The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States is a disaster for LGBT people throughout the nation. There can be no doubt that the Trump administration, together with a Republican-dominated Congress, will roll back hard-fought victories and stall the push for ever greater equality. Bleak as the situation may be, however, it is not hopeless — and it is not at all inevitable that Trump and his allies will irreversibly alter the ascendancy of LGBT rights.
Trump will take office at a moment when LGBT people enjoy historically high tolerance and support from the American public. His presidency will not change that, at least not immediately. The supermajority of Americans will still support marriage equality; trans people will continue to gain greater visibility, and thus acceptance; and despite distractions about “religious liberty” and discrimination, most people will still believe that nobody should be fired because they’re LGBT. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will not be revived. The Supreme Court, even one stacked by Trump, will feel immense institutional pressure to respect the precedent of marriage equality. We will elect more openly LGBT people to statehouses across the country.
But challenges remain — and there are suddenly so many more than almost anyone expected. If Hillary Clinton were assuming office after Obama, the path forward would be clear and manageable. It will now be tortuous and grueling. Yet there is a path nonetheless, and the LGBT movement has triumphed over more seemingly hopeless situations than this one. Here are six suggestions as to how the movement can protect and even expand its rights over the next four years.
1. Remember: Trump may not be a virulent homophobe, but he is a threat.
When LGBT people express anxiety about Trump’s presidency, Republicans often counter that Trump himself does not appear to be outwardly homophobic or transphobic. In a very narrow sense, they are correct: Trump clearly has no active desire to demean or disadvantage LGBT people under the law in the way that George W. Bush did. But Trump is both impressionable and opportunistic — a toxic combination in a head of state — and he plans to delegate much of his power to advisers, allies, and cronies.
Trump’s impressionability is especially dangerous in light of the nefarious sycophants whom he plans to keep in the White House. Reince Priebus, a typically anti-LGBT Republican apparatchik, will serve as chief of staff. More alarmingly, Steve Bannon will be Trump’s “chief strategist and senior counselor,” a Karl Rove–like position of immense influence. Bannon previously ran Breitbart, a vile hate site that ran articles with headlines like “Kids Raised By Same-Sex Couples Twice as Likely to Be Depressed, Fat Adults” and “World Health Organization Report: Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate.” The latter story featured a photo of then-15-year-old transgender activist Jazz Jennings.
Even if Trump holds no personal animosity toward LGBT people, he will believe Bannon when the Breitbart mastermind insists that he needs to vilify the vulnerable to solidify support. In order to shore up evangelical votes, Trump has already declared that the Supreme Court’s marriage-equality decision should be overturned, that states should be allowed to deny transgender people access to public bathrooms, and that President Obama’s executive orders protecting LGBT people should be rescinded. As president, he will surely continue to throw LGBT people under the bus when Bannon — who has stated his desire to “turn on the hate” — thinks it’s convenient.
2. Keep the focus on Pence.
Dangerous as Trump may be, his vice president is significantly more threatening to LGBT people’s safety and well-being. Unlike Trump, Pence (pictured) is a true believer, a culture warrior who vigorously opposes marriage equality (a “deterioration of marriage and family”) and open military service for gays (“social experimentation”). As governor of Indiana, he signed a law designed to let businesses refuse service to same-sex couples and then lied on national TV about its purpose. As a congressional candidate in 2000, Pence supported redirecting federal funds for AIDS treatment away from “organizations that celebrate and encourage the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of the HIV virus” — and toward ex-gay conversion “therapy” programs. Naturally, Pence objects to LGBT employment nondiscrimination measures, calling them a “war on freedom and religion in the workplace.”
It is too early to surmise the extent to which Pence’s unrepentant, unrelenting homophobia will influence the Trump administration. But his bigotry dovetails neatly with Bannon’s strategy of sadistic vilification under the guise of morality and nationalism. After eight years of hearing Obama praise and champion our equal dignity, LGBT Americans must brace for four years of dehumanizing rhetoric and nasty legislation. Trump’s brand of ethno-nationalist pseudo-populism, as refined by Bannon and Pence, includes a hefty dose of moralism — the type that labels LGBT people immoral degenerates. With Pence’s help, the Trump administration will likely see a reversal of LGBT tolerance as a key component of making America great again.