Trump's Mixed Record on Gay Rights: Why He Won't "Make America Gay Again"

With House Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-WI) endorsement last week, Donald Trump became the presumed Republican presidential nominee. But despite his almost constant media coverage, Trump's position on gay rights has remained surprisingly ambiguous.

A close examination of Trump's record reveals that he has flip-flopped more times than former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney. In fact, before he announced his presidential run in June 2015, Trump publicly supported his many gay friends and adopted various measures to court prospective LGBTQ voters.

For example, when he was mulling over a potential presidential run in 2000, Trump gave an interview to The Advocate, an LGBTQ magazine. The article demonstrated the businessman's understanding that diversity is good for a company's bottom line. "In all truth," he said, "I don't care whether or not a person is gay. I judge people based on their capability, honesty and merit." When asked if he would appoint LGBTQ individuals in his administration, Trump replied, "I want the best and the brightest... if the best person for the job happens to be gay, I would certainly appoint them." It is hard to imagine Senator Ted Cruz or Romney taking such a position in a similar interview. In fact, the moderate Romney openly opposed same-sex marriage and rights for gay couples during his presidential run.

In 2005, Trump attended the civil-partnership ceremony between singer Elton John and his longtime boyfriend David Furnish in England. Trump is a longtime friend of the couple. After the event, Trump wrote on his blog: "I'm very happy for them. If two people dig each other, they dig each other." He then concluded, "This is a marriage that is going to work." The casual application of "marriage" to his friends' civil partnership appears to hint at Trump's support for same-sex marriage.

Another surprise came only a few weeks ago, when Trump publicly denounced North Carolina's controversial bathroom law. The law, passed earlier this spring, mandated that individuals use the restroom corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth. Defying the almost 50% of North Carolina Republicans who supported the bill, Trump stated that individuals should be able to "use the bathroom they feel is appropriate." Senator Ted Cruz, at the time a contestant in the presidential race, immediately responded by tweeting: "Common sense: grown men shouldn't be in bathrooms w/ little girls." Trump's avoidance of this sort of inaccurate and inflammatory rhetoric is even more surprising given the comments he has made regarding immigrants, women, and other minority groups.

LGBTQ activists have seized upon Trump's ambivalence as potential evidence of his support. In April, the president of the Log Cabin Republicans, Gregory T. Angelo, told the New York Times that Trump "will be the most gay-friendly Republican nominee for president ever." However, statements like these are misleading. Even Trump, the most "gay-friendly Republican nominee ever," still is not "gay-friendly" in the absolute. In the past year, ever since his aspirations to the country's highest office became public, Trump has been increasingly distancing himself from the LGBTQ community. Whether this reflects a personal shift or efforts to pander to an ideologically-conservative Republican base remains unclear.

For example, Trump has repeatedly stated his support for "traditional marriage" (whatever that means -- Trump himself is on his third marriage). After the Supreme Court decision in June 2015 legalized same-sex marriage, Trump proclaimed that he disagreed with the ruling. He tweeted: "Once again the Bush-appointed Supreme Court Justice John Roberts has let us down."

In February, Trump reassured Evangelical Christians that they could "trust him on traditional marriage." As with most of Trump's statements, this quote is hard to decipher. What, specifically, does "trusting" Trump on traditional marriage mean? At a press conference in Florida in March, Trump dodged questions to clarify his position on gay rights. "I've said it very, very strongly," he replied, "and I think you know it." He then continued: "How many times do I have to say it? I've said it 150 times." The clearest thing about Trump's opinion on gay rights is that no one knows what his opinions are. But that may be by design -- of the seven major positions listed on Trump's campaign website, none of them involve LGBTQ rights or social issues.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the leading organizations promoting LGBTQ rights nation-wide, proclaims on its website that "Donald Trump has been a consistent opponent of marriage equality." The HRC also states that Trump's recent support for the so-called First Amendment Defense Act -- which would allow businesses and organizations to refuse service based on religious beliefs -- will "expose LGBT people to more discrimination."

The HRC has attempted to make light of the situation by commandeering Trump's campaign slogan. "Make America Great Again" is redesigned as the tongue-in-cheek "Make America Gay Again" and plastered across hats and shirts. Now more than ever, those words seem like wishful thinking.