Donald Trump’s chief strategist, alt-right champion Stephen Bannon
Following Donald Trump’s win on Nov. 8, conservatives were jubilant, basking in their victories at nearly every level of government as a Republican wave swept the nation. Conversely, liberals, find themselves practically powerless in Washington, were despondent, left to lick their wounds and fight over where the party went wrong.
Trump, for his part, was magnanimous in his victory speech, calling for America to “bind the wounds of division” and “come together as one united people.” Both President Obama and Hillary Clinton urged the political left to give the president-elect a chance to govern. Despite the fact that exit polls showed LGBT voters heavily favored Clinton, some expressed hope that the new president would live up to his campaign promises to be an ally to the LGBT community.
“We have, in Donald Trump, someone who is the most pro-LGBT Republican to ever run for the presidency,” Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, said on Election Night. He hoped that Trump would eventually become the most pro-LGBT president in the nation’s history.
But the honeymoon period was over by Thursday — at least in the eyes of major LGBT organizations.
The Human Rights Campaign, which had endorsed Clinton, sent out a press release blasting Trump for considering three candidates for his transition team with anti-LGBT records: former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Reagan Administration Attorney General Ed Meese, and Kay Cole James, the president and founder of the Gloucester Institute and former employee of the Family Research Council.
“Ken Blackwell is a man who has spent his entire career going after LGBTQ Americans,” JoDee Winterhof, HRC’s senior vice president for policy and political affairs, said in the release. “Blackwell’s leadership role in President-elect Trump’s transition team should be a major wake up call for anybody who ever had a doubt that LGBTQ people are at risk.”
According to Right Wing Watch, Blackwell — now employed by the notoriously anti-LGBT Family Research Council — has accrued a long history of homophobic statements during his career. When he ran for governor of Ohio in 2006, he called homosexuality a sinful “lifestyle” that “can be changed,” and compared gays to criminals and arsonists. He also compared same-sex couples to farm animals, saying that homosexuality “defies barnyard logic.” Since joining the Family Research Council, Blackwell has frequently criticized the Obama administration for its tolerant stands on LGBT rights, saying support for the LGBT community is weakening the country’s “moral foundation.”
Newt Gingrich — Photo: Gage Skidmore
“When we take a look at some of the personnel, we certainly are surprised to see such notable opponents of equality to be put in such key positions right out of the box,” David Stacy, the government affairs director for HRC, tells Metro Weekly. “Ken Blackwell is in charge of domestic policy for the transition. That’s a huge swath of issues that dramatically impact the LGBT community, and Ken Blackwell has a long history of opposing LGBT equality not just as in, ‘Oh, I’m against it,’ but actively leading the efforts against LGBT equality.
“When it comes to marriage equality, as Secretary of State of Ohio, he was a leader against us. When he was at the Family Research Council, he’s been a leader against LGBT equality. He has been one of the leaders of the movement to try to block both marriage equality [and] additional steps to protect the LGBT community. The idea that he is charge of domestic policy on the transition is really quite horrifying and certainly does not match the rhetoric of the President-elect during the campaign, where he said he would be good for LGBT people.”
Initial concerns about anti-LGBT attitudes in Trump’s transition team were compounded when he announced that Vice President-elect Mike Pence would be leading the team. The elevation of Pence, who gained notoriety for supporting Indiana’s anti-LGBT Religious Freedom Restoration Act while governor, was interpreted as yet another sign that a Trump administration would cater to the whims of the religious right. Not helping matters was the selection of Trump campaign chairman, Steve Bannon, as chief strategist. Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, has his own history with anti-LGBT rhetoric, both on his own and through the writers that he employs at his media network, which caters to the alt-right.
Trump’s possible cabinet picks read, for the most part, like a “Who’s Who” of anti-LGBT politicians. Some of the names for Secretary of State include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is in the running for Secretary of State.
Sarah Palin — Photo: Gage Skidmore
Names that have raised eyebrows among LGBT circles include former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as Interior Secretary, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as Secretary of Agriculture, and Dr. Ben Carson as Secretary of Education or Secretary of Health and Human Services. More potential picks include former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, all of whom have exhibited animus towards the LGBT community during their terms in office. Rounding out the list is Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, Jr., who has previously called for an uprising against the government over the Obama administration’s support for marriage equality. According to the New York Times, Clarke is under consideration for Homeland Security Secretary.
“It’s a parade of horribles,” Stacy says. “I don’t necessarily want to tick through each of these horrible people and their horrible records, because we don’t have all day. [But] we’re definitely concerned when you talk about long time opponents of equality who are being considered for the most important positions in our federal government.
“Donald Trump started this trend when he picked Mike Pence as his Vice Presidential nominee, one of the most anti-LGBT governors in the history of the country, one of the most anti-LGBT members of the house when he served in the House of Representatives. Jeff Sessions has never met a pro-LGBT piece of legislation that he liked, and he’s never met an anti-LGBT piece of legislation he didn’t co-sponsor. We have somebody who’s demonstrated hostility to equality for LGBT people and the idea that he would be Attorney General or Secretary of Defense is absolutely terrifying.”
Stacy acknowledges that not all of Trump’s potential cabinet nominees should be portrayed as anti-gay. He points to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie — who signed an anti-bullying bill and a ban on conversion therapy — as an example of a possible cabinet member with a more positive record on LGBT rights.
“Obviously, having someone who doesn’t have a long history of actively hurting gay people and transgender people is certainly preferable to somebody who does, but at the end of the day, the President sets the tone for what the policies are going to be,” Stacy says.
“We really don’t know what positions President Trump will take on a number of LGBT issues, because on the campaign trail, he had said many different things,” says Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal. “And some of those have not been consistent with each other. So there’s a fair amount of room in which the new administration can move, given the things he’s said.”
Pizer notes that under past administrations, the head of an agency can make a big difference, as they traditionally have “great latitude” over staffing decisions, which priorities are emphasized by the department, and how various laws are interpreted. For instance, the Attorney General often has great influence over the way that the Justice Department responds to issues involving LGBT rights.
“So, for example, the federal government has played an important role in enforcement actions when there’s been an anti-gay or anti-transgender hate crime under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Act,” says Pizer. “The new administration might continue the practice of enforcing that law, but we don’t know.
“Likewise, the Department of Justice, under the leadership of the Attorney General, might make a priority of enforcing religious liberty rights, including when religious rights are used as a vehicle for discrimination, and might bring lawsuits aimed at expanding those rights to discriminate based on religion, as opposed to lawsuits based on equal treatment of LGBT people.”
Rudy Giuliani — Photo: Gage Skidmore
It’s why many of Trump’s potential appointees should give LGBT people cause for concern. Should Ben Carson become Education Secretary, it’s highly unlikely — given his public statements during the campaign and from earlier in his career — that he would support the rights of LGBT students.
“The Department of Education has been at the forefront of ensuring that transgender students are protected, that they’re able to go to school in a safe environment, that their gender identity is respected, that they’re treated with the dignity and care that every student deserves,” Stacy says. “The idea that someone like Ben Carson, with his retrograde views of sexual orientation and gender identity, would be in charge of that department is horrifying.”