It was Donald Trump’s response three years ago to a deadly shooting in a gay nightclub that gave some hope that he would be a different type of Republican leader on LGBT issues.
When Omar Mateen, an American who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, gunned down 49 people on June 12, 2016, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it became the deadliest mass shooting in the United States at the time. A month later, when Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president, he pledged to protect gay Americans from future attacks. It was the first time that a GOP nominee had even mentioned the LGBT community in their nomination speech. He said:
Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist. This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBT community. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. To protect us from terrorism, we need to focus on three things.
Trump won praise for his comments — even from members of the LGBT community. But cynics noted that it was Mateen’s loyalty to the Islamist terrorist group that led the then-nominee to address the mass murder more than his concern for the safety of gay Americans.
Three years later, those critics may be right, as the Trump administration has not shown itself to be at the forefront of protecting gay Americans beyond terrorism attacks.
As I previously wrote for The Fix, Trump’s approach to LGBT issues since becoming president is largely thought to be influenced by the conservative white evangelicals who helped secure the election of him and Vice President Pence, an evangelical Christian who made national headlines as Indiana’s governor for his opposition to laws that would expand gay rights.
Shortly after Trump was sworn in as president, links to websites highlighting the rights that LGBT Americans have were removed from the White House website and other government websites. Trump later took to Twitter to announce a ban that would block transgender people from serving in the military. His administration also took steps to roll back regulations from the Obama administration to protect transgender medical patients and health insurance consumers. And the president has sought to remove questions about sexual identity from the 2020 Census, thus minimizing, if not erasing, LGBT people from official counts. Trump also ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to rescind nondiscrimination protections for transgender students in U.S. schools.
And after ignoring LGBT Pride Month for the first two years of his presidency, Trump raised some eyebrows recently with this tweet:
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!
For a leader focused on “America First,” Trump’s tweet failed to acknowledge the ongoing struggles for gay rights in the United States — and his administration’s role in retarding their advancement.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, an organization that investigates and reports on human rights abuses around the world, pointed to what he deems inconsistencies in the president’s approach to LGBT people.
“Trump plans a global push to decriminalize homosexuality,” he said on Twitter. “Great, but that’s only step one. Step two is fighting discrimination against LGBT people, but Trump instead is promoting it.”
And Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, one of the largest gay rights organizations in the United States, pointed to how Trump’s policies have harmed Americans stateside and abroad, tweeting:
“You can’t celebrate Pride and constantly undermine our rights — including attacking
#TransHealth, discharging #TransTroops, refusing to protect LGBTQ youth, and cozying up to dictators who brutalize & marginalize LGBTQ people. This is gross hypocrisy, with an emphasis on gross.”
But to many within the LGBT community, Trump’s actions since taking office show he has either forgotten such promises or has decided his loyalties must be to his biggest base: conservative Christians who want him to reverse or at least slow the Obama administration’s pro-LGBT policies.
Many now perceive Trump’s vision for a great America as not including gay Americans, like those who lost their lives three years ago in Orlando — or those still fighting for equality today.