The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s stance on LGBT rights has always been confusing

As a presidential candidate, Trump said he'd protect LGBT individuals (Video: The Washington Post)

This morning, President Trump announced that his administration would ban transgender people from serving in the military, citing the “costs and disruption” associated with allowing them to serve.

This is not the first time that the Trump administration has rolled back protections for transgender Americans. In February, the administration pulled back Obama-era protections that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms and facilities that corresponded to their gender identity.

In June, which past presidents had recognized as LGBT Pride Month, the Trump White House declined to make such a declaration (the president's daughter Ivanka Trump did tweet in support.)

Though these actions aren't necessarily surprising coming from a Republican administration, they are surprising coming from President Trump. At times, he has appeared to wholeheartedly support the LGBT community. But throughout his presidential campaign, the actual degree of his support was less clear.

As Trump announces new restrictions on transgender Americans serving in the military, it’s worth revisiting his muddled stance on the issue of LGBT rights.

Trump just eviscerated his claim to being an LGBT ally

In 2000, Trump seemed to wholeheartedly support LGBT rights. In an interview with the Advocate about his presidential ambitions, he said he supported amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“I like the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include a ban of discrimination based on sexual orientation. It would be simple,” he said. “It would be straightforward. We don’t need to rewrite the laws currently on the books, although I do think we need to address hate-crimes legislation.”

He attributed his stance to the fact that he “grew up in New York City, a town with different races, religions, and peoples. It breeds tolerance.”

Trump said in the same interview that if he became president, sexual orientation wouldn’t be considered in hiring for his administration. “If the best person for the job happens to be gay, I would certainly appoint them,” he said.

Fifteen years later, when he became a presidential candidate, his rhetoric on the LGBT community seemed to change depending on political expediency.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump made a few awkward, but direct, overtures to LGBT voters. He also made contradictory statements in front of conservative audiences. 

In January 2016, Trump told Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that he would “strongly consider” appointing conservative Supreme Court justices who would overturn rulings that legalized same-sex marriage in the country. 

In 2016, the debate over North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” was front-page news. Part of the measure stated that individuals had to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex listed on their birth certificate in government-owned buildings, including schools. Facing political and business backlash, North Carolina eventually repealed parts of the measure. In May, the Obama administration issued protections for transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

The dramatic rise in state efforts to limit LGBT rights

Trump weighed in on the issue several times.

“It is a very, very small portion of the population, but as I said, you have to protect everybody, including small portions of the population,” Trump told The Washington Post in mid-May. But he also said that the issue should be left up to the states, which he believed would “make the right decisions.”

Days later, Trump appeared on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and seemed to hew to a more conservative stance on whether transgender people should be able to use the bathroom of their choice.

“Let the states decide … the party believes that whatever you’re born, that’s the bathroom you use,” Trump told Kimmel, who pressed him repeatedly on the issue.

Trump also repeatedly said that he would be a better president for the LGBT community than his rival, Hillary Clinton.

In the wake of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Trump promised to protect LGBT Americans from terrorism. The response from the LGBT community was mixed, but some gay conservatives saw his pledge as a sign of progress.

in July 2016, Trump went so far as to mention the “LGBTQ community” in his speech at the Republican National Convention.

“Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist,” Trump said, again linking LGBT issues to security ones. “This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community. No good. And we're going to stop it. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology,” he said.

There was some applause from the crowd. 

“I must say as a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said,” he told the crowd. “Thank you.”

Trump had the support of some gay conservatives, who saw him as far better on LGBT issues than past Republican candidates. Caitlyn Jenner, a high-profile transgender woman and advocate, famously voted for Trump. Trump said in April 2016 that Jenner would be able to use any bathroom she wanted at Trump Tower, and she took him up on that.  

But Wednesday’s decision to ban transgender people from the military seems to have raised alarm.

“This smacks of politics, pure and simple,” Log Cabin Republicans’ Gregory T. Angelo said in a statement. “ The United States military already includes transgender individuals who protect our freedom day in and day out. Excommunicating transgender soldiers only weakens our readiness; it doesn’t strengthen it.

“The president’s statement this morning does a disservice to transgender military personnel and reintroduces the same hurtful stereotypes conjured when openly gay men and women were barred from service during the military’s 'Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell' era,” he said.

Given how much Trump has oscillated on the issue of LGBT rights, it’s difficult to pin down his true views on the matter. He may indeed be farther to the left on this than many of his fellow Republicans. True, he has stated his support for LGBT Americans in the past. But when you’re president, actions speak louder than words.