But if both Trump and Pence are removed from office and the next person in line, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, becomes president then the situation could see a complete 180-degree turn.
It may seem a far-fetched dream, but with Trump increasingly embattled amid allegations he instructed his lawyer to lie to Congress, and given the possibility of Pence’s involvement in shady dealings, it could happen.
And if it does, Pelosi would immediately become the most powerful ally the LGBTQ community has ever had in the White House to date.
The San Francisco Democrat has been a member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 1987. In her first year in office, she joined in the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
In a video from the march that Pelosi recently posted on Twitter, a reporter observed that she was one of the few members of Congress participating. She replied that she was there not only to show solidarity with the many San Franciscans who had traveled to D.C. for the event, but to demonstrate support for a gay civil rights bill and increased funding to address the AIDS crisis (her first speech to the House dealt with AIDS). She also noted that she had taken part in AIDS Walks and Pride parades in San Francisco.
Pelosi was also fighting for LGBTQ rights even when many Democrats were at best lukewarm on the issue. For instance, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which banned federal government recognition of same-sex marriages, had support from numerous Dems and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. No state offered same-sex marriages at the time, but it looked as if a court case in Hawaii would make it the first state with marriage equality (it didn’t), and politicians were scrambling to appease panicked conservative constituents.
Pelosi not only voted against DOMA but spoke out against it, saying, “I rise in strong opposition to this ill-named ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ and I do so on the basis of conscience, Constitution, and constituency.”
One could argue that with Pelosi’s constituency, it was easy for her to champion LGBTQ rights, and she certainly could do so without fear of repercussions. Still, it’s indisputable that she has been a champion.
She has received a perfect 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard as long as it’s existed – since the 108th Congress, 2003-2005. In 2007, she voted for a controversial version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that included sexual orientation but not gender identity, but she said she would have preferred a more inclusive version (one had died in committee).
“While I personally favor legislation that would include gender identity, the new ENDA legislation proposed by Congressman [Barney] Frank has the best prospects for success on the House floor,” she said. “I will continue to push for legislation, including language on gender identity, to expand and make our laws more reflective of the diverse society in which we live.”
The House did approve the bill, but it never came to a vote in the Senate. The opposite happened a few years later – in 2013, the Senate approved a version of ENDA that included gender identity, but it failed to receive a vote in the House.
Pelosi has continued to back such legislation. ENDA has now been superseded by the Equality Act, which would ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination in credit, housing, and other areas in addition to employment. When Pelosi became House speaker this year, a position she previously held from 2007 to 2011, she vowed to make passing the Equality Act a priority.
It would likely be difficult to get the bill through a Republican-controlled Senate and impossible to get it signed by Trump or Pence, but a Pelosi presidency would be a game changer.
She backed several pieces of successful pro-LGBTQ legislation during her first stint as speaker, which included the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. The major successes were the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, to address hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
However activists have occasionally become frustrated with her.
In 2010, some attendees at Netroots Nation, a gathering of liberal bloggers and other progressive types, pressed her on why ENDA hadn’t come to a vote yet. Pelosi said she had wanted to take it up after the passage of the hate-crimes bill, but there was more support for DADT repeal, so that had to come first. “We have to finish ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and hopefully we can do both this year,’” she said. DADT repeal did happen, but ENDA didn’t.
Even while cognizant of political realities over the years, Pelosi has not aimed low. In 2011, as cases against DOMA and California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 were making their way through the courts, she spoke optimistically to a group of LGBTQ activists about winning the freedom to marry for all. “To those who mock me on this subject, I say to them, ‘The inconceivable to you is the inevitable to us,’” she said.
This was a year before Obama came out for marriage equality, two years before DOMA and Prop. 8 were struck down for good, and four years before marriage equality became the law of the land.
And beyond marriage, she has been ahead of the curve on other LGBTQ issues as well, endorsing military service by transgender Americans as far back as 2014, two years before the Obama administration ended the ban, and backing legislation to classify conversion therapy as consumer fraud, something that still hasn’t passed.
As the Trump administration has tried to chip away LGBTQ rights, Pelosi has continued to speak out. When he tweeted his intention to reinstate the trans military ban, she said, “It is a cruel and arbitrary decision designed to humiliate transgender Americans who have stepped forward to serve and defend our country.” She noted that a study had shown the cost of providing transition-related medical care to service members was minuscule: “In fact, every year, the Pentagon spends five times more on Viagra than it does for transition-related care.”
When Democrats won a majority of House seats in November’s election and Pelosi was under consideration for speaker again, 102 LGBTQ activists signed a letter in support of her. “There is no better ally to the LGBTQ community on Capitol Hill than Leader Pelosi, period,” the letter read.
While, as president, Pelosi probably would not be able to do everything she’d like to do on LGBTQ rights or other progressive causes – just as Obama could not accomplish everything on this score – but there’s no doubt she’d continue to be a passionate advocate.
An advocate who would inevitably go down as the most pro-LGBTQ president the world had ever seen.