Leading up to the 2020 election, the Trump administration — which Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David dubbed “the most virulently anti-LGBTQ+ administration in decades” — seems as though it’s trying to pull off a mind-boggling 180-degree pivot in regard to LGBTQ+ issues. Is it possible that Trump is using his full powers of showmanship to try and convince the American public that he’s actually not as anti as people might have initially believed?
The president is now sponsoring “Trump Pride” rallies and has already unleashed a sea of rainbow MAGA merchandise. Beyond the theatrics, though, he’s been quiet about exactly how he’s going to support the LGBTQ+ community if elected to another four years in office.
Let’s take a closer look at the last four years to get a better indication of what another term might look like when it comes to potential LGBTQ+ future policy. From hundreds of conservative appointments to the steady exclusion of trans folks from the protection of the law, Trump’s stance in relation to the LGBTQ+ community has been overwhelmingly clear. Then again, the June 2020 Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County (concerning employer prejudice) may have secured some protections for LGBTQ+ folks against discrimination that even the president can’t undo — at least for now.
Back in 2016, Trump spoke candidly about his views on gay marriage. “I take a lot of heat because I come from New York,” he told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly. “You know, from New York, it’s like, how you can be against gay marriage? But I’m opposed to gay marriage.” This stance earned him a great deal of support from conservative Christian groups, which still make up a large chunk of his base.
Now, in 2020, Trump is trying to reinvent himself in the public eye. Richard Grenell, formerly the US ambassador to Germany, became the first openly gay cabinet member when Trump appointed him as acting Director of National Intelligence earlier this year. Now, Grenell has been appointed to the Republican National Committee, specifically focusing on LGBTQ+ outreach.
“President Trump is the most pro-gay president in history,” Grenell claimed in a video released by the Log Cabin Republicans, a group for “LGBT conservatives and allies.” He added, “President Trump began a historic campaign to decriminalize homosexuality around the Globe.”
While Trump and Grenell have both made statements denouncing the criminalization of homosexuality at the international level, there is no proof that their efforts ever went beyond a few speeches and discussion panels. David Pressman, who worked on global LGBTQ policy under Obama, said, “There’s nothing. [Grenell’s events have not] translated into any meaningful, coordinated, strategic effort.”
While Trump might be claiming to be an ally to the LGBTQ community now, just before the election, his track record of presidential appointments shows otherwise — starting with his first pick: Vice President Mike Pence.
Part of Pence’s running platform for Congress in 2000 marked diverting funds for HIV/AIDS assistance toward conversion therapy programs instead. In 2013, as governor of Indiana, he supported HJ-R3, a bill to add an amendment to the Indiana constitution, making same-sex marriage illegal.
The president seems well aware of Pence’s prejudice against “the gays,” privately joking that Pence “wants to hang them all,” per NBC.
Beyond the vice president and all 22 cabinet positions, as of September 25, 2020, Trump had already appointed 217 federal judges. Nearly one-third of justices across federal courts are Trump-appointees, states the Financial Times. That’s a staggering figure when you consider that these judges will serve lifetime terms.
That number bumped up to 218 when Amy Coney Barrett was sworn in and appointed to the Supreme Court on October 28. Barrett will be able to influence decisions in the highest court of the land — a court which now has a 6-3 conservative majority, and three Trump appointees.
Back in 2017, a list surfaced via The Washington Post of “forbidden words” that were to be stricken from the CDC vocabulary. Among them were “transgender” and “diversity.” Later, CNN clarified that the list was simply a strategy suggestion on how to obtain funding for research, rather than an official mandate on what could or couldn’t be studied.
Two years later, Trump barred transgender folks from enlisting in the military. “Transgender — the military is working on it now,” he said in a statement, per NBC. “It’s been a very difficult situation. I think I’m doing a lot of people a favor by coming out and just saying it. I think I’m doing the military a great favor.”
More recently, in June 2020, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services modified Obama-era legislation that barred discrimination based on gender identity. The new legislation only barred discrimination “based on the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology,” leaving transgender folks unprotected from discrimination by doctors and hospitals.
Just two days later, however, the Supreme Court passed down a landmark decision in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ folks from discrimination in the job market (including trans people specifically) with Bostock v. Clayton County. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was Trump’s first installment to the Supreme Court, wrote that “[a]n employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The decision was not unanimous, however. Trump’s second Supreme Court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, wrote his own dissenting opinion, claiming that courts should follow the “ordinary meaning” of a law, as opposed to the literal meaning, per Prospect. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas also dissented, but Prospect claims that Kavanaugh’s opinion was a far more threatening one, as it could potentially undermine future efforts for social change.
Kavanaugh’s threat to undermine LGBTQ+ rights may become more amplified if it turns out that he has an ally in Barret. For the moment, though, the Bostock ruling has the potential to protect LGBTQ+ folks from discrimination across multiple areas, not just in the workplace. But if Trump is re-elected and manages to secure just one more Supreme Court nomination (a possibility if liberal judge Stephen Breyer retires), then the chance of legalized discrimination toward the LGBTQ+ community — and transgender folks especially — could grow exponentially.