As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump thrilled conservative gay leaders. He promised to “do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens” and described himself as “fine” with marriage equality, which he said had been “settled” by the U.S. Supreme Court. Gay Republicans, who have had little experience with candidates expressing anything other than hostility, lost all sense of perspective. Chris Barron, a co-founder of GOProud, pronounced Trump “a better friend to the LGBT community than Hillary Clinton could ever be.” Breitbartista Milo Yiannapoulos went even further, declaring, “Donald Trump is the most pro-gay candidate in American electoral history.” Both statements were obviously and wildly untrue, as Trump’s damaging first year in office has made clear. As Miranda’s recent post noted, this was the year that the Religious Right moved into the White House. And the consequences for LGBTQ people have been predictably awful.
It is true that Trump once held up a rainbow flag someone handed him at a rally. But more often he was on stage at Religious Right events waving his Bible and pledging to make Christian conservatives more powerful while giving them the Supreme Court of their dreams. There was no way that Trump could keep his promises to the Religious Right—which delivered an overwhelming majority of white evangelical voters to Trump—without sacrificing the rights and well-being of LGBTQ Americans.
Indeed, last December, anti-LGBTQ extremist Scott Lively celebrated the election of Trump, who he said wisely concealed his anti-equality agenda as a candidate. Lively predicted that after Trump named new Supreme Court justices, “Kennedy and his homosexualist fellow travelers will presumably never again be able to repeat their past acts of violence to the Constitution and its Biblical foundations.”
Many LGBTQ people have been or will be harmed by broad-based Trump-GOP policies, like the tax bill and its assault on the Affordable Care Act, that also affect millions of non-LGBTQ Americans. But LGBTQ Americans are also facing very focused attacks from the Trump administration. That’s why NBC called Trump’s first 100 days “fear-inducing” for LGBTQ Americans. And by mid-year, German Lopez at Vox was calling Trump’s campaign promises to the LGBTQ community “total bullshit” and Luke Darby at GQ was calling the administration “a disaster for LGBT Americans.” The Human Rights Campaign’s Sarah McBride went even further, writing in Cosmopolitan that the Trump administration has “revealed itself to be the ugliest, most explicitly anti-LGBTQ presidency in U.S. history.” Journalist Michelangelo Signorile seconded that emotion in September.
Here are some of the low points:
Trump’s tepid support for marriage equality—the Supreme Court “settled” the issue and he was “fine” with it—was always in conflict with his pledge to name Supreme Court justices from a list pre-approved by two right-wing organizations, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation. The Federalist Society is committed to bringing about right-wing ideological domination in the federal judiciary. And the Heritage Foundation is explicitly committed to waging a multi-faceted campaign to reverse the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling. They defiantly insist that the Supreme Court’s ruling—which they denounce as illegitimate—settled nothing.
It’s worth noting that months before Trump’s “fine” comment, he sang a different tune when speaking with the Christian Broadcasting Network. Speaking to that audience, he called the marriage equality ruling “shocking” and said he had been “very much in favor of letting the states decide” whether to let gay people get married. He assured CBN’s David Brody that conservative evangelicals “can trust me on traditional marriage.”
Trump had pledged to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant for more than a year by Antonin Scalia’s death—and Republican senators’ unconscionable refusal to even consider President Barack Obama’s nominee—with a judge in the mold of the intensely anti-gay Scalia. The Religious Right was thrilled with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch, who showed his stripes with an ideologically strident but legally and logically flawed dissent in a case involving the rights of gay parents. Shannon Minter, a prominent LGBTQ legal advocate, accused Gorsuch of “deliberately trying to muddy the waters” and “trying to provide a road map for hostile state courts” to treat same-sex couples differently from other married couples.
Among Trump’s other awful nominees for lifetime jobs on the federal bench: Matthew Kacsmaryk, deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute, who opposes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people; Damien Schiff, who slammed an anti-bullying program for promoting the “homosexual lifestyle”; and Jeff Mateer, who called transgender children part of “Satan’s plan.” Mateer’s nomination was withdrawn after it faced intense criticism.
In an exposé of the anti-equality Alliance Defending Freedom, journalist Sarah Posner noted that Trump’s solicitor general, Noel Francisco, is an ADF-allied attorney, and that at least four of Trump’s judicial nominees have ADF ties.
Stripping protections from LGBTQ students, parents and families
One of the first official actions by the Trump administration was the rescinding of an Obama administration letter that had urged public schools to respect the right of transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms appropriate to their gender identity. Then-press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump saw this is a “states’ rights issue.”
