Before the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, activists were very vocal in their concerns about what a Trump presidency could mean for millions of LGBT Americans. The messages, however, were mixed: on the one hand, Trump appeared to be the most LGBT friendly Republican nominee in a very long time, and yet those that surrounded him, most notably his running mate Mike Pence, seemed to be staunchly anti-LGBT. Pence himself was even said to have once supported gay conversion therapy. No wonder people were anxious.
So many questions remained unanswered: what would happen to gay marriage and adoption rights? Would LGBT people still be able to serve in the military? Would the election of a man who had run such a controversial and divisive campaign legitimise prejudice against minorities? And, if so, would government itself even play a hand in promoting such discrimination? In such tumultuous times, and under such a capricious leader, anything – LGBT people feared – may be possible.
So, the positives first: the Trump presidency has not seen LGBT activists’ worst fears come true – not yet, at least. Same-sex marriage – arguably the most significant achievement in LGBT rights – has not been rolled back. However, while it was once thought that the 2015 Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage would usher in a new era of tolerance and acceptance, this does not seem to have been the case…
Most worryingly, a recent survey showed that almost 75% of LGBT people feel less safe under a Trump presidency. Perhaps more alarming still, in the same poll, 37% of respondents said that they had been on the receiving end of some level of discrimination due to their sexuality or gender since Trump took office. Let’s look in more detail at why LGBT Americans may be feeling so unsafe. What are the real issues that are threatening to turn LGBT politics back decades?
Anti-Trump demo in New York City. January 2017.
Things hardly got off to an auspicious start with Mike Pence, but the appointment of a highly Conservative Justice to the Supreme Court, which now has a conservative majority, did nothing to ease people’s worries. And then there’s the small matter of the Republicans controlling both the White House and Congress. The net result and its implications for legal protections inevitability make LGBT people feel extremely insecure. It also hardly helps matters when Cabinet members, appointed by Trump, have a record of being decidedly anti-gay marriage. As Aesop said, “a man is known by the company he keeps”…
Organised religion has long been the biggest threat to LGBT people. Trump’s Religious Liberty Executive Order will, activists claim, give people and organisations a broad remit to discriminate against LGBT people on religious grounds. According to Sarah Kate Ellis of GLAAD, the Executive Order is a “slippery slope of a license to discriminate”. LGBT Americans will be watching this very carefully.
But by far the most significant rollbacks in LGBT legislation are those impacting transgender people. In February, the Trump administration rolled back protections for transgender school children which were brought in during Barack Obama’s presidency. This meant that trans children would not be permitted to use school bathroom facilities which matched their chosen gender identity. But, worse was to come with Trump’s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military. There has, thankfully, been widespread condemnation of this ban, and in the second ruling against the policy, on November 22nd, a federal judge blocked all aspects of the president’s directives. But the fight is far from over.
One of the most disturbing consequences of Trump’s presidency is a rise in virulent homophobia from right-wingers. It’s almost as if such people feel that now that they are serving under such a controversial and outspoken president, they too have full license to say whatever they wish, no matter how deeply offensive and riddled with hatred it may be. Moreover, Donald Trump’s failure to condemn such figures for their anti-LGBT views certainly does not mark him out as the “real friend” to the LGBT community that he promised to be during his election campaign. That, alone, should be a stark warning to us all.
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