This will be startling only to those who bought the terrible narrative of some of our most influential political reporters, who throughout the 2016 campaign told us Donald Trump was “more accepting on gay issues” than most Republicans. But it is now undeniable: Donald Trump is the most anti-LGBTQ president in U.S. history.
How do we measure that? By actions? By outcomes? Or by thoughts and beliefs?
Let’s start with the last one. It’s just plain stupid to measure whether or not a politician is anti-LGBTQ by his or her personal beliefs. These really don’t matter. In fact, trying to gauge what Trump actually believed using superficial markers is what had much of the media fall into a trap in 2016, claiming he was more pro-LGBTQ―simply because he’s from New York, knew and did business with openly gay people, and said nice things about “LGBTQ” people now and then― rather than looking at whom Trump was making political promises to.
As veteran lesbian journalist Kerry Eleveld pointed out in July:
[D]uring Trump’s candidacy, mainstream reporters applied a distinctly 2008 political mindset to a Republican candidate who, on the surface perhaps, sounded different. Nice talk was good enough, even revolutionary, as they framed it. They didn’t bother to look at the obvious train wreck in the making when, for instance, Trump made anti-gay crusader Mike Pence his choice for VP or promised right-wing conservatives he would nominate Supreme Court justices to overturn the landmark Obergefell ruling.
I’ve noted before that just as Trump is from New York and knew queer people, Ronald Reagan was from Hollywood and had many gay friends too, including the legendary actor Rock Hudson.
And that brings us to outcomes. Reagan, no matter his personal beliefs (or his friendships), allowed thousands to die due to his negligence on HIV and AIDS, refusing to fund research and programs and not even uttering the word “AIDS” for years while the epidemic exploded. He cruelly did this in the face of people pleading for help, and amid activist demands for action. And that was because he pandered to the exact same constituency in the base of the GOP to whom Trump is now genuflecting: white evangelicals.
If outcomes were the only measure, Reagan might be the most anti-LGBTQ president in history simply based on the catastrophe of mass suffering and death that AIDS neglect created. But overt actions, in addition to willful negligence, count as well. And frighteningly, the outcome of Donald Trump’s presidency has yet to be even remotely measured regarding harm it will cause to millions of LGBTQ people now and in the future. Trump has only been in office for a little less than eight months and yet, as hard as this may be to believe, the pro-active anti-LGBTQ measures he’s originated and enacted are greater in number and depth than those taken by Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and all other presidents ― in their full terms, combined.
George H.W. Bush largely continued Reagan’s negligence regarding HIV but did sign the Americans With Disabilities Act, protecting people with HIV from discrimination. Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, and “don’t ask, don’t tell” but advanced AIDS research and treatment, saving many lives. He signed orders ending discrimination based on sexual orientation in the federal government and ushered in a pro-gay era in politics, routinely speaking about gay people in his speeches. (The anti-gay bills he signed were in fact forced on him by Republicans in response to his pro-gay actions, even if he refused to stand up to them.)
George W. Bush, in the run-up to his re-election campaign in 2004, cynically backed a federal marriage amendment, but it never had a chance of passing ― and he knew that. A hostile action for sure, but a terrible outcome was never realized. And unlike Trump, Bush didn’t repeal any of the pro-gay actions taken by President Clinton, leaving executive orders in place.
Trump on the other hand has allowed his vice president, Mike Pence, and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, among others, to push a virulent, unchecked anti-LGBTQ agenda. Throughout the government, programs that LGBTQ people are affected by are being cut or neglected. Six top AIDS experts resigned from Trump’s HIV/AIDS advisory panel in June, explaining that he just “doesn’t care,” and expressing great concern that progress at stopping the epidemic will be rolled back.
The Justice Department has filed briefs in both a federal appeals court case, promoting outright discrimination against gay, lesbian and bisexual workers, and in a Supreme Court case, seeking to allow gay and lesbian couples to be discriminated against in public accommodations. The brief in the Supreme Court case, as Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern sums it up, basically posits that “homophobia deserves special respect under the law.”
That case, in which a Colorado baker seeks the right to turn away gay customers (which is discrimination that is banned under state law), is at the high court most likely because Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump put on the court, provided the fourth vote to take the case. Gorsuch, a “religious liberty” fanatic, is hellbent on carving out exemptions allowing LGBTQ people to be discriminated against. And he’s already taken on marriage equality, encouraging lower courts to challenge Obergefell and helping to fulfill a promise by Trump to evangelicals.
Trump’s ban on transgender people already serving openly and honorably in the military is especially cruel. It is the first time a president is actually taking away a right granted for queer people by a previous president ― and removing an entire group already serving in the armed forces for no other reason than pure animus against that group.
Add on to that the withdrawal of guidance to schools on treatment of transgender students and the education secretary’s vow to give federal funds to schools even if they discriminate against LGBTQ students or describe them as sinful, sick or perverted. And throw in the number of instances in which references to “LGBTQ” people have been scrubbed from government programs ― from protecting “LGBTQ youth” against sex trafficking to collecting data on LGBTQ elderly people.
What you have is more hostile measures and actions meant to erase, vilify and deeply harm LGBTQ people than ever before enacted. The repercussions to millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of every race and age group ― for years to come ― are unfathomable and, right now, incalculable.
And again, we are barely eight months in. Though many social conservatives are ecstatic with the access they have to the White House, others still believe Trump has yet to truly deliver much and are waiting for a more broad-based religious liberty executive order than the one he signed months ago, one that will allow for widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people. They will demand, and likely get, that and more in return for their loyalty.
A few days after the 2016 election last November I wrote, “The Mike Pence (Donald Trump) Assault On LGBTQ Equality Is Already Underway.” Some people mocked that piece as alarmist but as I wrote, “It’s only a matter of time before we know the full magnitude.”
It’s clear, both by his actions and the outcomes of them which will only increase exponentially, that Trump is already the most anti-LGBTQ president in U.S. history. That is something we must demand that political reporters, many of whom were duped in 2016 and then duped millions more, begin to focus on. It’s a fact that must be stated emphatically beginning right now.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile