Donald Trump sought to warm up social conservatives on Friday in a speech at an anti-LGBT conference, making coded references to restricting LGBT rights without making any explicit pledges.
During his remarks before the Faith & Freedom Coalition Conference in D.C., Trump pledged to “respect and defend Christian Americans,” but generally avoided overt anti-LGBT bluster.
Still, Trump called his opponent Hillary Clinton as “crooked as they come,” warned she’d allow Syrian refugees into the United States and keep wages stagnant with “uncontrolled immigration.”
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee warned Clinton would appoint justices that would abolish the Second Amendment and disrespect the rule of law, but maintained his choices would uphold the U.S. Constitution and be “all pro-life.”
At the end of his speech, Trump made a call to “lift up everyone” in words that recall speeches given by Clinton.
“We will work together to build and restore and lift up everyone, not a certain group, everyone,” Trump said. “The whole country we’re going to lift up. We will make America great again for all Americans.”
Trump didn’t say anything overtly anti-LGBT, but he made references to certain issues in ways that could be considered code for support for undermining LGBT rights.
Trump didn’t reference his opposition to same-sex marriage, but said he wants to restore marriage as an institution that along with family he said is the “building block of happiness and success.”
“And by the way, I know many, many very successful people,” Trump said. “The happiest people are the people that have that great religious feel and that incredible marriage. Children. It’s more important than the money, folks. Believe me. I know plenty with lots of money and they’re not happy people.”
The candidate warned Clinton would restrict “religious freedom with government mandates,” which could be construed as support for undermining LGBT rights in the name of “religious freedom.”
“We will restore faith to its proper mantle in our society,” Trump said. “That’s what we have do, and we have to do that soon.”
Trump said he values religious freedom, despite his calls for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, and said freedom means “no one should be judged just by the color of their skin,” but made no mention of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the aftermath of guidance from the Obama administration prohibiting schools from discriminating against transgender students, Trump said, “We will give parents control over their schools. So important.”
At one point, protesters interrupted Trump’s speech, but were escorted out. One chanted the refrain, “Refugees are welcome here! Stop Trump!” Another held up an anti-Trump sign that read, “Build Bridges Not Walls,” but an audience member ripped the sign away. Trump supporters attempted to drown them up by shouting, “USA! USA!”
“What’s happening in our country is so sad,” Trump said. “We’re so divided. It’s such a shame. And by the way, these are professional agitators, folks. They come in. They’re sent here by the other party, believe me.”
Although Trump wasn’t explicit during his speech about attacking LGBT rights, other speakers were.
Among them was conservative political activist and Faith & Freedom Coalition founder Ralph Reed, who criticized the administration for efforts to protect transgender rights.
Reed stoked fears about guidance from the administration prohibiting schools from discriminating against transgender students.
“They said if you do not allow a man or a boy who that day considers themselves to be a woman, if you do not allow them to go into a girl’s restroom, locker room or shower facility, then you are in violation of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, essentially implying that they will go into court and sue that school district,” Reed said.
Reed also touted a TV ad running in North Carolina defending anti-LGBT House Bill 2, which prohibits cities from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances and bars transgender people from using the restroom in schools and government buildings consistent with their gender identity.
The ad, Reed said, defends North Carolina Gov. Pat McCroy “for signing the legislation that protected the right of privacy for every single person in that state.”
“We will continue to air that ad,” Reed said. “We will back it with hundreds of pieces of mail and voter guides to show where the candidates stand on this issue. Did you think that we would get to this point in America?”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), who has a vehemently anti-LGBT reputation, railed against transgender people during his remarks, attributing the high rate of suicide in the transgender community to gender reassignment surgery.
Gohmert also criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for proposing a rule change to cover gender reassignment surgery.
“Do we not have enough veterans committing suicide without you increasing it 20 times?” Gohmert said. “Enough is enough. And we have to stand up for our veterans. We’re the adults. We have to stand up for our children.”
Gender reassignment surgery is widely recognized by the major medical institutions, including the American Medical Association, as effective treatment for gender dysphoria experienced by transgender people.