Rising Concern over LGBT Rights under the Trump Administration

By Andrew Bucksbarg

(Update to the article “LGBT Rights Imperiled under the Trump Administration,” published Jan. 26, 2017)

Picture by Anneliese Phillips (Unsplash)

The Humane Party is the only party for the rights of all beings.  Based on science and ethics, the Humane Party understands the complex connections of all beings and the rare planetary system that sustains them.  It affirms the rights of both human and nonhuman animals to live freely.  The Humane Party is the party of the future with a focus on numerous fronts of discrimination and exploitation.

According to many news sources, some members of the GOP appear to be exploiting fear of terrorism and fabrications of attacks on society by marginalized groups in order to manipulate the public.  President Trump’s recent declarations about the present danger of terrorism by Muslim refugees and about the media’s failure to cover terrorist attacks are two examples of the lengths his administration will go to force their agenda in this regard.  This autocratic behavior is disturbingly familiar and problematic for minority groups, such as the LGBT community, who have suffered from such abusive tactics in the past.  The LGBT community has much cause for concern with the troubled start of the Trump administration and its historically anti-LGBT cabinet members and staff, as well as President Trump’s extreme use of executive orders meant to move quickly and forcefully.

Disquieting figures who surround President Trump have whipped up fears of minorities and concocted discriminatory legislation.  This is evident in the former governor of Indiana Mike Pence’s ascension to vice president with his past legislative history in tow.  As governor of Indiana, for instance, he signed Senate Bill 101, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  This was an attempt to create fear that religious freedom is under attack.  Politifact reported, “Conservatives in Indiana and elsewhere see the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a vehicle for fighting back against the legalization of same-sex marriage.”

Under the RFRA in Indiana, discrimination against the LGBT community would also be protected when intolerant actions came from those who claimed that their religious beliefs protected them.  After the bill was passed in Indiana, pressure from companies doing business in the state and the protests of thousands forced Mike Pence to sign an amendment to the bill providing protections for LGBT customers, employees and tenants.  However, the bill was not repealed.

In a speech to Congress in 2006, Pence stated that LGBT people chose their sexuality and that same-sex marriage was a destructive societal force.  The implication is that LGBT “lifestyles” are an attack on America.  He claimed, “Societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.”  Pence also said, “I believe that if someone chooses another life-style than I have chosen, that that is their right in a free society.  But tolerance does not require that we permit our courts to redefine an institution upon which our society depends.”

The White House has declared that it will continue President Obama’s executive order protecting federal contractors from anti-LGBT discrimination for now.  However, a draft of one of President Trump’s executive orders was just leaked, which would give widespread, broad-based exemptions when discriminating based on religious bigotry against same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity, “when providing social services, education, or healthcare; earning a living, seeking a job, or employing others; receiving government grants or contracts; or otherwise participating in the marketplace, the public square, or interfacing with Federal, State or local governments.”  The draft of this order includes no protections for vulnerable citizens, such as those in poverty or LGBT children.

This is similar to a pending piece of federal legislation introduced to Congress in 2015, the First Amendment Defense Act, which Trump has said he would sign if it is passed by Congress.  The bill protects religious bigotry with regard to same-sex marriage or sexuality, stating that the federal government “shall not take any discriminatory action against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

President Trump’s decision to let stand an Obama-era order protecting the rights of some LGBT workers thus becomes ambiguous in light of the path he appears to create for religious bigots to use culture war tactics.  At the National Prayer Breakfast he stated that he would “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution.”  The vice president reaffirmed Trump’s stated plan to “destroy” the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates.

This calculated spin ignores the fact that it is not the “representatives of faith” who are bullied, assaulted, murdered, denied services by businesses, kept from renting apartments and who struggle with high levels of depression and suicide.

When people are misled to believe that a community or a class of people are a threat to them, those marginalized people or communities become targets.  In 2016, there were only about 56 deaths of Americans due to terrorism globally.  A whopping 49 of those 56 were members of the LGBT and Puerto Rican-American community murdered at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando.  The shooter, U.S. born Omar Mateen’s history as a bully, a victim and perpetrator of domestic violence, and an established misogynist and homophobe, should not be underplayed by links to terrorism.

Another disconcerting development is President Trump’s admittance to a “relationship” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin in video that has resurfaced.  If Trump takes any influence from Putin’s anti-LGBT exploitative, political tactics, then we return to the culture wars of the pre-President Obama era.  This is laid out clearly in a recent commentary in The Advocate,

Putin’s exploitation of LGBT vulnerability went beyond serving to distract the public from his corruption and mismanagement, and was a chief constituent of his war plan against the fledgling post-Soviet democracy.  The crippling attacks on Russia’s queer community include legislation passed in 2013 effectively banning LGBT individuals from public life, and these were calculated tactics to weaken civil society, solidifying oppression while supplanting truth and fact with fear and hysteria.  Human Rights Watch issued a report titled “License to Harm” documenting the rise in vigilante homophobic and transphobic violence coinciding with the passage of the 2013 law, finding that “most people who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that this [violence] intensified in 2013.”  Anti-LGBT vitriol is central to the cult of strongman hypermasculinity to which tyrants frequently appeal.

Finally, asylum seekers who are LGBT and at high risk of being attacked or executed are in great danger under the president’s Muslim ban.  In places like Iran, homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.  Gay men or men perceived as gay have suffered beheadings and mutilation, were thrown off rooftops, stoned or hung.  As Time Magazine reported,

The Obama administration implemented several policies to protect LGBT asylum seekers, including recognizing same sex partners as “spouses” for the purpose of refugee resettlement and urging federal agencies abroad to protect LGBT people at every stage of the refugee process.  It is not yet clear whether the Trump administration will continue those policies.  Immigration lawyers say it’s extremely unlikely that the U.S. government would violate the 1951 Refugee Convention to deport LGBT people back to countries where they risk persecution and execution.  But advocates say that is of little comfort to gay asylum seekers from the Middle Eastern countries affected by the ban.”

All of these developments and plans fermenting below the surface, coalescing through the Trump administration by social conservatives, religious extremists and bigoted leaders have rightfully set off alarm bells for the LGBT community and its allies.  The LGBT community’s trepidation is validated by historic actions and beliefs of members of Donald Trump’s administration.  The LGBT community and supporters are gearing up to repel the Trump administration’s culture war era tactics.  A protest of thousands happened recently at the site of the Stonewall Riots in New York City where members of the LGBT community had risen up against a police raid in 1969.  Senator Chuck Schumer spoke out, as well as chanted, “Dump Trump” with the crowd of protesters.  Judy Shepard, whose son was savagely beaten and left to die in subzero temperatures and who has also been a key figure in the passing of hate crimes legislation, shared thoughts on a way forward for the next four years, “Now we have to work back at the grassroots level, which is right where we were all those years ago.”  The Humane Party stands behind the LGBT community in solidarity, acknowledging its struggle as an important component of freedom and justice for all beings.