LGBT+ People in the Age of Trump

As the first two years of President Donald Trump’s administration come to a close, it is necessary to understand the events that have occurred during this tumultuous period in our nation’s history. Although the biggest events of the past two years included foreign policy follies, impulsive decisions made without advisers, and the endless scandals of the Trump White House, one particular discussion still needs to be had, which is the state of the LGBT+ community in the United States and around the world. Although President Trump’s own personal beliefs on LGBT+ people has historically been neither entirely supportive nor totally against, his silence is deafening when allowing extremely anti-gay politicians such as Vice President Mike Pence and the Republican Party to take charge of the issue. Although LGBT+ people still on paper have many equal rights, it is lacking in the nation’s leadership, who have slowly been chipping away at their rights as this administration enters its second year.

The first sign of this came from the State Department, where all mention of LGBT+ people was erased from the website. This includes information about LGBT+ refugees, human trafficking issues, and other human rights issues. In addition to this, the White House scrubbed all references of LGBT+ people from their website shortly after Donald Trump’s inauguration. A few days after the inaugural, the State Department website further deleted all reference to outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s which saw thousands of LGBT+ people fired from their jobs from that department. Kerry had only apologized a few weeks prior to this deletion. In addition to these changes, new cabinet appointees had troubling histories regarding LGBT+ people. For example, former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price had voted against repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and against the Matthew Shepherd and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, whose family is politically active, donated $800,000 to Focus on the Family, a virulently anti-LGBT+ organization that supports conversion therapy for LGBT youths. DeVos also campaigned against a same-sex marriage referendum in Michigan, donating money to that cause.

On February 22, 2017, as the Trump administration’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was on his way to approval, the United States Department of Education and Department of Justice rescinded protections for transgender students that were put in place the the Obama administration. Transgender students, who face extremely high levels of bullying and harassment, were left behind by the federal government due to this horrific action. This comes after reports that seventy-five percent of transgender students do not feel safe at school, and fifty percent have admitted to attempting suicide. Further cabinet additions around this time solidified the administration’s anti-LGBT+ stance, including new Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who at one time compared marriage equality to bestiality, and said that transgender people should use separate bathrooms. He further added that LGBT+ people choose their sexual orientation and gender identity, which is scientifically inaccurate. From these examples, it is clear that much of the cabinet has had issues with the LGBT+ community, and have not been afraid to act on these views.

Another significant setback to LGBT+ rights as the nomination and vote on Associate Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Following his taking office, Gorsuch dissented in the case of Pavan v. Smith in a 6-3 ruling. The case, which involved the State of Arkansas refusing to place same-sex couples on birth certificates as their parental titles was notable in that it backed up the groundbreaking Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 ruling which legalized same-sex marriage across the country. Gorsuch’s dissent indicates his opposition to LGBT+ rights, and shows that he holds an extremely narrow view of what the Obergefell decision actually means, including the right to have a same-sex couple’s names be on their child’s birth certificate. Although the Pavan ruling was a victory for LGBT+ people at a time when their rights were and are still being chipped away, it did show that Gorsuch’s unwillingness to answer any questions during his confirmation hearings about LGBT+ issues indicates that he was attempting to hide his views on the issue at hand.

July 26, 2017, wrought the most significant change yet on LGBT+ rights in the United States, which I extensively discussed in an article at the time. That day, President Trump announced that he was banning transgender people from serving in the military, impacting the nearly 15,000 estimated transgender people serving in the armed forces and dishonors the 134,000 living transgender veterans that live today. Around that same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions prepared to attack LGBT+ rights elsewhere, including questioning whether or not they are considered a protected class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Although critics argue the cost of transgender surgery exists, and even cynical people argued that transgender people only enter the military for treatment, none of this has been proven true in any way. A few days later, on August 1, 2017, fifty-six retired admirals and generals condemned the ban, stating that the ban could impact military readiness, and stating that the $8.4 million needed for medical care for transgender service-members is minuscule compared to similar medical needs and programs in the armed forces. The ban is to this day still being litigated in the courts. On September 22, 2017, the Trump administration nominated Jeff Mateer as a district judge candidate for Texas. He said of transgender people using the bathroom associated with their gender identity that “I mean it really just shows Satan’s plan is working…” He also supports conversion therapy for LGBT+ youths, and has compared same-sex marriage to bestiality. On December 5, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted that President Trump was supportive of businesses being allowed to hang up anti-gay signs outside of their businesses in the lead-up to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case heading to the United States Supreme Court. Around the same time as this statement, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced that it would not support Jeff Mateer’s nomination. At the end of the year, President Trump fired the remaining members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, further indicating his lack of leadership on LGBT+ issues.

The slow and obvious chipping away of LGBT+ rights in the United States continued from 2017 into 2018. In February 2018, the Department of Education admitted that it was rejecting civil rights complaints from transgender students. Secretary of Education DeVos then announced it will not protect transgender children blocked from using bathrooms associated with their gender identity. In May 2018, the White House further indicated its relentless opposition to transgender rights when they rolled back Obama-era protections of transgender prisoners, who face extremely high levels of sexual assault and discrimination. These rollbacks would prevent transgender prisoners from being assigned to housing with their gender identity. Finally, the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission in June 2018 was a shocking defeat for the LGBT+ community. The 7-2 ruling reaffirmed some LGBT+ rights, but it nonetheless handed victory to a movement that opposes the basic equality and dignity of millions of people, and was reminiscent of “separate but equal” laws that existed in the United States during the early twentieth century. Finally, one of the biggest events of the year in the form of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings took place. Although the believable accusations of Christine Blasey Ford took much of the attention, his hearings played out much like Gorsuch’s, where he ignored or dodged questions related to LGBT+ rights. The avoidance of these issues seems to indicate that he opposes LGBT+ rights, indicating his refusal to answer questions regarding this area of civil rights. Gorsuch has proven in the two years since his confirmation to be anti-LGBT+ in his rulings, and although Kavanaugh has yet to be tested in a similar way, it would be of no surprise to find him to be just as virulently anti-LGBT+.

Although the past two years have set back LGBT+ rights significantly, and the Trump administration’s efforts to erase them from government websites and history, there is still some home for the future. On November 6, 2018, the Democratic Party seized control over the House of Representatives, taking forty seats in the largest Democratic victory since the 1974 midterms in the aftermath of President Richard Nixon’s resignation and the Watergate scandal. In the Senate, although the Democrats lost four seats, they also gained two in different parts of the country, which included Nevada and Arizona. Elsewhere, the Democrats dominated. They won seven gubernatorial races where there was a Republican incumbent, from Michigan, Wisconsin, Maine, Kansas, and other states. Further gains were made in state legislatures and local government, where the Democrats did remarkably well. There is also good news on the court of public opinion, where according to Gallup, 67% of Americans support same-sex marriage. In addition to that, it is estimated that 4.5% of the American population are part of the LGBT+ community. Finally, on one of the newest battlegrounds for equal rights, only 51% of Americans support laws protecting transgender people, most of them being Democrats, progressives, and liberals. Although the past two years have seen a government undoing the previous eight years of stunning progress, public opinion is on the side of the LGBT+ community, and it is necessary to fight against the Trump administrations attacks on basic human rights and dignities.

Note: The main source for this article was the Human Rights Campaign’s “Trump’s Timeline of Hate” which outlines day-by-day the administration’s demolishing of LGBT+ rights. They have created an excellent catalog of each event, both big and small, which reduces the rights and dignities of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

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