Following a flurry of rumors that the Trump administration is planning to overturn Obama-era LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections for federal employees and contractors, the White House issued a statement saying the president will continue to enforce the Obama order. The press release made the claim that Trump “continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights,” but journalists shouldn’t be fooled. President Donald Trump has a proven record of supporting anti-LGBTQ laws and surrounding himself with anti-LGBTQ extremists -- and he could still issue a broad executive order undermining equal protections under the guise of “religious freedom.”
On Monday, numerous outlets reported on rumors that the Trump administration was planning to issue an executive order overturning President Obama’s 2014 order protecting LGBTQ federal contractors from workplace discrimination. Monday evening, the White House issued a statement claiming that Trump would not overturn the Obama-era nondiscrimination protections (emphasis added):
President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community. President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election. The President is proud to have been the first ever GOP nominee to mention the LGBTQ community in his nomination acceptance speech, pledging then to protect the community from violence and oppression. The executive order signed in 2014, which protects employees from anti-LGBTQ workplace discrimination while working for federal contractors, will remain intact at the direction of President Donald J. Trump.
But his own record on LGBTQ equality disproves the White House’s claim that Trump is “respectful and supportive” of LGBTQ rights. Trump has long publicly opposed marriage equality, and in early 2016 he said he would “strongly consider” appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the court’s recent ruling in support of marriage equality. He has pledged to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, “religious freedom” legislation that would codify a broad right to anti-LGBTQ discrimination and nullify the current federal protections for LGBTQ people Trump just pledged to protect. And he has repeatedly surrounded himself with anti-LGBTQ extremists -- both on the campaign trail and in the White House. These extremists include hate group leaders like Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, who came to embrace Trump as a “teachable” candidate who Perkins could “shape.”
Yet despite Trump’s record, journalists have repeatedly fallen for his attempts to rebrand himself as LGBTQ-friendly. Throughout the 2016 campaign, multiple outlets ran with baseless claims that Trump is an advocate for the LGBTQ community:
- NBC’s Hallie Jackson said in April that Trump "is considered one of the more LGBT-friendly Republican candidates";
- in June, Politico fed into Donald Trump’s attempt to rebrand himself as an advocate for LGBT rights by describing his response to the Orlando mass shooting at a gay nightclub as a “welcoming tone toward LGBT Americans” and saying that “in Trump, pro-gay rights Republicans see a new hope”;
- ABC’s Jonathan Karl called Trump the “most pro-gay rights” Republican presidential candidate ever; and
- Fox’s Gregg Gutfeld falsely claimed that Trump supports marriage equality.
Journalists covering Trump’s most recent attempt at rebranding himself as LGBTQ-friendly shouldn’t fall for the same old trick -- though at least one already did. The claim that Trump is “respectful and supportive” of LGBTQ rights just because he isn’t dismantling Obama’s executive order is just further evidence that the press should stop treating White House statements as fact.
Additionally, as The New York Times noted, leaving in place the Obama protections “does not preclude another executive order that would roll back gay rights in other areas.” And as Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said in response to the White House statement, “LGBTQ refugees, immigrants, Muslims and women are scared today, and with good reason.” Journalists should be ready to call out hypocrisy in possible future anti-LGBTQ executive orders, especially “religious freedom”-type orders that could codify a broad right to discriminate against LGBTQ people.