The White House’s calendar got a little lighter this June. Since 2009, the president has hosted LGBT groups and leaders from across the U.S. for an annual Pride Month reception. But in keeping with Donald Trump's decision — at the time of writing — not to acknowledge June’s significance for the queer and trans community, that event has yet to be scheduled.
The Clinton administration was the first to officially recognize June as Pride Month with an official statement from the White House, but President Trump has yet to do so. (His daughter and adviser Ivanka tweeted about it.) Although the president has declared June as National Homeownership Month, Great Outdoors Month, and National Ocean Month, any recognition of the LGBT community was conspiculously missing from a list of proclamations released by the White House May 31.
Along with the usual press release, the first Pride reception — which was held during Barack Obama’s first term — served a purpose for the federal government: It illustrated a deepening commitment to LGBT people. Subsequent receptions continued to do so.
“This event was a way to highlight issues that were a priority for the president and his administration,” Gautam Raghavan, who served as the White House’s LGBT liaison from 2011 to 2014, tells The Advocate via email. “One year, we invited a group of individuals who had written letters to the president about his support for LGBT equality. The group included a Stonewall veteran, a lesbian couple and their son from rural North Dakota, and a gay Latino veteran who could finally serve openly in the military. Seeing them meet the president was something I’ll never forget.”
Following last June’s mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump was asked if he would continue Obama’s Pride Month legacy if elected. He claimed he would “look into it.” “I feel so badly what happened,” Trump told ABC’s Jonathan Karl regarding the tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 49 people. “And we have to do something about it.”
LGBT advocates say that Trump’s refusal to follow through on that statement speaks volumes about his relationship to queer and trans people. Although the president claimed that he would be a “friend” to LGBTQ people, Aditi Hardikar, the LGBT liaison to Obama from 2014 to 2016, says that has not been the case. Hardikar points to his February rollback of Obama administration guidance on equal treatment of transgender students. And in March, Trump rescinded an Obama executive order requiring federal contractors to prove they're complying with federal nondiscrimination law.
“At every opportunity, Trump has chosen to reject and roll back the progress of the LGBT community,” Hardikar tells The Advocate.
Jennicet Gutiérrez, a trans Latina activist, says the news Trump had not yet announced a Pride event is “no surprise” given his track record. “What can we expect from a president that continues to attack transgender people, undocumented immigrants, and all people of color across the United States?” she asks in an email. “Trump has made really clear he doesn't care about LGBTQ people and people of color.”
Although the yearly Pride event is a chance for the government to further its own agenda on LGBT issues, it also serves as a space for LGBT people to voice their concerns and frustrations. Two years ago, Gutiérrez made national headlines when she protested the routine mistreatment of undocumented workers in immigrant detention centers. Transgender women — who are usually forced to share a cell with men or be placed in solitary confinement — are frequently harassed, beaten, and even raped by inmates and guards.
Gutiérrez interrupted the reception by demanding that the president “release all LGBTQ immigrants from detention.”
“I was challenging not only the administration but my own community,” Gutiérrez says of the 2015 demonstration, which got her dubbed a “heckler” by the press. “These spaces of power are denied to [trans immigrants] for so many reasons. That’s why it was critical for us to use that moment to raise awareness. But if we’re not going to be invited to the table to have that conversation, we’re not going to be heard. The White House is throwing us back into the shadows by refusing to acknowledge the rich, diverse community that we are.”
“Trump knows we exist, but he doesn’t want to listen to us,” she adds.
Erasure of the LGBT people has become a common theme of Trump’s presidency. The federal government ended data collection on queer and transgender seniors in two major surveys. And the White House website makes no mention of LGBT rights. Although the president has yet to invite LGBT advocates to the White House, he did host members of the “neglected” conservative media earlier this year. The reception included right-wing news organizations like Breitbart, One America News Network, and The Daily Caller.
“They were neglected the last eight years, and they’re an important medium to communicate to a massively growing number of Americans who, frankly, have grown tired of mainstream media’s coverage,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said during an April press briefing. “Once in a while it’s important to appreciate the folks who have really covered the president fairly and covered a lot of issues ignored by mainstream media.”
Hardikar and Raghavan, though, are fighting LGBT erasure by hosting their own Pride reception, called NOT the White House Pride Party. To be held Saturday at the Brixton, a restaurant and pub in Washington, D.C., the event is inspired by Samantha Bee’s anti-White House Correspondents Dinner. Eric Fanning, the gay man who was Army secretary under Obama, will be in attendance.
If the White House will not create space for LGBT people to be fully recognized, community leaders and activists will do that work themselves, Raghavan says.
“The LGBTQ movement knows its worth and power,” he says. “We’re not going to fall for the ‘But I have a gay friend!’ line. Actions speak louder than words, and this administration has failed since day one to demonstrate the kind of moral leadership and commitment our communities deserve.”
Despite the lack of a White House Pride event, several federal departments agencies will continue to recognize the LGBT community. These entities include the Pentagon and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where organizers have invited Secretary Ben Carson to speak at the event. Given Carson’s numerous anti-LGBT statements — which include referring to transgender people as the “height of absurdity” — he is unlikely to accept that invitation.