To say that Donald Trump is an interesting political figure is to believe that Pepe the frog is mildly provocative. To many, Pepe symbolises how conservatism in the United States has translated into systemic xenophobia, sexism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia based on which Trump has run his campaign. Both have managed to insult large groups of people but only one is running to be President of the United States as the Republican nominee.
However, in this crazy election season, one thing still stands. Putting it mildly, the Republican Party has not been a friend to America’s LGBTQ population. Despite recent victories like nationwide marriage equality, persistent discrimination exists at the local and state-level largely perpetuated currently by the Republicans. While the Democrats took their time on this, it is now front-and-center on the party’s platform. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, is in full support of measures supporting LGBTQ Americans. Having evolved from supporting traditional marriage over the years to supporting marriage equality she now has the the support of 72% of LGBTQ Americans.
But Trump, who is at 20%, has received attention for being ‘better‘ for LGBTQ rights than an establishment Republican candidate would be perhaps because he’s from liberal New York. The following will seek to explore his stance:
By 1999, it had been three years since the Defence of Marriage Act had been signed into law by then President Bill Clinton, but Trump’s views on it were still unclear. However, a year later, he made up his mind. “I think the institution of marriage should be between a man and a woman. I think it’s important for gay couples who are committed to each other to not be hassled when it comes to inheritance, insurance benefits, and other simple everyday rights.” This argument essentially denotes the importance of the institution of marriage by giving LGBTQ Americans second-class status through civil unions. While he expressed support for a friend, Elton John on his then-impending wedding to David Furnish in 2005, four years later, he went back into the grey area by calling it a “complicated question.” It took two years for him after that to reaffirm his traditional stance against marriage equality and equal benefits as well.
In 2011, he had this to say in reference to President Barack Obama’s impending endorsement of gay marriage. “We have other problems in this country. And I don’t think a president should be elected on gay marriage or not gay marriage because we have some very big problems.” He also went back on civil unions by citing that he hadn’t “totally formed” his opinion.
“I think I’m evolving, and I think I’m a very fair person, but I have been for traditional marriage” said Trump in 2013. Not an uncommon thing to say at that time, because public opinion was gradually shifting. But that didn’t last long when he became a Republican candidate in the primaries and stuck to party line. “I am traditional. I am for traditional, and it’s a changing format, but I am very much for traditional marriage.”
However, looking to the 2016 general election, Trump sought to shift from a divisive standpoint to a more unity approach. “We have to bring all people together. And if we don’t, we’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Verdict: Considering that same-sex marriage has been the most prominent issue of the LGBTQ discourse in America; Trump, when he was sure of his stance, has been consistent in his support of only ‘traditional’ marriage – between a man and a woman.
Following the 2015 Supreme Court landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, Trump surprised many with comments that seemed to suggest that as President he wouldn’t force an amendment on ‘protecting’ marriage through Congress or otherwise.
With many typically conservative Republicans saying that they will fight the Supreme Court on the issue of marriage equality by passing an act through Congress, Trump decided to be “realistic about it” and seemed to suggest that people let it be even though he “would have liked to have seen the decision differently.”
But Trump had some choice words for the judges who decided on the landmark ruling. “We have some very terrible Supreme Court justices, and frankly, they should have at least had that [same-sex marriage case] as a state’s right issue.” And in 2016, he said that he would “strongly consider” appointing justices to the SC who would overturn the ruling.
Verdict: While he has stressed repeatedly that the SC ruling wasn’t right because it should have been left to individual states to decide on (an easy argument used by many politicians who don’t want to seem offensive), his support in appointing non-LGBT friendly justices to the Supreme Court is indeed worrying for the progress made. As President, Trump seems like he would support the decision to have a socially conservative Supreme Court taking LGBTQ rights back by at least a decade.
Trans issues have become a major talking point for both of the major parties and as expected, the Republicans have time and again demonised and targeted trans Americans. But Trump has a different story. In the 2012 Miss Universe Canada competition, Jenna Talackova, a male-to-female trans contestant was initially disqualified before being eventually allowed to participate. Trump, owner of Miss Universe Organisation at the time, had since stated that he intends to create a rule allowing trans contestants to participate regardless of individual country rules.
But on the political front, when North Carolina’s discriminatory HB2 Bill (popularly known as the ‘bathroom bill’) had become a major national issue, he was against it at first. “North Carolina, what they’re going through with all the business that’s leaving, and all the strife – that’s on both sides, leave it the way it is. There have been very few complaints the way it is. People go. They use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble.” But Trump has since switched his position and has stated, after being pressed several times, that he hadn’t formed a personal opinion over the controversial bill, he once again, felt that it was a state issue to be decided on.
He also plans to rescind the directives released by President Obama protecting them from discrimination.
Verdict: With his strong support to leave it to (Republican) states to decide over trans issues, Trump leaves trans rights in the limbo. And while he may not significantly oppose trans rights, he doesn’t seem too politically motivated to support them either. Trump has made it clear he would not enforce federal civil rights laws to protect trans Americans.
In 1999, Trump stated his mild opposition to ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’. the controversial military law that would fire openly gay people who serve in the military. “It would not disturb me. I mean, hey, I lived in New York City and Manhattan all my life, OK? So, you know, my views are a little bit different than if I lived in Iowa, perhaps.” However, he did not mince words at then presidential hopeful George Bush in 2000 when it came to a lack of hate crime legislation. “He had the opportunity in Texas to show national leadership by passing a hate-crimes bill but didn’t — presumably from pressure from the Christian right. When somebody is victimised because of their ethnicity, the colour of their skin, or their sexual orientation, that must carry a harsh penalty.”
Unlike the Trump we know now, Y2K Trump had some pretty strong words in support of anti-discrimination law, that were consistent with his New York values. “I like the idea of amending the Civil Rights Act to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. We don’t need to rewrite the laws currently on the books, although I do think we need to address hate-crimes legislation. But amending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans – it’s only fair.” Moreover, Trump has shown a preference for merit rather than identity markers which is a good sign. Apparently, in a Trump administration, being LGBTQ would not be a problem.
However, in 2011, Donald switched gears when he stated that he didn’t believe that civil unions should have the same benefits as marriage. But he was also against private companies being able to fire employees based on sexual orientation.
Verdict: Trump scores the most points in this section. As President, he may not go after undoing discrimination law that already exists, but his support for it is currently unclear. On that note, Trump won’t be horrible for anti-discrimination law if you’re not counting religious liberty.
As LGBTQ rights have progressed in the country, religious liberty has often been used as a reason to block the momentum. Kim Davis, the infamous county clerk who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples, had to go to jail for not abiding by the law. Trump had a different approach to the ‘culture war’ argument that conservative Christians had. “It was too bad that she had to be put in jail. And I’m a very, very strong believer in Christianity and religion, but I will say that this was not the right job for her because we had a ruling from the Supreme Court and we are a country of laws, and you have to do what the Supreme Court ultimately — whether you like the decision or not.”
But his practicality goes right out of the window with his support for the First Amendment Defense Act – a bill that he has promised will be signed into law that would enable people to use their religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people (by denying services or firing them) without being penalised by the federal government. Moreover, when asked whether religious liberty would be a litmus test for appointing Supreme Court justices, he said he would support that. Considering it has been the courts who are at the forefront of protecting LGBTQ rights, this would have a huge impact for decades.
Verdict: His score on anti-discrimination quickly falters in the face of religious liberty as he courts the Republican Party’s most loyal voter base. As President, his support for the Act and conservative Supreme Court justices would be highly consequential for the LGBTQ community.
Apart from anti-discrimination law (if you’re not counting religious liberty), Trump has pretty much carried the Republican standard position on most LGBTQ issues. While his cultural outlook is evidently different leading to perhaps more progressive views on this matter, there is one thing that should not be forgotten: Trump in the Oval Office, surrounded by an overtly homophobic team including his Vice Presidential pick Mike Pence and his current campaign manager Steve Bannon, would be far more harsh at least due to political reasons, if not personal.
Final Verdict: Rhetoric may not matter as much as actions but Trump is bound to harm.