Recently Ric Grenell, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Germany, hosted a discussion in Berlin with international LGBTQ activists as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. More than 70 countries have laws against LGBTQ activities. Through economic influence, increasing education, and advocating policy changes, this important new global campaign hopes to change that.
Activists from countries such as Lebanon, Georgia, and Botswana shared their experiences and discussed the harrowing conditions LGBTQ individuals face in their nations. Grenell gave activists from the most affected countries a forum to develop better strategies to fight for LGBTQ policies and made it clear the United States would help in their struggle however it could.
The Trump administration also announced the appointment of another openly gay man, Robert Gilchrist, as the U.S. ambassador to Lithuania. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Gilchrist could play a pivotal role in LGBTQ policy. His challenge will be to do this in a culturally conservative country that lags other nations in affirming LGBTQ desires.
There is a large potential political and cultural impact to our top diplomat in a country like Lithuania being a gay man. It sends a high-profile message that to have a good political and economic relationship with the United States, nations will need to accept LGBTQ individuals and improve treatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. It’s one more example of how the Trump administration is using soft-power and influence to carry out this important global initiative.
However, the dominant narrative weaved by the media and Democrats incorrectly paints the administration’s record on LGBTQ issues. The very same Advocate article on Gilchrist’s appointment still claims that overall, “the Trump administration has taken many anti-LGBTQ actions.” But has it?
As a gay man myself, it’s important to me to know how the facts measure up to these accusations. Below are the most notable allegations of anti-LGBTQ actions supposedly taken by the Trump administration, and whether the media and leftist politicians reported them accurately.
Myth 1: Trump Rescinded Obama Protections for LGBTQ Federal Employees
In the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration, Bloomberg and several LGBTQ outlets reported that Obama’s executive order protecting LGBTQ federal employees would be rescinded as soon as Trump took office. A December 5, 2016 article in The Advocate—a well-known LGBTQ publication—sounded the alarm that “Donald Trump has signaled that he plans to repeal federal protections for LGBT workers while in office.”
James Esseks, director of the LGBT program at the ACLU, warned: “Any attempt by the Trump administration to rescind or weaken Obama’s order would essentially be an effort to ‘authorize discrimination’ against gay and transgender people … The Trump administration has shown that it’s willing to go against core American values of freedom and equality, and it’s troubling to hear they may target LGBT people as well.”
A week after Trump’s inauguration, however, the White House released a statement reading, “President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community… The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact.”
Most of the media outlets that predicted doom and gloom never corrected the record. Unfortunately, many still believe the order protecting LGBTQ federal employees was rescinded.
Myth 2: The Trump Administration Removed LGBTQ People From the 2020 Census
The National LGBTQ Task Force proclaimed in a statement “We’ve Been Erased!” GLAAD Executive Director Sara Kate Ellis added, “By erasing LGBTQ Americans from the 2020 U.S. Census, the Trump Administration is adding a disgusting entry to a long list of tactics they’ve adopted to legally deny services and legitimacy to hard-working LGBTQ Americans.” The Daily Beast even ran an article with the headline “This Is Why the Erasing of LGBT Americans On the 2020 Census Matters,” accusing the Trump administration of “official prejudice.”
There’s only one problem with these accusations. “Are you a member of the LGBTQ community?” has never been a question asked on a U.S. census. Because social scientists know many “closeted” gay people would not accurately report their status, including such as question would fail to represent the true size of the LGBTQ population.
Gary Gates, a demographer and former member of the Census Bureau Scientific Advisory Committee, tried to correct the record by telling LGBTQ Nation, “Erasing implies that the Bureau went from measuring sexual orientation and gender identity in the Census to eliminating that measurement … it’s not accurate to suggest that the Census Bureau ‘erased’ them. They’ve never counted them in the first place.”
Additionally, many remember the federal government’s lackluster response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and society’s treatment of those infected still have concerns about being on some “gay government list.” Being added to the census would reignite those fears.
Being LGBTQ has never been a protected class under federal law, and many states don’t have laws defining LGBTQ persons as such either. As a result, many still feel they must live in the shadows. It’s likely that no matter who sits in the White House, this question will remain off the census for some time.
Myth 3: Trump Banned Transgender People From the Military
This one could be considered “partially true,” but it’s complicated. Even after the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was lifted in 2011, a ban on being openly transgender in the military continued through the Obama administration into the first year of Trump’s presidency. Obama signed an executive order on June 30, 2016, that would have eventually allowed trans members to openly serve in the armed forces, but it was written to go into effect six months into the next administration. As the implementation deadline approached, Trump issued a halt.
After reviewing the implications, and discussions between Trump and then-Defense Secretary Gen. James Mattis, the policy that went into effect in March 2018 allowed for new and existing members to be trans as long as they don’t suffer from gender dysphoria or require transgender surgery after enlisting.
Ostensibly, if you are trans, and have already had (or won’t require) transgender surgery once you’re in uniform, you will likely be allowed to join or continue serving. Otherwise, it’s deemed a “military readiness” issue if you will require surgery down the road. It’s likely the military will not pay for hormone and other specific medications many trans individuals regularly require. So, while this is not a “ban” in the truest sense, good people could reasonably disagree on whether this is exclusionary towards trans individuals or a fair compromise.
