Once a self-proclaimed friend to the LGBT community, President Trump will find such words a harder — if not impossible — sell in the aftermath of major actions he took against LGBT rights in the past week.
In one day, President Trump announced — via tweets, no less — that transgender people won’t be allowed to serve in the U.S. military “in any capacity,” overturning an Obama-era change allowing them into the armed forces. On the same day, Trump’s Justice Department filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing lesbian, gay and bisexual people are entitled to no protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
To top that off, Trump on the same day announced he’d appoint as U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who’s undermined LGBT rights over his political career in the name of religious liberty.
Trump has taken actions before that have disappointed LGBT people, but the unilateral imposition of a transgender service ban — after Congress rejected a measure that would have restricted transition-related care for service members — and a voluntary friend-of-the-court brief undermining basic employment protections have taken things up a notch.
What gives? Over the course of his presidential campaign, Trump billed himself as a new kind of Republican candidate who unlike his predecessors or his competitors for the 2016 Republican nomination would support LGBT people.
During the Republican National Convention, Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee in history to mention LGBT people in a positive way during his acceptance speech for the nomination, citing the recent shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., that left 49 people dead and 53 wounded.
“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,” Trump said. “Believe me.”
Trump at a later event criticized his opponent Hillary Clinton for donations the Clinton Foundation accepted from Middle Eastern countries that impose the death penalty and imprisonment for homosexuality.
“Ask the gays what they think and what they do in not only Saudi Arabia, in many of these countries with the gay community,” Trump said. “Let’s ask. Then you tell me: Who’s your friend, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?”
Referencing Clinton’s immigration policy and support for increased refugees in a subsequent message on Twitter, Trump said, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
Those words, of course, ignore Clinton’s detailed commitment to LGBT rights and specific policy plans on LGBT issues, including support for transgender military service and protections for gay people under civil federal law, which Trump never promised over his presidential campaign.
The Human Rights Campaign, which had never accepted Trump’s overtures to LGBT people as he campaigned against Clinton, produced a video in the aftermath of his administration’s recent anti-LGBT action proclaiming him “Liar-in-Chief.”
Critics of Trump are quick to point out he expressed solidarity with LGBT people in terms of sowing opposition to Muslims, or least raising fears about Islamic extremism.
But at the start of the administration, the White House declared Trump was “respectful and supportive” of LGBT rights without making such references in a statement declaring he’d keep intact former President Obama’s 2014 executive order against anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, denied any kind of shift from Trump in his approach to LGBT issues despite his organization’s criticism of the transgender military ban.
“Then-candidate and now-President Trump has always pursued balancing religious liberty and LGBT equality, and I don’t think there has been any fundamental shift from that position,” Angelo said. “What I see in Trump is someone who in an often clumsy — but nonetheless admirable — way is attempting to address a Republican electorate with vastly divergent views on LGBT-related issues.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted Trump had a holistic approach to his presidency when asked if he betrayed LGBT people with his recent actions.
“I think the president had made very clear he’s committed to fighting for all Americans,” Sanders said.
There’s a long list of anti-LGBT actions from Trump. Most notably, his administration rescinded Obama-era guidance to schools assuring transgender kids access to public restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The removal of LGBT questions from federal health surveys and their omission in the upcoming census also riled his LGBT critics.
The president has also refused to condemn reports of anti-gay violence in the semi-autonomous Republic of Chechnya, despite multiple entreaties from LGBT rights groups to speak out, and declined to issue a proclamation recognizing June as Pride month.
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, said recent actions from his administration are just par for the course for a president who has no intention of keeping his campaign promises.
“President Trump and his administration have shown over the last couple weeks that they are willing to be more public about their anti-LGBTQ agenda and goal to erase LGBTQ Americans from the fabric of this nation,” Ellis said. “From the ban on transgender soldiers from serving in the U.S. military, the Justice Department’s choice to exclude LGBTQ people as a protected class under the Civil Rights Act, and confirming closed-door meetings with anti-LGBTQ activists at the White House, President Trump has revealed that his campaign pledge to protect LGBTQ Americans was nothing more than a con job.”