I’m not going to sugarcoat this at all. We are in for a full-blown assault on LGBTQ rights the likes of which many, particularly younger LGBTQ people, have not seen. Progress will most certainly be halted completely, likely rolled back. And it’s already underway.
First, forget any of your thinking that Donald Trump is from New York City, probably has gay friends, sent Elton John a congratulatory note on his civil union in 2005, used the term “LGBTQ” (in pitting gays against Muslims at the Republican National Convention, when he vowed only to protect us from a “hateful foreign ideology”) or any other superficial things you may have read or heard.
Ronald Reagan was from Hollywood, and he, too, had many gay friends, including legendary actor Rock Hudson. Reagan even came out against an anti-gay state initiative while he was governor of California. But once Reagan made his pact with the religious right leaders in his 1980 successful run for the presidency ― for him, among them was Jerry Falwell, Sr., for Trump it’s Jerry Falwell Jr.― he had to bow to them if he wanted to get re-elected in 1984. That meant letting thousands of gay men, transgender women, African-Americans and members other affected groups die from AIDS (including his friend Hudson) without even saying the word “AIDS” until years into the plague, let alone take leadership on fighting the epidemic with government dollars and research.
That was then, and this is now: Earlier in the year, before Mike Pence was chosen as Donald Trump’s running mate, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, using Trump’s analogy of running a business to explain how he’d run the country, told HuffPost’s Howard Fineman that the vice president of the Trump administration would really be the “CEO” or “COO” ― or, the president of the company ― while Trump would be more like the “chairman of the board”:
“He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn’t want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO...There is a long list of who that person could be.”
That person turned out to be Pence, and, before and after the election, there’s been some analysis and commentary suggesting that Mike Pence could be “the most powerful vice president ever.” And now, just days after the election, his power has increased tenfold as he is replacing Chris Christie as chairman of Trump’s transition team, filling all the major positions in the incoming Trump administration.
Mike Pence is perhaps one of the most anti-LGBTQ evangelical Christian political crusaders to serve in Congress and as governor of a state. Long before he signed the draconian anti-LGBTQ “religious liberty” law in Indiana last year, he supported “conversion therapy” as a member of Congress, and later, as a columnist and radio host, he gave a speech in which he said that marriage equality would lead to “societal collapse,” and called homosexuality “a choice.” Stopping gays from marrying wasn’t biased, he said, but was rather about compelling “God’s idea.”
Ben Carson, who compared homosexuality to pedophilia and incest, is a vice chairman of the transition team and so is Newt Gingrich, who has attacked what he called “gay fascism” and, in 2014, “the new fascism” around LGBTQ rights.
And right on cue, already appointed to lead domestic policy on the transition team is Ken Blackwell, formerly the Ohio secretary of state. Blackwell has compared homosexuality to arson and kleptomania, which he called “compulsions.” In an interview with me at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, he explained:
“Well, the fact is, you can choose to restrain that compulsion. And so I think in fact you don’t have to give in to the compulsion to be homosexual. I think that’s been proven in case after case after case...I believe homosexuality is a compulsion that can be contained, repressed or changed…[T]hat is what I’m saying in the clearest of terms.”
Expect each of these individuals and more religous bigots to have prominent positions in the Trump administration.
As I‘ve written over and over again throughout the election campaign ― as the media had bizarrely and irresponsibly portrayed Trump as “more accepting on gay issues” ― Trump met with religious extremists, and made promises to them. He promised he would put justices on the Supreme Court who would overturn marriage equality (and the list of 20 candidates he has offered, certainly fit the bill), which he’s consistently opposed himself since 2000. He promised that he would sign the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would allow for discrimination against LGBT people by government employees and others.
It may or may not be difficult or unrealistic to overturn marriage equality over time, though the anti-equality National Organization for Marriage, which backed Trump in the election, has sent Trump a plan. But by passing bills like FADA ― already introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate and House ― and others yet to come, gay marriage can be made into a kind of second-class marriage. Clerks like Kim Davis can be given exemptions from giving marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Federal employees would be able to decline interactions with gay and lesbian married couples. Businesses such as bakers and florists, who’ve become flash points in some states where they refused to serve gays, could be granted the ability to turn away gays under federal law, and all that could head to a much more conservative Supreme Court if challenged.
Trump has said he would overturn what he saw as President Obama’s unconstitutional executive orders, and those could include Obama’s orders on LGBTQ rights, such as banning employment discrimination among federal contractors.
Mike Pence, as Dominic Holden at Buzzfeed points out, has already said that he and Trump plan to withdraw federal guidance to the states issued by the Obama administration protecting transgender students:
“Donald Trump and I simply believe that all of these issues are best resolved at the state level,” he said in an October radio show with Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. “Washington has no business intruding on the operation of our local schools.”
No one should take solace in the fact that gay billionaire Peter Thiel, who spoke at the GOP convention, is on the transition team. Thiel has never been a champion of LGBTQ rights, and is now most noted for bankrolling a lawsuit against Gawker -– shutting it down ― in an act of revenge because the site reported the widely-known fact that he is gay.
If Trump treats the presidency the same way he treated the GOP convention in Cleveland, he’ll make gestures ― like giving Thiel a role in his administration or using the initialism “LGBTQ”― that will feed the media notion that he is somewhat pro-LGBTQ, while giving the nuts and bolts of halting or rolling back progress on LGBTQ rights to others. While Trump was onstage at the convention uttering “LGBTQ” (and had used Thiel’s speaking slot as a bit of window dressing too), the platform committee of the RNC had just hammered out the most anti-LGBTQ platform in history in the basement of the convention center. Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, told me at the RNC that he was “very happy” with the platform, which, as a member of the committee, he made sure included the promotion of “conversion therapy.”
Trump was hands-off on the platform when it came to queer issues (unlike on the issue of trade or, in what seemed like deference to Russia, on aid to Ukraine), letting people like Perkins push an extreme agenda, and knowing he needed to court them. He spoke at the FRC’s Values Voter Summit in September, promising to uphold “religious liberty,” and a large majority of white evangelicals did turn out to vote for him on Tuesday ― comparable to, or greater than, every other GOP presidential candidate in recent years. He will need them if he wants to get re-elected, and that means he’ll have to give them some big things now. And evangelical leaders told The New York Times this week they expect him to deliver:
[W]ith Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, an evangelical with a record of legislating against abortion and same-sex marriage, as vice president, Christian leaders say they feel reassured they will have access to the White House and a seat at the table. “I am confident he will do as president what he said he would do as a candidate,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who helped mobilize Christian voters for Mr. Trump.
If Trump is thus as hands-off on LGBTQ issues as president as he was at the RNC, letting people like Pence ― again, possibly the most powerful vice president ever ― get his way, along with people like Carson, Blackwell, Gingrich and likely many others, you can bet that the assault on LGBTQ rights is already underway. It’s only a matter of time before we know the full magnitude. And that’s why we must pull ourselves out of grief, get fired up, and begin the fight right now.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the location of the 2016 Republican National Convention. This has been fixed.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile
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