LGBT movement back on defense as Trump era arrives

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BY CHRIS JOHNSON  |  In anticipation of the upcoming Trump administration, at least one LGBT advocate insists the movement will continue to pursue its full agenda, although the election results have dampened expectations and sent advocacy groups back into a defensive posture.

The surprise win by Donald Trump dashed plans for continued LGBT progress under Hillary Clinton. With unified Republican government at the federal level and unprecedented Republican control of state legislatures, LGBT rights may take a few steps back.

Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs for the National LGBTQ Task Force, nonetheless struck an optimistic tone, citing recent wins for the LGBT movement.

“I believe that combined momentum-slash-angst that our community may be feeling because of how vehemently anti-LGBTQ the Trump administration is shaping up to be could actually put us in a position to come together in alignment with other movements that are similarly dealing with high rates of profiling, hate crime attacks, assaults on our personhood and violations of privacy,” Long Simmons said.

Prior to the election, the Human Rights Campaign had reportedly prepared a memo calling for the next administration to enhance LGBT rights further after progress under the Obama administration. Among the requests was the appointment of the first-ever openly LGBT Cabinet member and eliminating the ban on HIV-positive people serving in the U.S. armed forces. It’s hard to see how that could happen under the Trump administration.

Jay Brown, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said his organization is bracing for the fight ahead in the new administration.

“In the days since the election, President-elect Trump has created a team that includes Jeff Sessions, Ben Carsons and Tom Price, among others,” Brown said. “Personnel is policy and these appointees will play a huge role in leading agencies that are charged with protecting LGBTQ people. We are going to be aggressive in blocking any attempt to roll back or undermine our rights. The reality is the vast majority of Americans still support LGBTQ rights and we are going to fight to ensure our voices are heard loud and clear these next four years.”

After Trump’s election, a number of groups have experienced a surge in donations likely out of fear civil rights will be undone. The American Civil Liberties Union is among the groups that support LGBT rights experiencing a spike in donations since Trump’s election.

As of Monday, the ACLU has reported nearly 295,000 donations totaling almost $20.5 million. The group has pledged to use that money to protect civil rights for transgender Americans in addition to ensuring safety for Muslims in the United States and “Dreamers” who received presidential deferred action protection.

Long Simmons said she was unable to speak to any increased donations to the Task Force in the aftermath of the election, but the uptick generally is unsurprising.

“I’ve heard before that in times of difficulty, there are people who more inclined to give to non-profits just generally speaking because they’re angered by what they see and want to make a change, and so people donate with their time or they donate with their money,” Long Simmons said.

Over the course of his presidential campaign, Trump has taken anti-LGBT positions despite saying he’d protect LGBT people from a “hateful, foreign ideology” during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention and waving an upside down Pride flag with the words “LGBTs for Trump” at a rally in Colorado.

The president-elect continues to stock his Cabinet with officials whose common feature seems to be hostility toward LGBT people. Just this week, Trump tapped as energy secretary former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, famed for an ad during his 2012 presidential campaign in which he said, “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Trump’s choice for interior secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), implied in a debate this year his opponent, Denise Juneau, was a lesbian by choice.

After North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory lost his bid for re-election — a defeat observers attribute to his signing the notoriously anti-LGBT HB2 — Trump met with the Republican last week at Trump Tower. According to a report in the Charlotte Observer, a source close to Trump’s transition team said the ousted governor “definitely” has a place in the upcoming administration.

Emboldened by Trump’s commitment to pass the First Amendment Defense Act, Republicans who support the bill, as Buzzfeed reported, are eager to move forward in the next Congress.

Conn Carroll, a spokesperson for Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said her boss, the chief sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act, is among the lawmakers eager to move forward with the legislation.

“Sen. Lee does plan to reintroduce the First Amendment Defense Act in the next Congress and we are hopeful the next White House occupant will be more supportive of the legislation than the previous one,” Carroll said.

The state level also may be a place of anti-LGBT attacks. In Texas, lawmakers have pre-filed bills in anticipation of the upcoming legislative session that would roll back LGBT rights. Among them is Senate Bill 92, which would prohibit localities in Texas from enacting pro-LGBT non-discrimination ordinances.

Despite these ambitions, undaunted in efforts to advance LGBT rights under a Republican-controlled Congress and a Trump administration is Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).

Martina McLennan, a Merkley spokesperson, said her boss intends to reintroduce LGBT non-discrimination legislation known as the Equality Act in the upcoming Congress.

“With an incoming administration that is indifferent at best and hostile at worst when it comes to LGBT rights, Sen. Merkley believes it is more important than ever to keep fighting for LGBT equality,” McLennan said. “The American people are firmly on our side, with a large majority saying that they not only believe that full non-discrimination protection is the right thing to do, they believe it is already law. As the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense, which is exactly why Sen. Merkley will keep pushing for a vision of full equality by reintroducing the Equality Act and by pressing the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to make clear if they stand for or against equality.”

Long Simmons said the major defeats on Election Day shouldn’t diminish the expectations for achievement because “there are still pockets of the nation where people are standing with us.” She called for building a grassroots apparatus in preparation for the 2018 midterm elections.

“I feel like it’s going to be the way that we protect what we’ve already won as we put forward our voices and whatever manner of resistance makes sense, and also just making sure that there’s absolute full engagement in our democracy on the part of as many people as possible,” Long Simmons said.

  •  Special to The Pride Los Angeles from the National Gay Media Association

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