Whatever your thoughts on Donald Trump, it’s difficult to deny his influence on Americans after his first year as the 45th President of the United States.
America is often altered 140 characters at a time, and the changes are felt worldwide in walls both proposed and erected by climate change denial and Twitter diplomacy. The LGBTQ community has not been immune from presidential impact.
Donald Trump’s impact on the LGBTQ community began not on Jan. 20, 2017, when Trump officially assumed the presidency. Rather, it first began six months prior on July 15, when as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump announced then-Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate.
Pence’s record is staunchly anti-LGBTQ. In his political career, he has advocated for conversion therapy, advised that LGBTQ men and women weaken the military and voted against same-sex marriage. He signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into Indiana law. LGBTQ supporters feared this would provide a “license to discriminate” against the LGBTQ community. The backlash reportedly cost the Hoosier State at least $60 million in tourism dollars.
Secondly, Trump’s impact continued when he officially became the Republican presidential nominee. During his speech at the Republican National Convention, he invoked the name of the LGBTQ community: a Republican first.
“Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist,” Trump said on July 22. “This time, the terrorist targeted the 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. Believe me.”
Following applause, Trump further noted that “as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”
To some, the cheers seem to contradict the very platform of the party Trump now officially represented. Embedded within it were assertions that laws and government regulations should only recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman; suggestions that children raised in households without a mother and father are more prone to use drugs, commit crime and get pregnant outside of marriage; and calls for legislation barring transgender men and women from using public restrooms that align with their gender identity.
“It felt like he barely even finished all the letters,” Senior Director of Public Affairs & Communications of Planned Parenthood Anna Eskamani recalls. “He was struggling to finish his sentence.”
“It speaks to his understanding of the issues the LGBTQ community faces,” the Orlando native, now running for public office, recalls. “And his real empathy towards listening to members of the community who have been marginalized their entire lives.”
For those critical of the new administration in January, fears weren’t quelled when all references to the LGBTQ community were removed from the White House website. Soon after, reports of a Donald Trump executive order rescinding Barack Obama’s protection of LGBTQ federal employees surfaced.
This prompted the White House to advise that “President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election.” They further urged that Trump was “proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.”
Wes Hodge, chairman of the Orange County Democrats, remains as wary as he was then. While the executive order never materialized, he believes that “in hindsight, we can see that he said that because he knew the greatest threat to our community would be our own domestic ideology.”
“He rode into office on a wave of dog whistle politics, and has proven time and again with the people that he surrounds himself with that he is no ally to the LGBTQ community,” Hodge says, a nod to Trump’s cabinet. The majority of his cabinet members have long and well-documented histories of anti-LGBTQ beliefs, advocacy and policies that mirror Trump’s chosen vice president.
That includes Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who donated $200,000 to Michigan’s proposed ban of same-sex marriage, and whose family donated over $800,000 to Focus on the Family, an anti-LGBTQ organization which often targets children for conversion therapy.
In February, the Department of Education rescinded its Obama-era guidance which assured transgender students access to the restrooms consistent with their gender identity. The move was widely condemned, but only a precursor to what followed.
“In November 2016, we weren’t sure what a Trump presidency would look like,” says Stonewall Democrats President Susan McGrath. “Now, we are faced with the reality and it’s everything we feared. He and his supporters are order by order undoing every element of progress that’s been achieved in the last century.”
Pride Month was particularly troubling for the LGBTQ community. On May 1, the White House issued five proclamations about June—amongst them, that the month would be known as “National Home Ownership Month.”
Thirty days passed without an official proclamation of Pride Month, and no White House events were held in its honor. These facts aren’t particularly unusual for a Republican White House, although since the first recognition of Pride Month in 1999, only one Republican has held the Oval Office.
Political affiliation aside, however, Donald Trump was the first president not to recognize the month-long celebration of LGBTQ equality after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide, and the first to ignore it after 49 lives were lost at Pulse in Orlando.
But there are those in the LGBTQ community who’ve praised Donald Trump. While Log Cabin Republican Patrick Howell views many of his decisions as disappointing, he does celebrate the nomination of gay and lesbian Americans for positions within the administration.
“Richard Grenell was appointed as ambassador to Germany, and he’s openly gay and has served during the Bush administration,” Howell notes. “It’s nice to see the Trump administration taking that sort of action.”
And while Grenell has yet to be confirmed, Chai Feldblum became the first out lesbian to serve as the commissioner for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “That’s a fantastic appointment, that’s the federal body that looks into workplace discrimination,” Howell continues.
“And I know that some of the right wing conservatives were very upset that she was appointed,” the Becker and Poliakoff senior attorney says. “You celebrate the good parts and you’re sad about the other parts.”
Among the other parts are three early morning tweets on July 26 banning transgender recruits from the U.S. military. “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military,” Trump tweeted. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you.”
“It seems that the transgender portion of our community has pulled the brunt of some of the actions that have been taken,” Howell believes. “It’s hard to understand the disconnect there within the administration, except to say that obviously transgender Americans are an easier target and always have been.”
And while transgender individuals were ultimately able to enlist in the U.S. military after the Department of Justice opted not to appeal the multiple court rulings barring the proposed ban, Trump’s critics believe July was hardly the last assault on LGBTQ equality.
In October, reports surfaced of conversations held between Trump and Pence, though the vice president’s office subsequently denied them. In a profile on the former Indiana governor, the New Yorker noted that “when the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, ‘Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
That same month, Donald Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to address the Values Voters Summit—deemed an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Trump-headlined event featured both exhibits on gay conversion therapy and “guidance on overcoming transgenderism.”
“We have been erased from Title VII, the White House website, from press announcements on World AIDS day and from the military – although that didn’t stick,” Florida House candidate Jennifer Webb says.
“The Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS has been eliminated. And these are only some the issues that explicitly impact our LGBTQ+ community,” she continues. “This doesn’t even touch on the impact that his other terrible actions will have on our community and all communities.”
For Metro Wellness & Community Centers’ lead PrEP navigator Christian Klimas, who works alongside the organization’s health center, what worries him most about the recent actions taken by the current administration is not so much the firing of the HIV/AIDS council members, but the administration’s intentions after their removal.
Their removal, by FedEx letter sent over the 2017 holiday season, Klimas notes, “coupled with a lack of transparent conversation of future objectives, leads to my strong lack in trust that these actions will be for the benefit of the cause.”
“The nationwide HIV/AIDS strategy put in place by the Obama administration is good through 2020, but without the HIV/AIDS council it is difficult to predict what will happen to funding and programming at this time,” he continues. “All we can do is hope for the best and continue to support local community based organizations until further clarification is presented by the current administration.”
It’s community support that, for many members of the LGBTQ community and their allies, led to a stronger 2017. For attorney Erin Aebel, it saw the creation of the Surly Feminists for the Revolution, which has organized women’s events, meetings and marches throughout Tampa Bay.
“I had always been involved in local politics and was an avid voter and fundraiser,” Aebel recalls. “After Trump I felt that I needed to do more. I wanted to use the internet for good and organize the group to create diverse coalitions of folks from the grassroots up to help us take back our country.”
Aebel, also an attorney for Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, believes the real threat to LGBTQ equality lies in federal judicial vacancies. According to LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal, roughly one in three nominations to fill the 120 federal judicial vacancies Donald Trump inherited have anti-LGBTQ records.
“Trump is picking many candidates who are wholly unqualified,” she says. “His political reliance on a small sector of conservative fundamentalist Christians should be concerning to the LGBTQ community. I have never understood how religion should impinge upon humans’ right to love, marry and live as they choose in the United States. We need to avoid a theocracy and maintain a true separation of church and state.”
“Many of these litmus-test conservatives are just beginning their legal career,” Webb asserts. “We will have to contend with them and their rulings for decades to come. How many of our rights have been fought through the courts?”
“Thinking about this avenue being blocked for attaining social or civil justice for us because of these appointments keeps me awake at night,” she says. “This is the issue around which we all must come together to find a solution.”
And while Eskamani defines 2017 “as the year of grief, grit and grace,” she notes that “under cruel situations so many of us have succeeded in remaining kind, despite efforts to erase LGBTQ people, people of color and to control women’s bodies.”
“We remained resilient throughout 2017, so we’ll have some victories to look back upon to help build our advocacy and continue our momentum into 2018,” she asserts.
It’s that momentum that she hopes to bring to her race for Florida House District 47, noting that the “one silver lining of the Trump administration is that it’s helped us to see our identities as strength, to come together for real meaningful change. Historically, identity politics have been used to divide us. And in this case, people being proud of their identities actually brought us closer together.”
Eskamani is one part of the numerous political races that LGBTQ Floridians will have the opportunity to weigh in on this year. On the national level, Floridians will elect 27 candidates to serve in the U.S. House, one from each district, and elect one member to the U.S. Senate.
Furthermore, on the state level, Florida is known as a Republican triplex—meaning we have a Republican governor, attorney general and secretary of state. And while that’s been the case since 2011 when Governor Rick Scott took office, that could change.
In 2018, five executive offices are up for election: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer and agriculture commissioner. Furthermore, a total of 20 seats of the Florida Senate’s 40 are up for election, and all 120 Florida House seats are up for grabs.
“We deserve public servants in Tallahassee who will put our communities first and who have the grit and grace to not stop until the job is done,” Webb, running for House District 69, asserts. “I am that woman.”
“In fact, when I am elected I will be the only woman representing Pinellas County in our state or U.S legislative delegation,” she says. “I will also be the first openly gay woman elected to the Florida legislature, ever.”
It’s not enough to be involved yourself, Wes Hodge believes. “We also have to make sure all of our family and friends are using their voice in 2018 to send a clear message that we will not tolerate this oppression.”
“We have an opportunity to flip the Congress and stop some of the nonsense coming out of the Oval Office,” Hodge asserts. “We must also use this opportunity to remove the Republican stranglehold on power in Tallahassee.”
To do that, he says, “we need to elect progressive Democratic candidates who will fight to drag Florida into the 21st century with LGBTQ protections and legislation.”
Howell believes the answer lies not with a particular party, but with quality candidates. “To say that a person born gay is also born liberal is highly ridiculous,” he says. “You have the right candidate who presents the right issues to a gay and lesbian voter, they’ll vote Republican. We’ve just gotta get those right candidates in.”
Regardless of party, “make sure you get to know the local, state and federal candidates and ask where they stand on LGBTQ issues,” Aebel says, “as well as other issues that are important to you. Ask elected officials, too. Get in involved in LGBTQ advocacy organizations like Equality Florida and support LGBTQ candidates, as many are running in this cycle in addition to quality ally candidates.”
“Nothing is off the table in 2018,” McGrath says. “People are watching and showing up and allowing their voices to be heard. Run for office, donate and volunteer for candidates that share our values, organize in support for them.”
“This is the time to turn the tide,” she urges. “We simply have to go after this with everything we have. Everything is at stake.”