By Lisa Keen
The idea of reflecting upon a president’s “first 100 days in office” started with President Franklin Roosevelt. According to The Washington Post, Roosevelt touted his own accomplishments in trying to pull the country out of the economic Great Depression.
Today’s Great Depression is more of a political one. It erupted out of a presidential election that was won by a candidate who had neither the majority of votes from the general electorate or the full support of his adopted political party. And his legitimate victory through the Electoral College is still shrouded by the widely accepted belief that his campaign was aided and abetted by the nation’s long-standing nemesis, Russia.
Nonetheless, April 30 marks President Trump’s 100th day in office. Perhaps in anticipation that the intense media scrutiny at this first mile-marker won’t flatter him, President Trump posted a Twitter message April 21, saying it’s a “ridiculous standard” by which to judge him. And given that 100 days represents less than six percent of his elected 1,461-day term of office, he may be entitled to some sympathy.
But it does seem reasonable to compare what Trump has done concerning LGBT people to what his predecessors did in any period of time, whether it be their first 100 days or their last year.
Like his Republican predecessors, Trump came into the White House showing at least some semblance of personal respect for gays and lesbians. Ronald Reagan had put his name on an op-ed piece opposing an anti-gay initiative in California that would have barred gay teachers. George W. Bush held a meeting with gays, said it made him a “better person,” and welcomed their support in his campaign. And Trump, on several occasions during his campaign, urged the nation to “stand together in solidarity with” the LGBT community.
But like Reagan, Trump’s public comments in support of LGBT people have virtually disappeared since entering the White House. (The one exception was suggesting that his proposed ban on immigrants from some Muslim countries was, in part, to protect LGBT Americans -a suggestion that LGBT Americans did not embrace.)
Like George W. Bush, Trump chose a U.S. Attorney General who is hostile to the rights of LGBT people. And like Reagan and George W. Bush, Trump’s choices for U.S. Supreme Court and other high positions have completely altered the political landscape nationally. Where once that landscape was vibrant with the reality and potential for LGBT civil rights gains, it is now more like an inhospitable faraway moon.
Trump’s newly installed Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, has voiced reasoning that appears ready to map a path for overturning landmark LGBT Supreme Court victories for same-sex marriage and against hate-based laws.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has withdrawn the federal government’s efforts to defeat an anti-LGBT law in North Carolina and retracted the Obama administration’s advice urging protection of transgender students under Title IX.
The Department of Health and Human Services has removed from at least two federal health surveys questions that would identify data specific to LGBT people.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has canceled a survey to understand the prevalence of homelessness among LGBT people.
The Census Bureau has removed from a report appendix on the upcoming 2020 Census any mention that it has been in discussion about the possibility of someday asking a question to determine how many LGBT people there are in the United States.
And in March, President Trump himself revoked an executive order issued by President Obama that had required federal contractors to demonstrate they were in compliance with 14 federal laws, some of which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Make no mistake about it: The Trump Administration is systematically dismantling the progress that we made over the last eight years,” said Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy in Lambda Legal’s Washington D.C. office. “Some of these actions have been more direct and obvious, such as the withdrawal of Department of Education’s guidance regarding transgender students. But there have been a series of other actions that may not have made as big of a splash, but which, taken as a whole, will cause lasting harm to our community. At every turn, we are being ignored, erased and marginalized. On top of this, the Trump Administration continues to fill its ranks with the most virulent anti-LGBT people this country has ever known. It is going to be a very long four years.”
A Glass Half-full or Just Empty?
Even Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory Angelo assesses Trump’s record thus far on LGBT matters as “mixed.”
“Trump’s first 100 days in office have been something of a mixed bag in regard to LGBT issues,” said Angelo, “but that was to be expected considering his concurrent outreach to evangelicals and the LGBT voters during his campaign.”
Angelo says there has been too much attention paid to “non-troversies” during these first 100 days. For instance, Angelo said the claim by some LGBT activists that the Census Bureau edit was an attempt to “erase” gays from the Census amounted to “fake news.” To him, these reports “were nothing more than fundraising ploys to rile up dejected LGBT liberals still reeling from Hillary Clinton’s loss.”
And former Log Cabin national President Rich Tafel said the community and media have overlooked some positive LGBT developments in the Trump administration. Example? Trump’s notoriously anti-gay Vice President, Mike Pence, told ABC News February 5 that, with Trump, “there’s no room for prejudice.”
“I think throughout the campaign, President Trump made it clear that discrimination would have no place in our administration,” said Pence. “He was the very first Republican nominee to mention the LGBTQ community at our Republican National Convention and was applauded for it. And I was there applauding with him.”
Tafel said these “gay supportive comments by Vice President Mike Pence were historic and pretty amazing.”
“I realize it doesn’t fit the narrative, but it marked a remarkable milestone for the gay community,” said Tafel.
Pence was responding to a question about how unhappy evangelical supporters were with President Trump’s announcement January 31 that he would not revoke an executive order by President Obama that prohibited discrimination by federal contractors against LGBT employees. Many LGBT activists were uneasy with that announcement, too. They expressed concern that Trump’s reassuring “words” weren’t matching up with his troubling “actions” of nominating people who are hostile to LGBT people to key federal positions in health care, civil rights, and education. And most continued to fear President Trump would act on his campaign promise that religious liberty will be “cherished, protected, defended, like you have never seen before.”
Two months later, Trump signed another executive order that said federal contractors were no longer required to demonstrate that they comply with 14 federal laws, several of which prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender stereotyping, or gender identity.
Trump did not revoke Obama’s executive order; he gutted it.
Count the Things He Hasn’t Done?
There are other ways to assess President Trump’s first 100 days with regards to LGBT concerns.
One could look at the list of actions anti-gay organizations had hoped Trump would take as president but hasn’t, at least not yet.
The Family Research Council had a list of 20 things it wanted Trump to accomplish in his first 100 days. He’s done three: withdrawing the Obama advice letter concerning transgender students and Title IX, taking down a Department of Education webpage that included a list of schools seeking waivers to Title IX, and issuing an executive order making it easier for federal contractors to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Here are the FRC agenda items Trump did not act on in his first 100 days:
* that the Trump administration begin enforcing a law that would enable federally funded entities to deny services to others based on religious beliefs and “conscience;”
* that he rescind a regulation that requires federally funded health institutions not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity;
* that he rescind regulations at all agencies which interpret non-discrimination policies based on sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity;”
* that he undo military regulations drafted in preparation for allowing transgender persons to serve openly; and
* that he “pressure the [military] service chiefs” to issue “messages” reaffirming the robust religious freedom and free speech rights of chaplains.
The fact that some of these agenda items have not materialized “is a good thing,” said Tafel.
Trump has also taken some actions that right-wing religious conservatives don’t like. He has retained a State Department Senior Foreign Service Officer (Randy Berry) to serve as the department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons. He nominated an openly lesbian Air Force colonel (Kristin Goodwin) to be among 36 officers promoted to rank of brigadier general. And Trump appointee Nikki Haley, as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spoke out in April against reports of abuse and murder of gay men in the Russian Republic of Chechnya.
Haley issued a statement April 17, saying that the reports “cannot be ignored” and that “Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.”
“We are against all forms of discrimination, including against people based on sexual orientation,” she added.
The Start is Only the Beginning
History will judge President Trump’s LGBT-related actions based on another measure: How he stacks up to his Democratic predecessors.
In his first 100 days in office, President Jimmy Carter’s staff held a meeting with LGBT national leaders in the White House to discuss their needs and concerns. Some downplay the significance of the meeting because it’s not entirely clear how much President Carter supported the meeting, but he didn’t stop it and it was an historic first for any presidential administration.
President Clinton, who eventually ushered in some gains for LGBT people during his two terms, notoriously caved in during those first days of his first term. He relinquished on a campaign promise to end the military’s policy of banning gays. He said he believed that gays should be allowed to serve but said he would work with leaders in Congress to come up with a policy. Congress then proceeded to codify a ban, though its name, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” implied gays could serve as long as no one found out they were gay.
Even President Obama, the most pro-LGBT president in U.S. history, had a rough start on LGBT issues. There was considerable grousing within the community about his performance on LGBT matters during his first year in office. According to many, he didn’t move fast enough to take actions that would end long-standing discrimination against LGBT citizens.
But despite that early worry, President Obama was able to boast that he was “the first President to appoint candidates to Senate-confirmed positions in the first 100 days of an Administration.” In March 2009, he nominated John Berry to head the Office of Personnel Management. And in April 2009, he nominated Fred Hochberg to serve as president of the U.S. Export-Import Bank.
President Obama’s administration signed onto a United Nations statement calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality in his first 100 days.
And all three Democratic predecessors had openly gay people advising the administration on LGBT-related matters.
“If there are LGBTQ people providing guidance [to the Trump administration], there is little evidence of positive results so far,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign.
“Unfortunately, President Trump has not surprised us at all,” said Stacy. “We never believed his disingenuous, self-serving claims of being on the side of the LGBTQ community. For an administration that can’t get its act together on the most important challenges facing our country, they’ve managed to steadily roll back LGBTQ protections. From appointing an anti-LGBTQ cabinet (with the most anti-LGBTQ Secretaries at the agencies most critical to protecting LGBTQ people) to withdrawing the guidance protecting transgender students, from cutting research into the needs of LGBTQ people to proposing huge health care cuts that would severely impact people living with HIV, this Administration has made clear that LGBTQ protections are on the chopping block.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, a cofounder of the now defunct GOProud group of LGBT Republicans, said he doesn’t believe President Trump is “driven to implement anti-LGBT policy,” even if “many in his administration and political coalition are.” And LaSalvia said he expected “any anti-LGBT actions by this president would be done as a political payback for support” from the “anti-LGBT segment of his coalition.”
“So far, they haven’t been able to accomplish anything that would require a big payback!” said LaSalvia. “It’s only been 100 days. We have a long time before we can really assess this administration.”