President Trump took the opportunity Friday of speaking at an anti-LGBT summit to express pleasure in his administration’s actions reversing the legacy of the Obama years, citing among other things recent “religious freedom” guidance seen to enable anti-LGBT discrimination.
Entering the stage at the 2017 Values Voter Summit to chants of “USA! USA! USA!” Trump sought to connect with an audience of social conservatives, who were largely responsible for his win in the 2016 presidential election.
“The American Founders invoked our Creator four times in the Declaration of Independence — four times,” Trump said. “How times have changed. But you know what, now they’re changing back again. Just remember that.”
Those words weren’t in direct reference to LGBT issues, but could apply to any number of actions in the Trump administration reversing LGBT achievements under Obama. Among them are his ban on transgender people in the military, undoing action in Obama years allowing them to serve, or his Justice Department advocating against LGBT non-discrimination protections after the previous administration enforced civil rights laws to protect LGBT people.
Trump’s speech covered a range of actions made in his administration, including the appointment of U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, ending the birth control mandate under Obamacare and military advances against the so-called Islamic State.
But Trump also maintained his commitment to “religious freedom,” citing his executive order on the issue in May that resulted subsequent guidance from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“Just last week, based on this executive action, the Department of Justice issued a new guidance to all federal agencies to ensure that no religious group is ever targeted under my administration,” Trump said. “It won’t happen.”
The guidance is seen to green light discrimination against LGBT people in the name of religious freedom. For example, a Social Security administrator charged with processing benefits applications could see an application for same-sex spousal benefits and refuse to process that application for religious reasons.
Religious freedom was major point in Trump’s address, which was delivered to many evangelical Christians. As evidence of America’s commitment to faith, Trump cited the inclusion of the words “one nation under God” in the pledge of allegiance.
“I pledged that, in a Trump administration, our nation’s religious heritage would be cherished, protected, and defended like you have never seen before,” Trump said. “That’s what’s happening. That’s what’s happening. You see it every day. You’re reading it.”
Trump also issued a call for unity at the event, recalling recent tragedies affecting the nation, such as the mass shooting at Las Vegas, the wildfire claiming lives in California and devastation caused by hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Trump has faced criticism for inadequate response to Puerto Rico, in which 84 percent of the island’s residents still do not have electricity.)
“When America is unified, no force on Earth can break us apart,” Trump said. “We love our families. We love our neighbors. We love our country. Everyone here today is brought together by the same shared and timeless values. We cherish the sacred dignity of every human life.”
Trump’s speech marked the first time a sitting U.S. president spoke at the Values Voter Summit, which is hosted by the anti-LGBT Family Research Council. But Trump has delivered remarks before at the annual event. Last year, Trump addressed the anti-LGBT confab when he was the Republican presidential nominee.
At one point, Trump made a strange joke asking Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, for permission to skip next year’s event. Looking to Perkins on stage, Trump later said, “He’s saying — they’re saying no.”
The exchange intended as amusing aside, but demonstrates the coziness between anti-LGBT groups like the Family Research Council and the White House since the start of the Trump administration.
In the end, Trump offered a triumphant view of America overcoming the many challenges it faces, but emphasized the centralized of faith in achieving that goal before an audience that known to use religious freedom as an excuse to discriminate against LGBT people.
“We will defeat every evil, overcome every threat, and meet every single challenge,” Trump said. “We will defend our faith and protect our traditions. We will find the best in each other and in ourselves. We will pass on the blessings of liberty, and the glories of God, to our children. Our values will endure, our nation will thrive, our citizens will flourish, and our freedom will triumph.”