“Donald Trump is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing with it comes to LGBT equality,” wrote former Human Rights Campaign (HRC) staffer Brandon Lorenz in May of 2016. It was one of many warnings from queer advocacy groups that Trump would be devastating to LGBTQ equality.
Two years into his presidency, they’ve all been proven right — and then some.
At the time, Lorenz noted that Trump had promised to roll back marriage equality, enable a license to discriminate, turn a blind eye to anti-transgender laws, and repeal executive orders protecting the LGBTQ community. While those exact predictions have not fully been realized, they still point in the direction of many of the actions the administration has taken. Like all other aspects of the Trump administration, it’s instead been full of unimaginable consequences.
Fenway Health released a new report this week that documents how many anti-LGBTQ actions the Trump administration took during just his second year in office. The list is long, but includes rolling back nondiscrimination protections across multiple agencies, fighting to implement a ban on transgender military service, and proposing a rule to allow health care providers to deny service according to their religious beliefs. It only builds on the list Fenway put out for Trump’s first year.
While there may have been no way to imagine all of the different ways Trump would try to dismantle LGBTQ equality, advocates at least understood that he’d be a wild card. Just two days before the Pulse nightclub shooting, radio host Michelangelo Signorile warned that Trump would be “a mortal danger to LGBT equality,” one who would act “in a more insidious, under-the-radar way than any previous GOP presidential nominee.” That much has proven to be true.
It was in the wake of that June 2016 tragedy, which killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at a gay club in Orlando, that Trump tried to convince voters of his LGBTQ credibility. He did so by invoking what has been called “homonationalism,” arguing that because he was more Islamophobic than Hillary Clinton, he would be better for the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ advocates were not convinced. Jared Polis (D), then a congressman from Colorado and now the country’s first openly gay governor, remarked at the time, “There’s an effort of Donald Trump to blame Muslims for this attack and of course there’s been a number of mass shootings in our country and they’ve been committed by Christians, Muslims and people of many different faiths.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center also countered Trump’s claim, noting that he had established an evangelical advisory board chock full of some of the biggest opponents of LGBTQ equality.
A month later, Trump doubled down on this homonationalist tactic in his speech to the Republican National Convention. “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology, believe me,” he said. Trump was lauded for being the first Republican presidential nominee to use the community’s acronym in a convention speech, even though he stumbled over it both times he said it. He didn’t offer a single domestic solution for advancing LGBTQ rights.
The historic mention didn’t sway many people. HRC’s Chad Griffin wrote that September that “Donald Trump and Mike Pence pose a clear threat to equality here in the United States, particularly when it comes to marriage equality, basic civil rights protections and the makeup of our Supreme Court.” A month later, Pence even openly confirmed that the administration planned to roll back protections for transgender students.
But just over a week before the election, Trump was lauded again for unfurling a rainbow flag at one of his campaign events. The flag was upside down and had been vandalized with the words “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled in magic marker. Trump didn’t actually mention LGBTQ people in his speech that night or ever introduce any pro-LGBTQ policies, but queer conservatives nevertheless continued boasting of his alleged support.
These LGBTQ conservatives who were all too eager to turn a blind eye to concerns about his promises to roll back equality. Caitlyn Jenner, for example, insisted that Trump “seems very much behind the LGBT community.” It wasn’t until this past October that she admitted that Trump has “relentlessly attacked” the trans community and that she was wrong to believe he could be a force for change in the Republican Party.
The Log Cabin Republicans stopped short of endorsing Trump, but continued to shill for him through the election. The organization’s new executive director, Jerri Ann Henry, recently called Trump’s litany of anti-LGBTQ actions “hiccups,” promising to push Trump in a more pro-LGBT direction. A recent feature in the New York Times Magazine documented that some LGBTQ conservatives — particularly gay, white, cisgender men who are vocally transphobic — continue to support Trump, the Republican Party, and conservative ideology regardless of how many negative actions the administration takes.
But it cannot be denied that Trump has opposed LGBTQ equality at every turn. With the Supreme Court and its conservative majority poised to take up a variety of cases that will impact LGBTQ rights — including several in which the administration has taken the side of discrimination — the full extent of that harm will likely be far greater than what has already come to fruition.