WASHINGTON ― Republican nominee Donald Trump tossed out one of his favorite lies about Muslim-majority nations during Wednesday night’s presidential debate: that those countries “push gays off of buildings.”
He cited the untruth to bash his Democratic rival, arguing that Hillary Clinton needs to return donations to her family’s foundation from countries engaging in this practice.
“You talk about women, women’s rights,” Trump said. “These are people who push gays off of buildings. These are people who kill women and treat women horribly, and yet you take their money. So I would like to ask you right now, why don’t you give back the money that you have taken from certain countries that treat certain groups of people so horribly?”
In a rare moment of unity within Trump’s camp, campaign manager Kellyanne Conway repeated the talking point Thursday morning on CNN’s “New Day”― and not one of the anchors or studio guests challenged the absurd claim.
The argument has a nice ring politically. It allows Trump-supporting Islamophobes to feel morally superior, justified in their hateful speech or actions through an association with one of the most successful social movements of the last few decades. It’s a neat way to deceptively rebrand the Republican Party as a champion of progress rather than a force that continues to try to suppress LGBT populations across the U.S.
But it’s still a big ol’ lie ― and a very dangerous one, amounting to a dog whistle for Trump’s most extreme followers.
Here’s how much money the Clinton Foundation has received from proponents of pushing LGBT people off buildings: zero dollars and zero cents.
That’s because no government in the Muslim-majority world (or anywhere else in the world) has this as a policy.
The only “government” that does is that of the militant Islamic State group ― a brutal international pariah that does not represent the views of most Muslims or have the legal standing to donate to the Clinton Foundation.
By conflating ISIS’s actions with those of Muslim-led governments, Trump is not standing up bravely for a sexual minority. Instead, he’s revealing the depth of his ignorance, his general disdain for Muslims (ISIS must be the same as the rest of them, right?) and his disregard of the impact his words can have.
The slur he is helping spread has already been linked to violent Islamophobia. In August, an Oklahoma man killed an Arab-American neighbor after speaking about the neighbor’s family as “filthy Lebanese” who “throw gay people off rooftops.”
Muslim communities do have work to do on embracing LGBT rights, and there are horrific restrictions on LGBT activity in the countries Trump mentioned (Saudi Arabia and Qatar) and their Muslim-majority neighbors. In Saudi Arabia, LGBT individuals can face jail time, floggings and the death penalty. Its regional rival, Iran, uses similar punishments. So does Qatar, which is struggling to answer how it will handle LGBT athletes and attendees when it hosts the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
But Trump’s misrepresentation has little chance of spurring improvements in the situation or sparking helpful, fact-based conversations that might lead U.S.-friendly governments to reform. There’s zero evidence that progress on this front is even something he wants; the call for Clinton to return the money is linked to his broader complaint about her foreign ties, not to some campaign to uphold human rights by isolating repressive governments.
His true goal with this rhetoric is to establish Islam as a menacing specter and posture as a protector of LGBT folks, the “daddy” of alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.
Many in the LGBT movement see through this, as writers and advocates showed when they rejected Trump’s rush to spread Islamophobia following a Muslim man’s attack on a gay club in Orlando, Florida, in June. (Those who do want to see him as president seem uninterested in this specific form of fear-mongering: lesbian voters who recently told The Huffington Post they are supporting Trump cited his views on the economy and his apparent straight-talking.)
As gay people have become “normalized” in American consciousness through recent historical milestones like the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in 2010 and the legalization of same-sex marriage in June 2015, these victories have created space for the homonationalist American who abandons intersectional activism and advocates racist, xenophobic, capitalistic self-interest.
As these gay Trump supporters use his candidacy to try to advance their limited interests, the Republican nominee uses them, in stunts like Peter Thiel’s convention speech, to distract from the homophobic measures his party recently endorsed in its platform and from his pledge to stack federal courts with anti-LGBT judges. (As well as the pro-conversion therapy man he wants to have as vice president.)
This is politically helpful with a broader group, too: the majority of Americans who want their LGBT friends and family members to be treated as equal. It’s easy for Trump to keep them content when he’s quiet about limiting the rights and freedoms of “the gays” and loud about fake threats.
This particular Trump falsehood won’t be enough to shore up his flagging candidacy this close to the election. But the line of argument is one to watch. Its success in entering the discourse without major public skepticism suggests that white nationalist-endorsed talk of defending Western values against foreign barbarians will only become more common and more heated ― even if that means alienating friendly countries abroad, sowing distrust between vulnerable communities at home and, as in Oklahoma, actual violence.
The Huffington Post is documenting the rising wave of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence in America. Take a stand against hate.