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in May at a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing that states should be free to funnel tax dollars to private schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and families.
Ban on Transgender Servicemembers
Trump announced via Twitter that he would ban transgender people from serving in the armed forces “in any capacity,” a policy adopted at the urging of Religious Right leaders like Tony Perkins and over the objections of military leaders. The policy change, while yet to be fully implemented, threatens to upend the lives and careers of thousands of trans people now serving honorably in the military.
Defending Anti-Gay Discrimination
The Department of Justice reversed itself and staked out a legal position in opposition to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, telling a federal appeals court that the ban on sex discrimination in the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Reinforcing the Religious Right’s Weaponization of Religious Liberty
Religious Right leaders have made a major strategic push to redefine religious liberty as a weapon against laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Trump brought anti-gay Religious Right leaders to the White House to celebrate his signing of an executive order on religious liberty; while it did not go as far as conservative evangelicals had hoped, the order left it in Jeff Sessions’ hands to develop the policy. When it comes to protecting civil rights, you really don’t want to be in Jeff Sessions’ hands. Sessions’ guidance on religious liberty included vague but broad language, saying “at least some for-profit corporations” can refuse to hire workers whose beliefs and conduct are not “consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”
In a behind-closed-doors speech to the anti-gay Religious Right legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, Sessions praised the group’s work to create religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.
The Trump administration has urged the Supreme Court to back a Colorado baker who ran afoul of the state’s anti-discrimination law by refusing to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern called the administration’s brief in the case “cynical, dishonest, and embarrassing.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders echoed comments made by the solicitor general’s office and said Trump would have no problem with businesses hanging signs saying they don’t serve LGBT customers.
Trump also supports passage of the First Amendment Defense Act, which would enshrine the Religious Right’s desired right to discriminate into federal law.
Empowering an anti-LGBTQ inner circle
In addition to Cabinet nominees like Sessions, DeVos, and Ben Carson, Trump has surrounded himself with anti-LGBT Religious Right activists and leaders and given them powerful positions within the Executive Branch. For example, Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation staffer with what a dozen U.S. senators described as “a long history of making bigoted statements toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people,” is now leading the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services.
The intensely anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council has bragged of its victories, which include placing former FRC staffers in “top positions” at the Department of Health and Human Services. FRC’s Ken Blackwell, who says that homosexuality “defies barnyard logic,” led the domestic policy operation for Trump’s transition team.
ProPublica revealed in April that James Renne, who was part of Trump’s transition “landing team” at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence before snagging a senior job at the Department of Education, had helped to orchestrate a scandalous purge of LGBTQ employees and information at the Office of Special Counsel during the George W. Bush administration.
Trump has also boosted the public profile of anti-LGBTQ activists like Robert Jeffress, one of Trump’s earliest and most ardent evangelical supporters. Jeffress was chosen to preach at a private service before Trump’s inauguration and has remained a high-profile defender of the administration. Jeffress calls homosexuality “a miserable lifestyle,” said that marriage equality is “the greatest sign of the End Times that we see in our country right now,” and declared that “as a nation, we cannot be blessed by God if we’re rejecting God.”
Appointing anti-LGBT activists to United Nations Delegation
Trump appointed officials from C-Fam and the Heritage Foundation to the U.S. delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. C-Fam, also classified as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is so committed to resisting any recognition of the human rights of LGBTQ people in international agreements that it has teamed up with some of the world’s most repressive regimes to safeguard “traditional” notions of gender, sexuality and family.
Praising Anti-LGBTQ Groups
Trump’s first year in office has been one long thank-you to the conservative white evangelicals who voted overwhelmingly to make him president. Trump and Pence joined other GOP leaders at Ralph Reed’s Road to Majority conference in June; Trump spoke at the opening luncheon, where he said, “I will never, ever let you down.” A few months later, Trump was back before Religious Right activists at the Values Voter Summit, which is convened by the Family Research Council, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ hate group.
Supporting Roy Moore
Roy Moore, twice removed from his position as Alabama’s chief justice, was the most extreme anti-LGBTQ candidate in recent memory. Moore’s hostility to gay people extends far beyond marriage equality; he believes homosexuality should be criminalized. Yet Trump not only backed Moore’s candidacy with speeches and robocalls, he also dragged the Republican National Committee into spending money on Moore’s behalf.