The unfortunate truth is the public debate over trans issues is more recent than those issues that affect gay and lesbian individuals. This “half-way” policy reflects that. Trans policies may be the only area where the Trump administration has a mixed record regarding LGBTQ equality.
Myth 4: Trump’s Executive Order on Religious Freedom Allows LGBT Discrimination
Weeks before anyone knew what would be in Trump’s executive order on religious freedom, many in the media were speculating. In a Newsweek article, Lambda CEO Rachel Tiven stated, “[Trump’s] come for the immigrants, he’s come for the Muslims. and now he’s coming for the queers.” In reality, Trump’s decree does not give an exemption to religious groups to discriminate against gay people as a matter of conscience.
Some Christians were disappointed. One Christianity Today article lamented, “This is not the executive order many evangelicals had been praying for. Gone are the exemptions for religious groups faced with accommodating LGBT anti-discrimination regulations that conflict with their faith convictions.”
Once again, the record was not corrected by most media outlets. Buried within a misleadingly titled NBC article is one paragraph near the end that states, “While an earlier draft of the religious liberty order reportedly would have let federal contractors discriminate against LGBT employees based on faith beliefs, Thursday’s version did not include such provisions.” Unfortunately, that bit of truth and context was glossed over. As it never made any headlines, this fact remains mostly unknown.
Myth 5: Vice President Pence Supports Conversion Therapy
This accusation maybe the one used to scare LGBTQ people most often and most effectively. It was even reinforced on the NBC show “Will & Grace” when, in a recent episode, a main character’s grandson is sent to a gay-conversion therapy camp featuring a very large homage to Pence at the front of the building. Digs at Pence’s supposed support for the practice litter the entire episode.
In January 2018, the issue also made international headlines when Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon chided the White House for sending Pence to the Winter Olympics. When USA Today asked whether he would attend the traditional meeting with the V.P., as Pence requested, Rippon responded, “You mean Mike Pence, the same Mike Pence that funded gay conversion therapy? I’m not buying it.”
Did Pence do anything of the sort? The issue originates with a quotation on Pence’s 2000 congressional campaign website on the renewal of Ryan White HIV/AIDS funding. The quotation read, “Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.” While it’s possible one could read that statement as an endorsement of conversion therapy, it’s much more likely be a statement of support for institutions that encourage condom use or the reduction of risky sexual behavior in general. Pence said so himself.
I won’t claim to know what’s in Pence’s heart on LGBTQ issues, but the fact is Pence is not on-record supporting conversation therapy and has never “funded it,” as Rippon accused. Yet almost 20 years later, much of the media is still peddling this falsehood.
Truth: The Trump Administration Has Notable LGBT Accomplishments
Lost among the sea of false accusations is that the Trump administration has done a lot for LGBTQ people. In addition to those previously noted, Trump has made several high-profile LGBTQ appointments, including R. Clark Cooper, assistant secretary of state.
The administration has worked constructively with Log Cabin Republicans, one of the oldest LGBTQ Republican groups, on critical federal court appointments. Last year, Trump nominated attorney Patrick Bumatay to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, and judge Mary Rowland to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Both are openly gay. Nikki Haley, Trump’s former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, used her platform to call attention to the atrocities committed against LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya and around the world.
This year, in a game-changing move in the fight against HIV and AIDS (whose sufferers are disproportionately LGBTQ), President Trump announced an ambitious initiative to end new HIV transmissions by 2030. President Trump negotiated a donation from Gilead, the pharmaceutical company that makes PrEP, the expensive drug that prevents HIV infections. Two hundred thousand individuals who are most at risk of infection will now receive free PrEP for the next 11 years.
Finally, there’s his record as a citizen. Trump supported same-sex civil unions back in a 2000 interview with The Advocate when most politicians in both political parties opposed them. He was one of the first club owners in the 1980s to allow openly gay people entry, then a violation of Florida law due to public panic over the AIDS crisis. He’s been friends with Elton John and numerous other openly gay celebrities throughout his entire life. Before being gay was considered “cool,” Trump already seemed cool with it.
While Trump may not be remembered as the president who authored the most pro-LGBTQ legislation, he also isn’t going to be remembered as the one who set us back. In Trump’s America, we are all Americans. We’re no longer defined or separated by being gay or straight. There is not a single thing I can’t do now in Trump’s America as a gay man that I could do in Obama’s.
Today in America, being a true advocate of equality is more complicated than supporting every bill that comes before a legislature deemed to be “pro-LGBTQ.” It means distinguishing between policies that are truly good and necessary for LGBTQ people, versus proposals that are simply about getting votes or raising the profile of one’s “advocacy” organization.
When Trump errs on LGBTQ policy, it’s fair to hold him accountable. By the same token, we should not assume that every LGBTQ organization or piece of legislation is actually good for LGBT people. We should feel just as compelled to find out the truth and hold media, politicians, and advocacy organizations accountable.
For decades, LGBTQ people were the victims of false, generalized media narratives used to marginalize us. If we continue to fall for the same lies without learning the truth for ourselves, we do a tremendous disservice to the decades of hard-fought equality we have worked so hard to achieve.