Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and the Dismantling of Queer Rights

Rainbow flag

Rainbow flag. Photo by Callen Harty.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign a photograph of Donald Trump holding a rainbow flag went viral. Some of those in the queer community, particularly members of the Log Cabin Republicans, thought that it showed that he was supportive of LGBT equality and civil rights. It was also said that he had gay friends and Trump himself even said he was a friend of the community. Still, the selection of virulently anti-gay Mike Pence as a running mate should have been evidence enough that Trump would be no friend of the queer community. Most of the community knew better, but supportive allies also fell for it. While the national Log Cabin group declined to endorse Trump’s candidacy, several chapters found it in their hearts to throw their support behind him and after he won the national group congratulated him on his victory. Almost immediately upon taking office Trump showed that he was no friend of any part of the LGBT community, and especially the transgender part of the umbrella.

Both candidates, Trump and Pence, had shown evidence of being anathema to queer folks. After taking over the Miss Universe pageant, Trump was the one who instituted a policy disallowing transgender participants. Mike Pence was known as an enemy of LGBT people as a right-wing conservative Christian who happily signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allows state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people by making it okay to refuse service based on religious beliefs. Pence was also known to support a ban on gays in the military, opposed same-sex marriage, opposed funding for AIDS research and more. He was never a friend of the community and there was fear that he would unduly influence Trump on these issues.

On the day Donald Trump was inaugurated, all LGBT mentions were removed from the White House website, as well as two other government departments. This was a sign of things to come.

Here are just some of the actions and policies that have been put in place by the administration that have set queer rights back.

  • Most of Trump’s potential Cabinet nominees in the first couple weeks were known to be homophobic (and several of them racist, Islamophobic, and misogynist as well). These include such friends of the community as Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Mike Pompeo, and Tom Cotton, among others.
  • Within a couple weeks, the administration eliminated guidance for schools on protecting transgender students.
  • Various departments eliminated demographic questions about LGBT people and, importantly, the Census Bureau withdrew questions about LGBT citizens from the upcoming census.
  • The Justice Department argued in court that the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity. In various ways this theme has been presented in court and in policy updates throughout the length of Trump’s term of office.
  • HIV and AIDS funding has been cut in many departments, agencies, and programs.
  • Trump decided to ban transgender citizens from service in the military. After preparation, this went into effect earlier this year.
  • Nomination after nomination for federal judgeships, including those of the Supreme Court, have been candidates who are known homophobes (and again, racists, Islamophobes, and misogynists).
  • Trump publicly opposed the Equality Act, which would strengthen equal rights and protections for members of the LGBT community.
  • American embassies around the world were instructed this past year that they could not fly the rainbow flag in honor of Pride Month.
  • The administration has steadily changed policies in various departments so that they now allow discrimination in health facilities, schools, and elsewhere based on religious beliefs. Most recently, this excuse has been expanded to include adoption agencies.

This list could go on for many pages. If one does a search on Trump administration anti-gay policies it is easy to find lists that are many, many times longer than this. The scary thing about it is that it is a steady diet of updates, policy changes, and more that have been constantly chipping away at LGBT rights and setting the stage for outright government-sanctioned discrimination. It makes it difficult for the general public to see what is happening. They may hear about Health and Human Services no longer documenting LGBT participants in certain programs or that the federal government believes that a church has the right to refuse to hire someone who doesn’t support their beliefs, or that LGBT people are not covered under certain anti-discrimination laws because those laws are about sex, not sexuality.

The thing is, any one of these things by itself may not signal an antagonistic administration and federal government, but when one looks at the totality of it, the slow, steady erosion of rights that the community has struggled to gain–not to have more rights than others, but to have equal rights with others–then it becomes clear that this administration is not friendly to any part of the queer community. It becomes clear that this administration is, in fact, an enemy of the queer community and is working to eliminate any and all rights that may have been gained over the last fifty years or so. It becomes clear that this administration wants to put everyone back in the closets of an earlier age in which self-expression, self-identity, and love were quashed by society, gay people were openly discriminated against, arrested, and harassed, and doing so was applauded and considered the right thing to do.

Any queer person who still supports this administration in any way is obviously delusional and self-hating and an enemy of those who are out and proud. Any ally who still supports Donald Trump is not an ally, but an enemy and a supporter of discrimination. Any voter who votes for Trump is an enemy of anyone who is queer. If he wins re-election, then it can be guaranteed that more briefs against the LGBT community will be filed in a Supreme Court increasingly hostile to gay rights, more policies that protect queer people will be overturned, and more government-sanctioned discrimination will be allowed and encouraged. The queer community as we know it may not survive another four years.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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