On the day President Donald Trump took the oath of office, the official White House website got a makeover. It was a new look for a new administration, with every trace of the Obamas exorcised.
Unfortunately, the makeover also included removal of a page on LGBTQ issues. In its place, a number of “America First” action plans and a section on First Lady Melania Trump’s jewelry line.
Soon after, LGBTQ issues were removed from the Small Business Administration website, while the website for the Office of National AIDS Policy was archived before being removed completely amid reports that the new administration had shuttered the office. Finally, a statement from former Secretary of State John Kerry apologizing for the State Department’s persecution of LGBTQ employees vanished from their website.
Many LGBTQ groups expressed concerns over the erasure of the pages, though some argued it was nothing to be concerned about, that it was just part of the transition process and not a slight against the community. After all, it was just a few websites.
Then came rumors that the Trump administration would rescind an order prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination from federal contractors. Outcry was sharp and swift. The Human Rights Campaign called it “deeply troubling.” LGBTQ organizations denounced any attempt to rollback employment protections. Last week, the Trump administration announced it would be leaving the protections untouched, leaving advocates in the lurch, as the administration sought to portray itself as pro-LGBTQ.
Next came a leaked draft of a proposed “religious freedom” executive order, written as a license to discriminate against the LGBTQ community on the basis of religion. Trump’s administration rebuffed the expected outcry, with a spokesperson saying the president had no plans to sign any such order “at this time.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to comment on the leaked draft.
These events demonstrate a repetitive pattern of behavior: The administration takes an action, sets off a firestorm of criticism from LGBTQ people, and Trump then distances himself from the original controversy. Those repeated rebuttals — and the speed with which LGBTQ groups have rushed to denounce Trump — have left some asking if we are overreacting to the threat Trump poses?
“Especially in regard to LGBT issues, Donald Trump has not taken any actions. Period,” says Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Any reservations or fears that are being discussed on the LGBT left are entirely the result of their own conjuring of demons where there are none.”
Angelo says it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the Trump administration’s record on LGBTQ rights, at least until the first 100 days are over. “At the present time, Log Cabin Republicans, interestingly enough, is taking Hillary Clinton’s words to heart, when she said Donald Trump deserves an open mind and a chance to lead. We’re paying him deference in both of those regards.”
That deference — and the suggestion of overreaction — is something author and political strategist David Mixner rejects.
“This isn’t the left going crazy,” he says. “This is a full-fledged attack on millions of Americans and our constitution. I’ve been organizing for 56 years, and I can honestly, without hesitation, say never have I been more concerned. From the LGBT community’s standpoint, everything we have worked for is at stake.”
Mixner has little patience for LGBTQ people who say it’s too early to judge President Trump, calling their defense of him “splendid denial.”
“They remind me of the German Jews who say Hitler would never take people to camps,” he says. “How can anyone look at these appointments, with their history, and his willingness to sign the religious freedom act, which gives people permission to deny us service in public accommodations and business, or [his promise to] appoint justices to the Supreme Court who don’t support marriage equality, and think there’s hope in that message? Give me a fucking break.”
Joe Murray, administrator of the Facebook group LGBTrump, believes liberals are vilifying Trump because they fear they’re losing the political “stranglehold” they’ve held on the LGBTQ community for years.
“There are political foes of Donald Trump who want to use every opportunity to make his life harder as president,” says Murray. “And then I think you have some LGBT folks who are reading and listening to some of this coverage, and becoming genuinely concerned. And that concern is not based upon what I would call reality, it’s based upon a media narrative that’s being cultivated.”
Murray’s advice to liberals? “You just have to take a deep breath, recognize you’re not going to agree with this guy 100 percent of the time, and give him a chance to govern. You can challenge him on policies you disagree with, but don’t use these little namby-pamby stories to make it almost impossible for this guy to govern.”
Liberal LGBTQ groups insist they’re not crying wolf.
“My first thought is that, given the rapid tempo of policy actions that have come out of the White House since the president was inaugurated, we are actually well within our rights as advocates to be alarmed and on alert,” says Stacey Long Simmons, director of policy and public affairs at the National LGBTQ Task Force. [This is] an administration that has demonstrated that it is much more important to pay attention to what they do than what they say.”
As Trump fulfills promises he made during last year’s campaign with respect to policy, the LGBTQ community should take him at his word, says David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.
“He hasn’t put out specific proposals on religious liberty during the campaign. On the other hand, the Republican platform was the most anti-LGBTQ platform in history. He hasn’t distanced himself from those policy positions, except rhetorically by saying he’ll be the most pro-LGBTQ president in history.”
It’s that refusal to outright refuse to target the LGBTQ community that should worry people. Jimmy LaSalvia, co-founder of the now-defunct LGBTQ Republican group GOProud, says the community should remember Trump’s propensity to create enemies and should not be surprised if it finds itself a future target of his wrath.
“I don’t think that we can feel comfortable that there hasn’t been an effort to implement policy that would be detrimental to our community, because it could happen at any time,” he says. “One thing we know about the Trump administration is that things can change in an instant.”
The community will spend the next four years walking a political tightrope, finding a balance between forcefully speaking out against threats to rights and reacting to every perceived anti-LGBTQ action the Trump administration takes says LaSalvia, who now identifies as independent.
“We know that, in his heart and in his gut, Donald Trump is not anti-gay or some type of homophobe who would make it a priority to be anti-LGBT,” says LaSalvia. “But we also know that he’s willing to say or do anything if he thinks it’s of benefit to him. That’s why it’s important for the LGBT community to be vigilant.”
It’s possible quick responses to potentially harmful proposals floated by the Trump administration have helped to keep anti-LGBTQ policies at bay. According to Politico, the outcry from LGBTQ groups over repealing the Obama nondiscrimination order and the proposed “religious freedom” order attracted the attention of Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner. They were then able to lean on her father and halt any attempts to reverse LGBTQ progress.
“One thing we know about the president is he pays very close attention to social media and mass media,” says LaSalvia. “And whoever leaked the draft executive order did it on purpose so the president and his family would see the reaction. That has worked, so far.”
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