Will the real Donald Trump please stand up? It’s a tale of two Donalds, or perhaps a strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, when it comes to the president-elect’s stance on LGBT rights.
During the campaign, Trump tried to position himself as a more reliable defender of LGBT rights than Hillary Clinton. In 2015, he said that sexual orientation shouldn’t be a reason to be fired. He said that he’d allow transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner to use whichever bathroom she preferred if she were to visit Trump Tower. He vowed to keep LGBT people — along with other Americans — safe from the threat of ISIS. He even waved a rainbow Pride flag given to him by a supporter at one of his rallies as a show of support for the LGBT community.
Yet for all his pandering, Trump has also catered to the Religious Right, courted evangelical voters, and touted his opposition to same-sex marriage and reproductive rights. He supported North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory when he tried to justify signing the anti-LGBT bill HB 2. And Trump has referred to allowing LGBT people to serve openly in the military as “political correctness.”
It’s those contradictions that make many in the LGBT community nervous about what a Trump administration will look like. Because he has never held elective office, even on-the-record statements by the president-elect are hypothetical conjecture. That’s why so many eyes are fixed on his selections for various cabinet positions — and why some observers are getting close to hitting the “panic” button.
The first warning signs came with Trump’s selection of his close advisers, none of whom require confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the alt-right website Breitbart News, has a history of expressing anti-gay sentiment and promoting stories with anti-LGBT viewpoints. Reince Priebus, the outgoing head of the Republican National Committee, has spent the past few years leading a party that enshrined anti-LGBT attitudes into its official platform. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn opposed allowing openly gay service members in the military, and criticized the Obama administration’s decision to lift the ban on transgender service members by saying, “War is not about bathrooms, war is not about political correctness, or words that are meaningless.”
But advisers only have the president’s ear. Several of Trump’s other picks — who must be confirmed by the Senate — pose a much greater threat to LGBT rights. Here, from most severe to least, are Trump’s confirmable (or rejectable) nominees that every LGBT person should be watching closely.
Position Nominated For: Attorney General
LGBT Record: As senator from Alabama, Sessions opposed same-sex marriage, employment nondiscrimination legislation, partner benefits, lifting the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and adding LGBT people to protected classes under the nation’s hate crime laws. When he was Attorney General of Alabama, Sessions attempted to use his office to stop the University of Alabama from hosting an LGBT conference, even taking the university to court to defend a law that prohibited using public money to fund, in any way, a group that promotes “actions prohibited by the [state’s] sodomy and sexual misconduct laws.” That law has since been overturned by the courts.
Biggest Areas of Concern: As Attorney General, it’s doubtful whether Sessions will enforce the nation’s hate crime laws in instances where people have been victimized because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Other concerns involve the government’s future position on court cases revolving around LGBT rights. Examples of these type of cases include Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, where a lesbian claims she was denied promotions and her contract was not renewed because of her sexual orientation, or G.G. v. Gloucester County School Board, where a transgender student is suing to be able to use the boys’ restroom in his high school.
Position Nominated For: Secretary of Health and Human Services
LGBT Record: Price, a conservative congressman from the Atlanta suburbs, has accrued a vehemently anti-LGBT voting record during his six terms in Congress. He boasts a 0% rating for his voting record on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard. He’s voted against an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act, against workplace protections for LGBT employees, and LGBT-inclusive hate crime protections. He has been a vocal supporter of state bans prohibiting same-sex marriage. More importantly, Price believes that the LGBT lifestyle is more conducive to health problems that may eventually cost government money. He has suggested that any social legislation, such as bills to advance LGBT rights, not be passed until a thorough examination has been completed of the cost of potential health problems that could arise from “promoting” homosexuality.
Biggest Areas of Concern: As head of Health and Human Services, Price could be influenced by his extreme views and place LGBT-related research or HIV-related research on the back burner. Issues of whether insurance companies must cover certain surgical procedures may also come to a head under a Price-led HHS department. Lastly, Price is a fierce opponent of the Affordable Care Act and has called for its complete repeal. This could be problematic for LGBT people with pre-existing conditions or low-income people who get their insurance — and subsidies to pay for it — through the Obamacare health exchanges.
Position Nominated For: Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
LGBT Record: As a presidential candidate, Carson established himself as a doctrinaire social conservative with anti-LGBT views. Among Carson’s more inflammatory statements are that same-sex behavior by prisoners proves homosexuality is a choice, that gay marriage was responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire, and that transgender people cannot change their assigned sex at birth anymore than they can change their ethnicity. He has compared same-sex marriage to bestiality, compared gay people to pedophiles, and said that same-sex marriage is a Marxist plot to destroy America’s moral foundations.
