The LGBTQ+ movement is in a curious and uncertain position under President Trump. Decades of religious proselytising saw these minorities cast as a prime antagonist by the Republican Party, their ostensible degeneracy validating the Grand Old Party’s rhetoric of family value and its systematic breakdown.
Homophobia and transphobia are rife within the GOP establishment, and if LGBTQ+ Americans were living under, say, a President Cruz, there would be no question that their rights would be rolled thoroughly back. Trump, hardly a conservative in any sense, is a more equivocal force.
Amongst his many idiosyncrasies, Donald Trump stood out against so-called ‘moderate’ Republicans for his relatively progressive views; indeed, although he has gone back and forth, one strange truth is that he came out in support of same-sex marriage before Hillary Clinton did. Even when it was Trump’s turn to triangulate in the primaries, he has proved reluctant to attack the gains of the LGBTQ+ movement.
Although he has flirted aloud with the idea of appointing judges to overturn the landmark 2015 Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, he has more frequently asserted that the issue is settled. As President-elect in November, Trump suggested that he wouldn’t make any alteration to this ruling, while simultaneously declaring his intent to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
It’s an odd juxtaposition: the once socially liberal Trump sticking to his old position on gay rights, while earlier this month proving more than willing to throw women under a bus. Trump’s position, one supposes, is a mix of pragmatism and indifference.
Trumpism is focused on flag, not faith and family. Regardless of the religious right’s heretofore integral role in Republican politics, the sleazy, thrice-married billionaire’s pitch never entailed family values. LGBTQ+ people are simply non-existent within his narrative, which is both a comfort and a worry. On Tuesday, the White House stated that they would keep in place a 2014 executive order banning anti-LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination. Yet such an order only applied to companies working with the federal government. There is no sign Trump will attain further protections. What we can expect is a freeze on progress—and a safe space for Republicans to make conservative pushbacks.
Just this month Texan Senator Lois Kolkhorst unveiled a bill barring transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender when visiting government buildings. Meanwhile, Lt Gov Dan Patrick has challenged Houston’s policy of offering employees with spouses of the same sex benefits equal to traditionally married couples. Better known is the frightening prominence of Mike Pence, who has never recanted his public statements promulgating conversion therapy.
As recently as last year, Pence signed a Religious Freedom Restoration Act for Indiana which allows businesses to deny services to LGBTQ+ people. Although Trump, Bannon, and co are prioritising dehumanising and discriminating against Muslims and refugees, the fact that the Republican Party wields such ubiquitous power enables its senators and governors to pursue atavistic policymaking within the frozen limits of when Trump came to office.
But there is hope. Trump may be adhering to the new status quo on same-sex marriage because Republicans have dared not urge its reversal: public opinion on the status of gay people and their relationships has, much like in the UK, evolved with an incredible rapidity. The media’s normalisation of LGBTQ+ individuals will continue, and it’s certain that Republicans cannot erase most of the progress made.
Nevertheless, although the impact the Trump administration has on LGBTQ+ people may be transient, there is nothing unstoppable about the movement or inevitable about progress, and work still needs to be done. Trans people in particular face a horrifying amount of stigmatisation and abuse, and President Trump will not strive to alleviate this. Collective action must be the response.