A leaked draft of a blood-curdling executive order from the Trump administration shows how far-reaching the discussion has been in the White House and among those surrounding Donald Trump to strip LGBTQ people of the meager federal rights we have, and to prevent us from attaining any further rights.
The order would allow for rampant discrimination – people thrown out of their jobs and their homes, and denied service. It would allow government employees to decline to interact with LGBT people, or anyone of whom they disapprove, all in the name of “religious liberty.”
Whether this order happens or not, now or in the future (White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters who inquired that it wasn’t happening “at this time”), it reveals the intentions of those in Trump’s inner circle and the will to get this done. And Trump just nominated a judge to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, who, by his own record on allowing for religion-based discrimination – including in the Hobby Lobby case ― will defend such an order. With or without an order, any case that gets to the Supreme Court by any entity demanding a religious exemption from serving or hiring LGBTQ people would get the vote of Gorsuch, who is to the right of the late Antonin Scalia. As Lambda Legal, the pioneering, preeminent LGBTQ legal group, put it, Gorsuch has an “unacceptable, hostile record toward LGBT people.”
All of this underscores that religious conservatives are demanding big things from Trump in return for their votes, and Trump surely wants their votes again. We must stop them, and we can, if we all live by four simple rules.
Rule number 1: Dismiss anything said by the White House that is even remotely positive about LGBT rights. That includes the deceptive, idiotic statement in recent days claiming that Trump is “supportive of LGBTQ rights,” and any of Trump’s claims during the campaign, or his photo-ops with rainbow flags or gay individuals or anything else similar. That was and is all staging ― and a reality show star knows all about staging ― on an issue that Trump realized is one he has had to deal with differently than issues such as immigration, because of a) the enormous success we’ve made getting much of the public behind us and; b) the fact that more and more people are out of the closet, and there are LGBTQ people in every family, including Republican families.
Trump needs to appear gay-friendly for those reasons, while still following through on promises quietly made to social conservatives to try roll back marriage equality and other rights. But there is also a strategy, likely coming from White House advisor and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon and the other white nationalists surrounding Trump, to pit gays against Muslims (by claiming the clampdown on Muslim immigration is also about protecting LGBTQ people from terrorism), a strategy that appears to have worked to varying degrees in some European countries, particularly among white gay men who obviously don’t experience oppression based on race or gender. Think Breitbart’s vile Milo Yiannopoulos. Many gay (male) Republicans also agree with the idea of “religious exemptions.” They’re deluded, since such exemptions allow discrimination by those most likely to discriminate. Bottom line: Any expression of support for LGBT rights by Trump is in direct opposition to his stated positions (for example, his long-time position against marriage equality and his support for the First Amendment Defense Act) and, more importantly, is in opposition to the core beliefs of an important part of the base that elected him and which is demanding a payoff.
Rule number 2: Do not believe a media that has promoted Trump’s false claims. Take note that much of the media ― the same media that largely gave Trump a pass on many issues, offered enormous free coverage with little analysis and still wants access to the White House ― is clueless on the LGBTQ issue, or is willfully giving Trump a pass on it perhaps because many don’t care about it as much as other issues. And make it your goal to call out the media every time you see anything promoting Trump as somehow “pro-gay” or “better” on LGBTQ rights than others in the GOP. I’ve pointed out how The New York Times and the Washington Post in particular did this during the campaign ― and it harmed us ― and there are other instances since then, with regard to Trump or his cabinet members. But there are many other outlets guilty of this, including the broadcast network reporters and cable TV reporters and pundits. You have to call out these reporters on social media, in emails in and phone calls, with clear facts, pointing to Trump’s positions. We can’t let the media ― itself feeling under brutal attack by Trump ― use us as the pawns by portraying Trump as pro-LGBTQ as a way for them to show him they’re giving him some positive coverage. Call it out, every time you see it.
Rule Number 3: Take attacks on any one group as an attack on all of us. Don’t let Trump divide us. Every harsh issue Trump ran on is a queer issue, an LGBTQ concern, and should be fought against vociferously. Immigration affects millions of LGBTQ people, whether they be Muslims, Mexican or from any other group. The administration’s omission of Jews in its Holocaust Remembrance Day declaration is a hideous affront to all Jews, including LGBTQ Jews. Any lifting of sanctions against Russia gives Vladimir Putin further license in his brutal crackdown on LGBTQ people. Attacks on women’s rights, from pay equity to abortion, are attacks on lesbian, bisexual and trans women. Trump’s racist birther lies and his stereotyping of African-Americans are an attack on all black LGBTQ people. More to the point, Trump’s authoritarian and narcissistic impulses, fascistic language and lack of empathy should be a warning that any group could be next on his list, falling out of favor at a moment’s notice. Stay on guard and make all the connections, as seductive as it might be to think you’re immune from harm.
Rule number 4: Realize that when it comes to LGBTQ equality, it’s not over. Despite successes, LGBTQ people are a vulnerable minority and a group with no federal protections in housing, employment or public accommodations, in the way that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects racial and religious minorities. I’ve talked a lot about “victory blindness” ― the heady whirl that makes many of us believe we’ve arrived ― and under a Trump administration it’s definitely time to battle against this thinking. In most states, most companies can fire people, or landlords can throw them out of their homes, because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and it happens all the time in ugly ways.The only federal protection that LGBTQ people have is a narrow order that prevents companies contracted with the federal government from engaging in employment discrimination. President Obama signed that order. The Trump administration earlier this week decided ― after initial reports that it would repeal that order ― to keep the order in place, and used it as an opportunity to try to make Trump look supportive of LGBTQ people. But he certainly announced no intention of actually getting broad, real protections for LGBTQ people into law, nor has he reversed his position against marriage equality or for other harmful initiatives.
As I wrote a few days after the election, Mike Pence ― who led the transition team ― as a long-time social conservative political crusader, is hellbent on giving religious exemptions to anyone opposed to LGBTQ equality and making gay marriage into a kind of second class marriage. He and other religious zealots were already working on this days after the election, and they’ll do it in any way they can.
I wrote about the people who populated the transition team in prominent positions, many from the vociferously anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, including Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who compared homosexuality to kleptomania and arson in an interview with me. Now, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., one of the loudest voices against queer equality, will lead an education task force for Trump ― after having said no to the post of education secretary as Trump’s first choice, before Trump chose another religious conservative, Betsy DeVos. Trump’s entire cabinet is in fact a who’s who of homophobia and transphobia. And, again, his first Supreme Court Justice nominee is primed to harm LGBTQ rights.
Protest, activism, calling legislators, and all the other ways the resistance is fighting back, are all enormously important. But for LGBTQ people in particular it’s vital to stop the American media from putting forth the deception that Trump is “gay-friendly” ― a lie that endangers us. If we live by that and these other simple rules, and refuse to normalize him, we can keep Trump from causing maximum harm.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter: www.twitter.com/msignorile