Opinion: Don’t buy Trump’s flip-flop on marriage equality. LGBT rights are anything but safe in his White House
During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump did his best to portray himself as “compassionate” towards the LGBT community — a man who didn’t share his party’s staunchly homophobic and transphobic views. He pointedly nodded to LGBT equality in his convention speech, boasted of his friendship with Caitlyn Jenner and voiced opposition to North Carolina’s infamous anti-trans bathroom bill, before changing his stance on the legislation just days later. The Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay GOP group, even called Trump the “most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party.”
In an interview that aired Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Trump appeared to offer an olive branch to the LGBT community. The president-elect backed off campaign promises that he would “strongly consider” appointing justices that would overturn the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision on marriage equality if he became the 45th president of the United States. “It’s irrelevant because it was already settled,” he said. “These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. It’s settled, and I’m fine with it.”
Yet the policy outline of Trump’s first 100 days in office tells a different story about what LGBT people can expect from his presidency. Although marriage equality appears to be safe for the time being, the next four years portend a devastating attack on LGBT rights.
Even if [Trump’s] justices have little desire to overturn same-sex marriage, they could do serious damage in other areas.
Trump has pledged on his first day in office to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum, and order issued by President Obama.” In doing so, he will nullify crucial protections for LGBT workers. In 2014, Obama signed Executive Order 13672, which states that federal contractors cannot be fired on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Just 19 states currently have such protections in place, and Obama’s executive order was seen as a crucial step forward toward nationwide equality.
In allowing legal discrimination against LGBT people, Trump plans to go even further. He has previously expressed his support for the First Amendment Defense Act, a piece of legislation that’s strikingly similar to the anti-LGBT legislation passed in Indiana by his second-in-command, Gov. Mike Pence. The bill would allow businesses, landlords and even healthcare providers the right to deny services to LGBT individuals based on their religious beliefs by preventing anyone from taking action against them for doing so.
Thus, it could soon be legal for a caterer to decline to host a same-sex wedding or an employer to fire you for being gay.
The Obama administration’s repeated support for trans students is also on the chopping block. In 2016, the federal government issued a set of guidance for administrators and school staff on how to support trans students. That letter, which is not legally binding, instructs campuses to allow students to use the restroom that most closely corresponds with their gender identity.
In October, Pence claimed that rolling back these protections is a done deal.
“Donald Trump and I simply believe that all of these issues are best resolved at the state level,” the Republican said on James Dobson’s radio show.
“Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools,” Pence said. “I can tell you, It’s just one more example of the heavy hand and liberal agenda of this administration working its way into the purview of the states and the people … when it comes to our kids, and the operation of our schools, those decisions should be made at the local level.”
Stripping away those rights could have a grave impact on trans students: A study from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and UCLA’s Williams Institute found that 41% of transgender people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. They are most likely to do so in environments where they have few legal protections.
The most crucial blow will be the Supreme Court, which has yet to see a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia after months of Republican obstruction. Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace in January that he would “strongly consider” appointing judges that will overturn the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling on marriage equality. A leaked shortlist of potential nominees shows that he could do just that. The roster includes anti-LGBT judges like 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge William H. Pryor Jr., who in 2003 filed an amicus brief in Lawrence vs. Texas supporting the state’s anti-sodomy laws, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who once compared same-sex unions to marrying bacon.
Even if those justices have little desire to overturn same-sex marriage, they could do serious damage in other areas.
Trump’s pick will have an enormous impact on a landmark case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court. Gavin Grimm, a transgender high school student in Gloucester, Va., sued his local school district to overturn a policy blocking him from using the men’s restroom on campus. If Trump has promised to appoint a nominee in “the mold of Scalia,” a justice who tirelessly fought against LGBT rights during his time on the bench, that’s extremely bad news for trans students.
Defenders of Trump say it’s difficult to know what he would actually do simply because as a businessman, he doesn’t have a record to judge from. His running mate, however, does.
During his tenure in House of Representatives, Pence voted twice to add an amendment to the Constitution that would define marriage solely as the union between one man and one woman. While running for that Congressional seat in 2000, Pence advocated that life-saving HIV funding allotted under the Ryan White Care Act be instead diverted to programs “which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” That’s a nod to conversion therapy, the dangerous, harmful practice of trying to “cure” LGBT people of their same-sex attractions. It has been condemned by the American Psychological Assn. and outlawed in California.
Tony Perkins, who was appointed to Trump’s “pro-life advisory council” this year, is also a strong proponent of conversion therapy. When the Republican National Convention embraced conversion therapy in its 2016 platform, Perkins’ only concern was that its anti-LGBT advocacy didn’t go far enough, as Right Wing Watch reported.
In addition to Pence and Perkins, Trump surrounds himself with politicians and leaders with a consistent record of opposing LGBT rights.
Trump’s alleged Cabinet shortlist is filled with names like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Newt Gingrich, both of whom are staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage. Trump’s rumored pick for secretary of Defense, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, repeatedly voted against adding sexual orientation or gender identity to hate crime legislation. Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, who could be the next Secretary of State, was one of 24 Republican senators who criticized the Obama administration’s support of trans students.
Then there’s Trump’s new chief strategist and senior counselor, Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon, who once referred to members of Seven Sisters schools as a “bunch of dykes.”
Just because Trump has flip-flopped on repealing marriage equality doesn’t mean that he’s seen the light on equality. LGBT issues will soon face roadblocks at every level of the federal government, whether it’s from Trump’s inner circle or a majority-Republican Congress that has the ability to roll back the clock on progress by decades.
Trump’s “60 Minutes” interview may seem like a small victory for LGBT rights, but the bigger fights are still to come.
Nico Lang is the East Coast reporter for the Advocate. You can also read his work on Salon, Onion A.V. Club and the Guardian. Find him on Twitter @nico_lang.