Last Friday, the day before the start of LGBTQ Pride month, President Trump tweeted about gay pride for the first time since running for or holding office:
“As we celebrate LGBT Pride Month and recognize the outstanding contributions LGBT people have made to our great Nation, let us also stand in solidarity with the many LGBT people who live in dozens of countries worldwide that punish, imprison, or even execute individuals…. ….on the basis of their sexual orientation. My Administration has launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality and invite all nations to join us in this effort!”
Ok, let's start with something positive. Giving credit where it's due, even though Trump waited until the third of four Pride months within his term, it's nice that he finally provided some visibility via the tweet. It's not lost on me that only 30 years ago, President Reagan would not even acknowledge the AIDS crisis (or the LGBTQ community) so having the president, especially a Republican president, mention Pride is a commendable action. President Bill Clinton acknowledged it at the end of his second term in 1999 followed by President Obama during his terms. President George W. Bush ignored LGBTQ pride, therefore, making Trump the first Republican president to acknowledge it, even if it comes more than halfway through his presidency.
With that out of the way, let's take a hard look at Trump's statements and motivations here. Perhaps it's pandering — an appeal to white, cisgender, gay or bi men, the largest portion of the LGBTQ community who support him (it's still not a very large percentage). Maybe it's pandering to the moderate Republicans who have evolved on LGBTQ issues or have LGBTQ family and friends, such as my parents. See, he's not against the gay community, they'll probably say.
But look closely at what he said. He's not really celebrating the community, which is what Pride is all about. He's in fact, using Pride as a guise for more racist and divisive rhetoric. Celebrating who I am should not be qualified by how badly my community is treated in other parts of the world. I feel for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters (and every non-binary person in between) who are being persecuted all over the world, and it's great if Trump truly wants to try and stop that. But my celebration of who I am is not tied to the hatred of the countries and governments who are persecuting my community elsewhere. Since many of these countries are in Latin America, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, this is just another excuse for Trump to instill some xenophobia, fear and hatred toward people of color.
How many LGBTQ people and families are trying to flee Latin America and face Trump's “zero tolerance” illegal immigration policy where they are separated from their children and sent back? The hypocrisy here is classic Trump. Pride is about celebration but it's also looking at our community and taking a closer look at how persecuted we still are in our own country, let alone around the world. A lot of this persecution comes both directly and indirectly from Trump and his administration right now. Here are some of the biggest examples:
The Equality Act
I've written about this a few times in this column, but essentially it would extend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to LGBTQ Americans, which would include equal protection in employment, credit, housing, education, public accommodations, federal financial assistance and federal jury service. 30 states still don't have fully inclusive non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community. Four days before the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives were set to vote, an anonymous administration official wrote in an email to the Washington Blade, “The Trump administration absolutely opposes discrimination of any kind and supports the equal treatment of all; however, this bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.” To all the nay-sayers, this is not fake news, neither Trump nor anyone from his administration has questioned the validity of this email since then.
Four days later, the bill was passed 236-173, with all 173 opposing votes coming from Republicans. Of the 197 Republicans in the House, 173 voted against the Equality Act, 16 were not present or didn't vote and eight said “yes.” Trump's lack of support four days before the vote no doubt helped influence the fact that almost 88 percent of House Republicans voted in favor of further persecution of myself and my community (big kudos to the eight Republicans who voted “yes” for equality). Such opposition from House Republicans and lack of support from the president would suggest that the fate of the bill in the Republican-controlled Senate is doomed. Once again, this doesn't seem like a president who's celebrating the LGBTQ community.
What the administration official is most likely referring to is that the act would prohibit small businesses, such as bakeries, from turning away customers because they're LGBTQ. It would also make sure transgender people have access to gender-specific facilities and prevent the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which protects religious freedom) from being used to discriminate against LGBTQ people. This is all essential for the LGBTQ community to have the same equal rights as everyone else, so if these are the “poison pills,” they'd want taken out, the Equality Act would not actually achieve equality. These religious freedom arguments are thinly veiled licenses to discriminate. In fact, in December 2017, Trump's Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said to the press, “The president certainly supports religious liberty and that's something he talked about during the campaign and has upheld since taking office.” When asked whether that included support for signs that deny service to gay people, Sanders responded, “I believe that would include that.” Clearly we know what side Trump is on.
