One rather queer aspect of the Donald Trump phenomenon is that people so expect to be offended by his paroxysms of intolerance that they haven’t noticed there’s one group the president-elect has never scapegoated, attacked, or belittled: LGBT Americans. Trump’s reserve on gay matters, coming from a politician so promiscuous with his vituperation, represents a welcome (albeit curious) watershed in LGBT history. Yet Big Gay is girding for a wave of persecution from the inchoate Trump Administration.
Big Gay – the putative opinion-makers encompassing organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, cultural figures like George Takei, and openly gay politicians like Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) – has for decades shown a reflexive aversion to conservatives and Republicans. “Benefit of the doubt” and “finding common ground” are not in their toolkit concerning those who lean right.
Trump’s initial signals, however, offer more promise to LGBT Americans than those of any previous Republican party leader:
- In his speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC), Trump made history with a promise to “do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens” from attacks like the one at an Orlando gay nightclub six weeks earlier. And, beaming at a Colorado rally 10 days before the election, he showcased a rainbow flag emblazoned with “LGBTs for TRUMP.”
- Many of Trump’s advisers and appointees would be unthinkable in previous, less tolerant GOP administrations. For example, Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson was said to be instrumental in changing the Boys Scouts’ exclusionary policies when he headed that organization. And openly gay businessman Peter Thiel spoke at the RNC and serves on Trump’s transition team.
- Even on a hot-button issue like transgender bathroom access, Trump has shown inclusive instincts – inviting Caitlyn Jenner to use any bathroom in his buildings that she wanted – which she did.
- Trump has indicated no plans to roll back gay marriage, saying it’s no longer a legally contested issue.
- At a time when transition team members have publicly questioned Obama Administration policies regarding women’s rights and climate change, no similar challenges have targeted the administration’s pro-gay steps. In fact, when conservative Christian leader Tony Perkins proposed that “LGBTQ activists… be ferreted out and will be replaced by conservatives,” a Trump spokesman said the president-elect “campaigned on a message of unity in order to bring all Americans together…. that discrimination of any kind will be condoned or tolerated in a Trump administration is simply absurd.”
Certainly, the Trump Administration will not be as gay-friendly as one led by Hillary Clinton. But what do you expect? LGBT Americans were firmly in the Democrat camp, whereas only 14 percent of the gay electorate voted for Trump. Since Evangelical Christians actually were a major part of the Republican coalition, the fact this administration is addressing gay concerns at all is heartening.
The sky-is-falling arguments from Big Gay are unconvincing. Yes, some Trump appointees have (often tenuous) connections with anti-gay groups, but gay activists and journalists have not found a single Trump appointee who has practiced the kind of homophobia they’re evoking by association.
Others have pointed to the hostile Republican platform – a dead-on-arrival document with no practical influence on governing; or to the caricature of Veep Mike Pence as some kind of homophobic Voldemort (HRC leader Chad Griffin called Pence “the number one face of hate in the country”). LGBT activists have twisted Pence’s words, misrepresented his positions, and simply lied to paint him as an extremist. In reality, Pence is a conservative Christian whose worldview resembles that of his peers – but who will report to the most gay-friendly GOP president in history.
LGBT activists are also understandably concerned about the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which aims to protect Americans acting consistently with traditionalist beliefs about marriage. The bill as written is problematic (and will surely be amended in committee), but it is a well-deserved comeuppance for the marriage debate’s sore winners. Big Gay has been so offended that some Americans still considered marriage two-gendered that it has taken legal steps against businesses that refused to provide services to same-sex celebrations (but not gay individuals) because of their moral beliefs.
The florists-and-bakers debate stands gay American history on end. This time, religious conservatives are the underdog David – forced to choose between their livelihoods and using their creative talents in service of ideas they abhor; while Big Gay is the bully Goliath facing only theoretical harms. Because Mary please, while American gays and lesbians still have problems, finding someone to sell them wedding cakes is not among them. If Trump signs a narrowly tailored final version of the FADA into law, LGBT Americans will be just fine.
Why does it appear the incoming administration is so friendly toward a group that gave it scant support in November? Certainly, it’s hard for a man who has bragged about adultery and sexual assault to spew brimstone over homosexuality. But I think the answer is simpler: Trump’s heart simply bears no ill will toward gays.
As leaders of a community that has struggled for respect from even one party, the prospect of a gay-friendly Republican administration should enthrall movement activists. Smart LGBT leaders should rush to work with Trump officials, helping to seed the Executive Branch with allies and protecting LGBT interests in ways that are consistent with conservative principles but involve full dignity and inclusion.
Instead, we’ve seen Lambda Legal confidently declare that “the year ahead will be brutal” for gay people and GLAAD ask people to “stand against Trump’s anti-LGBTQ agenda” by – you guessed – sending it money.
Sadly, Big Gay doesn’t even want two gay-friendly parties. Its leadership is filled with liberal thinkers and activists who abhor Republican stances on guns, social programs, abortion, and the environment. Even if they knew the gay community could flourish like never before with two parties offering alternative visions for helping LGBT people thrive, they would still prefer five out of six queers to keep voting Democrat.
I’m not a fan of Trump’s. I don’t like his character, his temperament, or his judgment; and I would prefer a Republican president with a commitment to conservative ideas, not just policies. But as a gay man, I see real possibilities for this administration to rewrite all the rules about how my party – and my country – approach Americans of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Trump’s influence on the GOP base is remarkable. Over the course of the campaign, the percentage of Republicans saying free trade was bad for America skyrocketed from 39 percent to 68 percent. While I fear for the nation’s well-being over the next four years, I do have high hopes that regarding LGBT concerns, Trump’s Republican Party will start to follow the tolerant model of its leader.
David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.