"May you live in interesting times" is an old Chinese curse. "Interesting times" implies dangerous times, and the LGBTQ community is indeed living in dangerous times. As Donald Trump moves the United States closer to authoritarianism, we must be concerned. Human rights, including LGBTQ rights, do not flourish under authoritarian regimes.
Any doubt as to Trump's subservience to Russian President Vladimir Putin was erased at this month's Helsinki summit and its subsequent press conference, where it was clear that Trump is in Putin's pocket. Trump spent over two hours alone with the former KGB agent, with only translators in the room. With no record made of that meeting, we have no idea of what concessions Trump made -- and no insight is forthcoming from the White House or the secretary of State. The Helsinki press conference showed the world a confident Putin very much in control of the incompetent American president, who willingly ceded to Putin at every turn. If Trump is taking direction from Putin, it's clear the American LGBTQ community is at risk of losing basic human rights.
It was Putin who allowed the leaders of Chechnya, an ultraconservative region of the Russian Federation, to kidnap, beat, imprison, and murder gay men. On June 11, 2013, the Russian federal law "for the Purpose of Protecting Children From Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values" was passed. It is also known as the "gay propaganda law," and by placing a ban on promoting LGBTQ rights and culture in Russia, it has encouraged violence against the Russian LGBTQ community -- which has doubled. The White House has moved in a similar direction -- attempting to boot trans people from the military, dismantling the AIDS commission, advocating in court for antigay businesses, working to scrub us from the Census, and refusing to acknowledge Pride.
While Putin claims he seeks to protect children, Trump cites religious freedom in order to endanger our human rights. On May 4, 2017, he signed Executive Order 13798 (Promoting Free Speech and Liberty). Attorney General Jeff Sessions's Memorandum of October 6, 2017 (Federal Law Protections for Religious Liberty), is now in effect, and May 3, 2018, brought us the executive order on the establishment of a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. All will enable anti-LGBTQ discrimination in the name of religious liberty.
Trump's self-serving sycophant of a vice president, Mike Pence, is an antigay religious zealot who resurrected a failing political career in Indiana by signing on with Trump; he gave his boss high praise after the shameful Helsinki summit, while John Brennan, the former CIA director, called Trump's performance "nothing short of treasonous." Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, no friend to LGBTQ Americans, is fine with Trump's invitation to Putin for a second summit at the White House.
The indictment of Maria Butina as an unregistered Russian agent sheds light on Russia's infiltration of the Republican Party. She, along with her handler, Russian operative Alexander Torshin, allegedly used the National Rife Association and the religious right to gain access to top-level Republicans to advance Russian interests. Butina attended two National Prayer Breakfasts to hobnob with Republicans' friends. Guns, religion, and an attractive young female Russian helped Republicans and Russians find common ground. Religious tight leadership also seems fond of Putin. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, traveled to Moscow four times and testified in 2013 before the Duma in support of antigay laws. In December 2015, evangelist Franklin Graham had a private audience with Putin.
The congressional Republicans continue to protect Trump, with the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee blocking Democrats' efforts to subpoena translator Marina Gross, a U.S. State Department employee, to testify as to what occurred during the meeting between Trump and Putin. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants Brett Kavanaugh confirmed before the next Supreme Court term begins October 1. Kavanaugh seems likely to protect Trump should issues involving Robert Mueller's investigation and Trump's mysterious connections to Russia reach the Supreme Court.
As Trump and the Republicans embrace Putin and authoritarianism, we can expect that lessons will be learned from Putin as to how to render the LGBTQ community invisible and suppress our human rights in the name of protecting something else -- in Russia, it's children, and in the U.S., it's religious liberty.
Trump's base is just fine treating us as scapegoats or punching bags. We live in dangerous times.
SUSAN SURFTONE is a musician who previously served as an FBI agent. Her latest EP is Making Waves Again.