June 11, 2017 at 8:14 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Here’s how Trump has undermined LGBT rights (so far)
Trump LGBT, gay news, Washington Blade

President Donald Trump (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Critics of President Trump claim he’s a disaster for LGBT equality. The White House asserts Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.” So, who’s right?

To the surprise of many, the start of the administration saw limited support for LGBT rights. The White House within days of the new administration issued a statement declaring Trump is “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights” and would keep in place an executive order signed by President Obama in 2014 that barred federal contractors from engaging in anti-LGBT workplace discrimination.

The Trump administration also defied the wishes of anti-LGBT advocates seeking to purge the State Department of LGBT rights supporters by keeping in place Randy Berry in his role as special envoy for global international LGBT rights.

In terms of anti-LGBT actions, the most concrete actions have undermined transgender rights. Most prominently, that came in form of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoking Obama-era guidance instructing schools that discrimination targeting trans kids, such as denying them access to the restroom consistent with their gender identity, is unlawful.

Under Sessions, the Justice Department also withdrew litigation against North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law after it was replaced despite assertions from civil rights groups the new law is discriminatory. The department also missed a deadline to appeal a court injunction barring enforcement of an Obama-era regulation assuring trans people have access to health care, including gender reassignment surgery.

Another metric for presidential commitment to LGBT rights has been making openly LGBT appointments, an effort Obama undertook, which led to a record number of openly LGBT appointees.

By contrast, Trump has yet to make a single high-profile, openly LGBT appointment.

Meanwhile, Trump appointments include Roger Severino as assistant secretary of civil rights at the Department of Health & Human Services, which essentially places an anti-transgender activist in charge of defending trans health. LGBT advocates helped derail the confirmation of Trump’s first choice for Army secretary, Mark Green, who has taken anti-LGBT positions during his career as a state legislator and said being trans is a “disease.”

Many LGBT advocates breathed a sigh of relief after learning that a long-awaited “religious freedom” executive order issued by President Trump in May did not include specific anti-LGBT provisions that media reports said were included in an earlier draft of the order.

But officials with several national LGBT advocacy organizations expressed concern that the two-page executive order, called “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty,” gives U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions authority to interpret existing federal laws and regulations in a way that could result in discrimination against LGBT people.

“In essence, the executive order punts the question of how and where the administration will permit discrimination against LGBT people to Jeff Sessions, a man who has consistently denied LGBTQ people equality under the law,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement.

“This sweeping approach could result in an unprecedented expansion of religious exemptions affecting employment, services and programs,” the HRC statement says.

But Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, disputed that assessment, saying the text of the order makes “absolutely no mention of anything to do with the LGBT community.”

“Not only is the text of the executive order completely agnostic on LGBT-related matters, the Trump administration has now explicitly asserted that ‘there were no plans for a separate order that addressed LGBT issues,’” said Angelo.

The main provision of the order directs the IRS to use “maximum enforcement discretion” to ease restrictions on churches and religious organizations with a tax-exempt status that would allow them to engage partisan politics, including possible endorsement of candidates running for public office.

In addition, President Trump declined to issue a proclamation designating June as Pride month, breaking with a tradition started under the Obama administration. Trump on the last day of May issued five separate proclamations recognizing June as National Caribbean-American Heritage Month, African-American Music Appreciation Month, National Homeownership Month, Great Outdoors Month and National Ocean Month. Absent from the list was anything related to Pride.

Trump’s budget proposal is another source of concern for LGBT advocates. Proponents of funding to combat HIV/AIDS continue to express alarm over cuts to federal programs, which in some cases are massive, in the budget proposal that President Trump unveiled last month amid questions of whether Congress will agree to the reductions.

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute, said the decrease in funding for HIV/AIDS proposed in the Trump administration’s $4.1 trillion budget request was “pretty shocking” after years of bipartisan agreement to confront the disease.

“We always think there are ways to improve, ways to change things, we’re open to that,” Schmid said. “We’re not one of the people that say, ‘No, no, no.’ But I don’t think cutting the budget this drastically is a way to change things.”

The budget blueprint unveiled in March by the White House Office of Management & Budget indicated proposed cuts for HIV screening and research, but Schmid said the extent of cuts in the budget was a surprise.

Among the more drastic cuts is a $186 million reduction in Centers for Disease Control funding for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STIs, and TB prevention. A full $150 million of the reduction would come from HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

For research, on the chopping block is the National Institutes for Health, which handles HIV/AIDS research for the federal government and was working on a cure under President Obama. The budget seeks a massive $7.2 billion reduction to NIH generally and a $550 million reduction to HIV/AIDS research specifically, according to the AIDS Institute.

On international LGBT rights, the Trump administration has already seen a human rights crisis after the emergence of reports of arrests and torture of gay and bisexual men in Russia’s semi-autonomous Republic of Chechnya. More than 100 men have been tortured and at least four killed in what media reports are calling “concentration camps.”

After some prodding, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has said the U.S. government is “disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture and murder of people in Chechnya,” although Trump himself has remained silent.

When asked by the Blade at the 100-day mark of the administration to grade Trump’s performance, all major LGBT rights organizations — with the exception of Log Cabin Republicans — gave Trump an ‘F.’

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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