Since taking the reins of power in January the Trump regime has launched a renewed assault on oppressed communities both inside and outside the United States. The American working class has watched in horror as Trump and his allies in congress bicker over the best way to eviscerate our already meager social programs and healthcare protections, while ICE agents with military armor and weaponry have laid siege to whole neighborhoods, tearing apart families and destroying lives. Travel into and out of the United States has been restricted by multiple de facto Muslim bans which currently float in judicial limbo. Abroad, the Trump regime has fired missiles on the forces of the Syrian government, dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history on Afghanistan, and maneuvered a war fleet into striking distance of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, all actions promising further imperialist aggression to come.
In the midst of this flurry of attacks on the oppressed, the regime’s subtle war against LGBTQ people has gone mostly unremarked. There are of course LGBTQ people in all the other communities under more brazen attack by the regime, but those actions the regime has specifically taken against LGBTQ people have not paralyzed airports or filled deportation buses. Instead, the war on LGBTQ people has been one of quiet erosion, a slow but steady disappearance of those few protections won by LGBTQ people during the Obama years, all overseen by the collection of spiteful bigots that make up the Trump regime.
During the election campaign, Trump vacillated between expressing tepid support for LGBTQ people and courting the support of the homophobic right wing. The most notable example of the former came after the mass shooting at an Orlando gay club in June 2016. Trump expressed outrage over the massacre, but framed the issue as one of violent Islamic extremism and his nascent proposal for a Muslim ban rather than addressing the deeply rooted homophobia of U.S. culture itself. Of course, by this point in the election cycle Trump had already selected Indiana governor Mike Pence as his running mate, a man notorious for supporting torturous anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy and for signing Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” which effectively legalized anti-LGBTQ discrimination in that state.
Following the inauguration, the new regime released a statement that the president was “respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights.” In the scant few months since then, the regime has proven this a lie again and again. On February 22 the Departments of Education and Justice issued a joint statement revoking the Obama-era directive mandating that public schools protect trans students’ access to their preferred bathrooms and gym facilities. Without this federal protection, trans students, already vulnerable in a number of ways, are now at the mercy of local school authorities.
The revocation of the protection order followed the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. DeVos comes from an extremely wealth family that has bankrolled the activities of several national anti-LGBTQ organizations, including the Family Research Council. The tie-breaking vote in Devos’s confirmation hearing was, of course, cast by Vice President Mike Pence.
Following this pattern, on March 27 the Trump regime revoked an Obama-era executive order requiring all businesses contracting with the federal government to provide documentation that they are obeying relevant federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws. This executive order was originally issued simultaneously with a separate order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBTQ employees. Revoking the first executive order has the effect of leaving the latter order toothless while allowing the regime to deny any intent to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
In that same week in March, the Census Bureau presented a draft proposal for the 2020 census which included questions about sexual orientation and gender identity. That proposal was immediately withdrawn and reissued absent any mention of these categories. The exclusion of these categories from the census questionnaire is a weak attempt to not only deny LGBTQ people an official existence within the population of the United States but also to deny LGBTQ people knowledge of the extent of their own community, knowledge which could combat the social isolation too often experienced by LGBTQ people outside of major urban centers.
Hovering behind these smaller aggressions is the threat of a broader executive order legalizing anti-LGBTQ discrimination. A draft of just such an executive order was leaked to the press near the beginning of February. The proposed order would have protected individuals and businesses seeking to deny equal treatment to LGBTQ people because of their private religious beliefs. The legal mechanism underlying the proposed order is reminiscent of both Mike Pence’s RFRA as well as the proposed “First Amendment Defense Act,” a bill which was co-sponsored by notorious bigot and senator Jeff Sessions before his ascension to the head of Trump’s Justice Department and which the president has pledged to sign should it reach his desk. The regime did not deny the accuracy of the leaked draft but claimed that it was only one proposal among many hundreds.
Viewed as a whole, the actions the Trump regime has taken against LGBTQ protections display a clear intent. Rather than enacting laws which would see the government actively discriminate against LGBTQ people as was done in the past, the regime is instead pursuing a strategy of stripping away their legal shields. There is no need for the regime to spend its own resources attacking LGBTQ people when they can effectively legalize anti-LGBTQ discrimination with an eraser. They will throw LGBTQ people on the mercy of schools, hospitals, and businesses that no longer need fear legal repercussions for discrimination. The strategy is in essence a privatization of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
All of this is on top of the already horribly hostile conditions for LGBTQ people in America. Those already most vulnerable to violence, poverty, homelessness, and self-harm will find themselves further set upon. The Trump regime can continue to spout euphemisms about ‘religious freedom’ and their general support for LGBTQ people while in the background lives will be destroyed by discrimination that is unlikely to ever receive national attention.
The only way to combat this new phase in the war on LGBTQ people is through a mass movement of solidarity and action. LGBTQ people and their comrades in the struggle for a better world cannot rely on this government to protect them and they cannot suspend their lives in the hope that a new election will save them. LGBTQ people are no strangers to the sort of movement that we need. The modern movement for LGBTQ rights began in the streets, in the riots and protests that shook this country after a raid on the Stonewall Inn, and when the HIV/AIDS epidemic threatened to destroy whole generations it was the direct action of ACT UP that forced meaningful action from those in power. To advance the struggle, to defeat the Trump regime and protect all our LGBTQ siblings, it is to the streets that we must return.