Biggest Areas of Concern: Given Carson’s parochial views on gender, one of the likely targets of a Carson-run HUD may be a recent update to the Equal Access Rule for shelters. Under the rule, adopted in September, shelters that operate single-sex facilities or sex-specific projects must provide all individuals, including transgender and gender nonconforming people, with access to programs, benefits, services and accommodations based on their gender identity. Shelter providers are not allowed to subject applicants to intrusive questioning about their gender identity or ask for documentation to “prove” one’s gender. If Carson is given free reign, these protections could be repealed.
Position Nominated For: Director of the CIA
LGBT Record: During his three terms in Congress, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo has largely been opposed to LGBT rights. He earned a 0% rating on HRC’s congressional scorecard for his votes on LGBT issues during the 114th and 112th Congresses, and a meager 30% for his votes during the 113th Congress. He is an opponent of same-sex marriage, believing that Kansas’ definition of marriage as between a man and a woman should supersede the federal government’s definition of marriage. He is a supporter of legislation that could potentially allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against LGBT people under the guise of “religious freedom.” He also voted against an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act.
Biggest Areas of Concern: There aren’t many LGBT-specific issues that are expected to confront Pompeo should he be confirmed, but a general anti-LGBT animus may be concerning. There may also be some questions around whether the CIA would become less friendly to LGBT employees under the Trump administration.
Position Nominated For: Secretary of Education
LGBT Record: DeVos’ personal stance on LGBT issues is largely a mystery, but she and her husband have donated to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group that opposes LGBT rights. Focus on the Family also promotes conversion therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation or curbing the behavior of LGBT people and those with same-sex attraction. Other members of her extended family have donated to other anti-LGBT causes, including campaigns to ban same-sex marriage in Michigan, Florida and California, and to organizations such as the Family Research Council and Alliance Defending Freedom.
Biggest Areas of Concern: The chief issue with a DeVos-run Department of Education would likely be the position that the department adopts with respect to transgender students and whether they are protected under Title IX. DeVos’ position on the Obama administration’s current guidance for school administrators is unknown, but her ties to right-wing groups have led transgender advocates to call on Trump to rescind her nomination. Another issue that may arise would be the use of federal education funds, in the form of vouchers, to support private schools that encourage conversion therapy for LGBT-identifying youth.
Position Nominated For: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
LGBT Record: Haley’s record on LGBT rights is mixed at best. During her tenure as governor of South Carolina and as a state representative, Haley has not shown much support for LGBT rights. But she also hasn’t been openly hostile towards the LGBT community. She was a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage, endorsing 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney only after learning he opposed marriage equality. When South Carolina was sued over its voter-approved constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, she vowed to defend the law and “fight for it every step of the way.”
That said, Haley has also shown a more moderate side, such as when she referenced “modern families” in her response to President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union address and called for respect in the ongoing social debates over same-sex marriage and adoption. She also flatly refused to support an HB 2-style law that would have forced transgender people to use restrooms inconsistent with their gender identity, saying it was not an issue in South Carolina.
Biggest Areas of Concern: The largest area of concern for Haley will be whether she, like her predecessors in the Obama administration, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, will be willing to speak out on behalf of LGBT rights around the globe. LGBT advocates say the next UN ambassador should decisively state that the United States is opposed to the discrimination, torture or killing of sexual minorities. Whether Haley will promote those views remains to be seen.
Position Nominated For: Secretary of Transportation
LGBT Record: Chao previously served as Secretary of Labor under President George W. Bush and as Deputy Secretary of Transportation under President George H.W. Bush. Neither administration was known for being particularly friendly towards LGBT rights, and the younger Bush’s administration officially opposed bills like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Chao’s personal feelings on workplace protections are unknown. As the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Chao has campaigned on her husband’s behalf in Kentucky and defended his record, which is largely hostile to LGBT rights. She also has worked at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and has served as a commentator for FOX News Channel.
Biggest Areas of Concern: There’s nothing specifically concerning with respect to LGBT rights, but advocates will be on watch for any indications of anti-LGBT animus.
Position Nominated For: Secretary of Defense
LGBT Record: Mattis has little or no record of public comments on LGBT issues. However, ThinkProgress and the blog LezGetReal reported in 2010 that Mattis was one of several generals that were more hostile towards the idea of repealing the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy banning gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from serving openly.
Biggest Areas of Concern: If President-elect Trump is willing to push the Pentagon to reverse its decision allowing transgender military members to serve openly, it appears that Mattis would wholeheartedly support such a change. That said, people on the political left are more likely to be concerned about his hawkish stance toward Iran and combative style than his position on any LGBT issue.
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