As President-elect Donald Trump prepares to take the oath of office on Friday, I’m still troubled by even the most socially-liberal of his supporters suggesting I need to “relax.” That, as a gay man, I need not worry about a rollback of decades of hard-fought civil rights and acceptance under a Trump presidency.
The President-elect of course has been lauded by progressives on both sides of the aisle as the most LGBTQ-friendly presidential candidate in U.S. history. To be fair, Trump’s vow at last year’s Republican National Convention to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the “violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology” represented a sharp pivot from the “family rights forever, gay rights never” rhetoric of past GOP conventions. To a degree.
That’s because the President-elect’s personally-held views, however seemingly progressive they may be, have become largely irrelevant to ensuring the progress and protection of civil rights for LGBTQ citizens.
In a recent conversation with me, Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, explained that Trump “has put people with very different views in very powerful positions. Many of the people he has nominated have a long history of working against the basic civil rights of LGBTQ people.”
In the likes of Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, Jeff Sessions, Ben Carson, among others, it would indeed appear that Trump has invited into his orbit some of the most staunchly anti-LGBTQ personalities in modern U.S. politics, who now stand to assume even greater roles of influence over the future of our rights.
“LGBTQ people are expressing their concerns about their families, their livelihoods, from all corners of the country,” Warbelow added. “We’re going to have to be vigilant. We’re going to have to fight.”
And with the Republican party now firmly in control of both houses of Congress, standing on what is perhaps its most anti-LGBTQ platform yet, the future of equality is in a most precarious position.
To be clear, Trump has not vowed to protect LGBTQ citizens from the hateful ideologies harbored here at home. Whether or not he will truly be a president for all Americans remains to be seen, but perhaps preoccupied by Twitter, he has missed every opportunity to begin healing the very divisions he exploited throughout the election.
Seven months ago, we witnessed the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history unleashed against the LGBTQ community. In my column for USA Today in days following that tragedy, I asserted my belief that such violence was a consequence of marrying bigotry with policy. At that point, we had already seen more than 200 bills proposed in 2016 alone seeking the marginalization of millions of LGBTQ Americans.
So, I will not relax as we observe the elevation of bigots to the nation’s highest offices, poised to further advance intolerant and hurtful interests euphemized as “religious liberty” or “pro family.”
The U.S. is not a theocracy, and we should not yield to those who choose to discriminate against anyone based on beliefs cherry-picked from whatever brand of religion they subscribe to. To those who look upon the LGBTQ community with such disdain, I offer you a friendly reminder to love thy neighbor.
To the lawmakers legislating away the rights and dignity of their LGBTQ constituents, I offer you a challenge. Sit and speak with the parents who have buried their LGBTQ sons and daughters lost to suicide, having sought death as relief from a life believing they would never be equal and from the torment of bullies whose hostility was legitimized by the homophobia stoked in your bills. What will “pro family” mean to you then?
To the President-elect, a demand that you keep your word and be a president for all Americans. It will require you to castigate bigotry where you see it – not just in extremist ideology abroad, but here and even in those you yourself have tapped to lead the nation, and to vigorously oppose any scheme to disparage LGBTQ citizens. You can start by reneging on your support of the First Amendment Defense Act as it’s currently written as a welcome mat to LGBTQ discrimination.
And to those who have fought so hard to get where we are today, or merely fought to keep your chin up in a world where the odds are stacked against you, have hope, but keep fighting. We will do whatever it takes to keep moving forward.
John Allyn Welch is a communications and public affairs strategist in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAWelch