing through the days of reality television, and perpetuating through until today. So there is an awareness and a sympathy that Donald Trump has for the LGBT community regarding his personal relationships. When that intersects with policy, that's where things can get a little muddy. But it doesn't contradict the fact that Trump brings a cultural awareness of the LGBT community to the White House in a way that past Republican presidents have not.
What would you say to members of the LGBT community who, upon learning about this, feel afraid? Who are worried that between this and the fact that people like Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions are very influential in his administration — Sessions perhaps less so now than he was a few months ago — things are going to get worse?
What you're seeing is a fair amount of confirmation bias that is taking place in people, where you have folks who are in the pro-Trump camp that see President Trump as being able to do no wrong and you're seeing folks who are part of the hashtag-Resistance who feel that anything and everything the president does is beyond the pale. I would argue that there is no more consistent organization than the Log Cabin Republicans when it comes to advocating for the LGBT community and we as an organization have always lifted up the president when he has done things have benefited the LGBT community and we have always opposed things that the president has said or done that do not benefit the LGBT community.
And if you're going to cherry pick members of Trump's cabinet, let's go there, then. You have Nikki Haley, who says that the Trump administration opposes all forms of discrimination including discrimination against individuals because of sexual orientation. You can talk about Secretary [Betsy] DeVos, who has met with transgender members of Log Cabin Republicans and individuals like Caitlyn Jenner. You can talk about Peter Thiel and the role that he has played in the Trump transition team and clearly the starring role that he played on the night of the GOP convention in which Trump was nominated.
So I mean you're pulling at strings here if you're trying to paint Trump as anti-LGBT because of his cabinet picks. And if you're going to talk about the people who have an anti-LGBT record, you need to put that in the context of the people that Trump has cast to be part of his administration and who advise him in his administration who are pro-LGBT.
My question was more focused on ordinary people in the LGBT community who are concerned that things are going to get worse, who are concerned that this is an initial sign.
So it's not so much a question of who he staffs or how he personally feels about LGBT individuals, it's a question of, what reassurances would you have as a Republican —
But that is! Because you're now mentioning people in the context of Trump's cabinet and how they feel about LGBT people.
I'm asking what reassurances would you have for individuals in the LGBT community who are worried that this is a sign of bad things to come?
I mean, if you're calling me today to be a Trump apologist, I'm — I would just say that it behooves any LGBT individual — be they Democrat, Republican or politically unaffiliated — to remain vigilant, which is the position that the Log Cabin Republicans has always taken in regard to this administration.
Okay, so your advice is for them to remain vigilant?
Is this something that you and other key members of the Log Cabin Republican community anticipated in terms of Trump's policies, or do you feel surprised by it?
I don't think anyone anticipated this. Much as no one anticipates most anything the president tweets, this is not something that Log Cabin Republicans anticipated [and] it's not something that Republican members of the House and Senate anticipated. That Republican members who voted against an amendment that would ban medical care for transgender individuals just as recently as two weeks ago voted against. It's not something Republican members of the United States Senate, including Orrin Hatch and John McCain who are tweeting against this position just as recently as a few hours ago, expected.
One of the challenges in trying to read the tea leaves with President Trump is that he is someone who often governs on whim and so anticipating administration policy positions is something that is challenging for individuals, within the Log Cabin Republicans or without.