Health Care Discrimination
Trump's “expanded conscience rule” for health care providers only adds to his religious freedom malarkey. “Just today, we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities,” he said. After the rule was released in more detail, many feared that its broadness could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ patients and their children. “The rule allows a very wide range of people — from the receptionist to the boards of hospitals and everyone in between — to deny a patient's medical care if their personal beliefs get in the way,” says Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center. And of course, it's completely absurd that health care providers who take an oath to take care of the human body should care about the sexual or gender identity of their patients.
Perhaps Trump's biggest target has been the trans community. From the trans military ban, to rolling back protections for trans students, to just ten days ago rolling back an Obama-era protection with a new rule that says banning sex discrimination in health care doesn't apply to gender identity, it's clear that this community has felt the brunt of Trump's hatred and discrimination. He wrote the term “LGBT” three times in his tweets, so he's including the trans community when he not only speaks of celebrating and recognizing them, but also about how they're so persecuted in other countries around the world. Perhaps he should take a look at his own country before casting stones at others.
Not Supporting Decriminalizing Homosexuality When It Matters
Perhaps the most hypocritical thing of all in Trump's Pride tweets is that he totes his administration's plan to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. Again, the sentiment is great and I'm in total support if he does this, but this doesn't look too promising either. Even if you discount the fact that the day after his ambassador to Germany announced the policy Trump had no idea about it, the strategy seems to have more to do with Iran than with actually helping LGBTQ people.
Many say that the Trump administration was using it as part of its strategy to reposition its issue with Iran as a human rights issue so European countries who otherwise opposed penalties against Iran would get on board. While Trump supporters may write this theory off as cynical and false, how do we explain his silence when the Sultan of Brunei enacted a penal code where people who sleep with those of the same gender would be stoned to death? The sultan has since said that this won't actually happen, thanks to a large-scale boycott of his luxury hotel properties. But no thanks to any pressure from Trump or his administration.
And There's So Much More
From Trump's own Vice President Mike Pence, who has supported archaic gay conversion therapy and whose wife works at a school that discriminates against LGBTQ families and teachers, to his anti-LGBTQ Supreme Court choices of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, there are many more instances where Trump's actions speak louder than his tweets. GLAAD has counted 110 instances of Trump and his administration targeting the LGBTQ community. GLAAD wrote in a press release responding to Trump's Pride tweets, “This is a cheap political play and we see right through it. Your administration has attacked the rights of LGBTQ people more than 100 times. Attention media: It's your responsibility to tell the real truth about President Donald Trump's record on LGBTQ issues.”
Even pop star Taylor Swift took a rare political stand, posting to her followers that she rejects Trump's tweets and supports the Equality Act. Swift's letter to one of her Republican Senators from Tennessee also included a Change.org petition, urging fans to write their senators (and post their letters with the hashtag “#LetterToMySenator”) and to sign the petition: “I personally reject the President's stance that his administration 'supports equal treatment of all' but that the Equality Act 'in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.' No. One cannot take the position that one supports a community while condemning it in the next breath…That statement implies that there is something wrong with being anything other than heterosexual and cisgender, which is an incredibly harmful message to send to a nation full of healthy and loving families with same-sex, non binary or transgender parents, sons or daughters.”
Regardless of the Equality Act, Trump's Pride tweets seem at best pandering and at worst manipulative and hypocritical. As Advocate.com journalist Neal Broverman writes, “Trump's words are clear — disregard everything I've done to you, just be appreciative we don't jail you or hang you from a noose.” If the president is trying to balance pleasing all his religious right supporters with winning the support of the LGBTQ community, he is failing. Despite his tweets, in almost every example, the prejudice and discrimination of the religious right wins out over the equality and protection of the LGBTQ community. And clearly, everyone sees right through it. So no Mr. Trump, most gay Americans will not be celebrating with you. Until you put some real action behind your words, you don't deserve our gratitude or our support.