Trump's Antigay Cabinet and LGBTQ Rights

12/10/2016 04:51 pm ET Updated Dec 11, 2016

Although Donald Trump called himself a “supporter” of LGBTQ rights, his cabinet and senior staff will include some of the most anti-gay politicians in the country.

On one of the biggest decisions a president can make, the selection of a Supreme Court Justice, Trump suggested he might make same-sex marriage a litmus test for his choice. In January, he told Fox News he would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the 2015 decision allowing same-sex marriage. He’s also said he would appoint a justice like the late Antonin Scalia. Scalia, you may recall, wrote a blistering dissent against the same-sex marriage ruling, and has ruled against legalizing sodomy.

But, then, Trump says a lot of things he doesn’t remember saying. Many people in the know say that his views on many issues are all over the place, and he’s likely to follow the advice of the person he last talked to. So let’s consider some of the people – some deadly serious about rolling back gay rights – who will have his ear and are likely to pursue their agenda independently within their domains.

Jeff Sessions

The Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer and lawyer for the U.S. government. He or she is expected to protect Americans and not have animus against certain groups – like the LGBTQ community, women and people of color. So it is a concern that the Human Rights Campaign has given Sessions a “zero percent” voting record on LGBT rights. 

This record goes beyond voting for a failed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and against the repeal of “Don’t ask don’t tell,” as Sessions did, and includes his opposition to expanding the definition of a hate crime to include LGBTQ people. As head of the Justice Department, Sessions could undermine hate crime protections and undo Obama’s directive to schools not to discriminate against transgender students. 

Ben Carson

The former pediatric brain surgeon and failed GOP candidate for President has some, to put it politely, interesting views on many things, including his theory that the pyramids in Egypt were constructed for storing grain. On LGBTQ rights, he’s notably hostile, saying that sexual orientation is a choice, comparing gay sex to bestiality, and opining that LGBTQs have more rights than Christians in America. He’s the choice for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary. He’s also opposed to non-discrimination laws of all kind, laws he would be tasked with enforcing. As HUD Secretary he could rescind a 2012 rule prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination in federally funded housing for low-income people, as one example.

Betsy DeVos

The billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos is not only anti-public school – we’re noticing a trend of nominating those who are opposed to the mission of the cabinets they would lead – she’s also an antigay activist. Her family has donated to anti-gay groups, including groups that advocate for the widely discredited conversion therapy to “cure” gays of their same-sex attraction.

LGBTQ kids have reason for concern, as Devos could remove the protection of favorable guidance in schools, including the Department of Education’s letters that have taken a strong stand against antigay and ant-trans policies in school districts.

Steve Bannon

As Trump’s top White House adviser not subject to Congressional confirmation, Steve Bannon will have the President’s ear. He’s been getting deserved consternation for his views on race and his alleged coddling of white supremacists. But as the chairman of Breitbart News Network, he also signed off on antigay stories, with headlines like “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber, It’s Time to Get Back in the Closet.”

Mike Pence

And then there’s Vice President-elect Mike Pence. As Indiana governor, Pence signed a controversial “license to discriminate” bill that allowed business to refuse service to LGBTQ people. As a Congressman, he urged lawmakers to “oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status.”

“One thing we know is that Pence is deeply devoted to undermining the human and civil rights of the LGBTQ community,” writes Emily Hauser in The Week. Hauser says Americans should pay close attention to what Pence does, as he’s already playing an outsized role in the administration, almost a shadow President.

And I’m not even counting members of the transition policy team, which includes a Breitbart editor who has worked for antigay groups and has written about the “homosexual agenda.” Plus, the Trump transition team’s domestic policy advisor, Ken Blackwell, has said gays can be reformed, “just like arsonists.”

Will the beliefs and past actions of these officials, assuming the ones up for confirmation are confirmed, matter to the day-to-day lives of LGBTQ Americans? Are hard-won gains of recent years in danger of being rolled back? Most definitely.

It’s become clear that as far as broad public opinion goes, the equality train has left the station. A solid majority of Americans approves of same-sex marriage. The Pew poll even found that 51 percent think that a person should use the restroom that corresponds to his or her gender identity. In North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory was defeated, likely for pushing House Bill 2, the infamous “bathroom bill,” that brought an economic backlash to the state.

But the general public doesn’t make laws. And this election, we’re told, turned on economic anxiety of the white working class (and as I and others have pointed out, white resentment). LGBTQ rights were not well-explored in the general campaign, possibly because so many of the gains under the Obama administration were considered “settled.” But let’s be honest, nothing is ever settled.

There are many unknowns in the upcoming administration. I would say, ignore what the administration says – and please, for the sake of your sanity, ignore the tweets – and look closely at what it does. LGBTQ rights can be rolled back. Without close scrutiny and, if necessary, public outcry, the civil rights gains of this community could recede like the tide. 

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