NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A week after U.S. President Donald Trump was sworn into office, the absence of gay rights issues from the White House website was a worrying sign, campaigners said on Friday.
On the day Trump was sworn in on Jan. 20, references to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community were purged from the White House website. A search on the site for the term “LGBT” returned no results on Friday.
“We’re very concerned about the initial steps the Trump administration is taking on LGBTQ rights,” said Rob Flaherty, spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT advocacy group.
“He needs to make it clear whether he is going to be an ally to the LGBTQ community or not,” he said.
The archiving of the White House website’s content in a separate website is routine practice during a change of administration, according to the White House Historical Association.
Content from other pages on the White House site, including content on the Office of Management and Budget webpage, had also been removed without replacement.
A White House spokeswoman said building the new website was a work in progress.
“We have a team currently working on this project,” she said by email. “President Trump was very clear in his inaugural speech, and at other times, that he is very supportive of LGBTQ rights and this will be reflected in this administration.”
But the continued absence of any replacement content on LGBT issues could be intended to send a political message, said Kevin Kosar, a senior fellow at the non-partisan, public policy think tank R Street Institute in Washington D.C.
“Some folks might see the disappearance of (certain issues)... as a way that the Trump administration is signaling to portions of its voters and supporters that ‘Hey, we’re not in favor of this stuff,’” he said by phone.
During his campaign Trump held up an LGBTQ rainbow flag during a rally, but his vice president, Mike Pence, has expressed staunch opposition to gay rights as have some of Trump’s cabinet picks.
Trump’s promise to nominate a conservative justice to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court could tip the balance over a case involving a transgender boy who has sued to use the male restroom at his public school in Virginia, say campaigners.
“It’s a really bad sign,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
“At this point we have to assume they’re hostile to us.”
She said LGBT advocates would resist any attempts to erode gay rights after gains made during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015, and Obama issued regulations prohibiting health insurers from denying coverage based on gender identity, among other measures.
Shannon Gilreath, a professor of law and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, said it was too early to make a judgment.
“On day seven of the Trump administration, am I in sack-cloth and ashes over the fact that the Trump page has not been replaced at this point? No,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Now if you ask me the same question six months from now I may have a very different perspective.”
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo @sebastienmalo, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property right