President Donald Trump’s narrow pledge to uphold a handful of LGBTQ protections amounts to a “license to discriminate” rather than a shield against discrimination, advocates say.
LGBTQ rights advocates steeled themselves against rampant news reports and rumors on social media late Monday that the Trump administration planned to take broad and potentially devastating executive action against an already vulnerable population, perhaps even declaring gender immutable from birth and rolling back adoption rights.
The White House on Tuesday morning issued a statement tailored to upholding only President Obama’s 2014 executive order protecting federal workers and contractors from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Congressional Republicans last year unsuccessfully sought to roll back these protections and codify discrimination against a further range of identities, including reproductive health-care decisions.
The White House’s statement bragged that Trump would not undo the order as the “first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression.”
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At least two Washington, D.C.-based advocates for LGBTQ rights, however, expressed candid concerns to Rewire that Trump’s statement could signal a bait and switch.
“Trump put out a statement on one such area and conspicuously left out all of the other ones,” one of the advocates said. “He doesn’t get a cookie for deciding to move us zero steps forward, especially when he’s considering taking us five steps back.”
Other advocates were similarly unimpressed.
“Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Chad Griffin said in a press release. At least ten advocacy groups focused on LGBTQ and other rights will take on Trump’s “license to discriminate” during a joint press conference Tuesday at HRC headquarters.
Trump’s decision to uphold the prior administration’s protections “isn’t without precedent,” BuzzFeed News reported. “President George W. Bush continued to enforce a 1998 executive order signed by President Bill Clinton that banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the federal workforce.”
National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling condemned the White House for the breadth of discriminatory policies reportedly still under consideration.
“The fact that proactively discriminating against transgender and other LGBT people was even being discussed in the White House is shameful, as is the fact that there are other options still on the table to target LGBT Americans,” Keisling said in a press release.
“This limited retreat certainly does not make President Trump an ally to transgender Americans. He is certainly not an ally to transgender refugees, transgender Muslims, or transgender people who depend on the Affordable Care Act or Planned Parenthood. We will continue to fight any attempt to target any community in this country,” Keisling continued.
Winnie Stachelberg, a Center for American Progress executive vice president, said in a statement that she remains highly skeptical of the president’s support for upholding civil rights for LGBTQ people.
“We don’t buy the White House’s statement that President Trump will protect LGBT families and workers,” Stachelberg said. “If President Trump truly supported LGBT rights, he would never have pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act—the most anti-LGBT legislation in Congress.”
Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) plan to reintroduce that discriminatory legislation this year, their press offices told Rewire Monday.
Concerns remain that Trump could issue an executive order along the lines of religious imposition measures modeled after the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and others sweeping through GOP-held state legislatures across the United States. Such measures purport to protect religious freedom at the expense of marginalized groups, while codifying the imposition of religious beliefs on others and giving the courts potential justification to rule against legal challenges to discriminatory actions.
Trump need only turn to Vice President Mike Pence for guidance.
Pence enacted one of the nation’s most stringent religious imposition laws during his tenure as Indiana governor. He justified the 2015 law by claiming that religious freedom trumps civil rights.
Pence’s other highlights include gutting programs that helped to prevent HIV, effectively enabling a new outbreak in the state. Pence has advocated for “conversion therapy,” which doesn’t work and has been shown to drive LGBTQ people to depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Other members of Trump’s potential cabinet, including Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions and secretary of education nominee Betsy DeVos of the conservative megadonor DeVos family, share poor records on LGBTQ equality.
Only the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative political group “representing gay conservatives and allies,” appeared heartened by Trump’s decision. The group claimed to have “directly advocated” for the outcome.