It’s telling that when Donald Trump awkwardly waved a rainbow flag during a Colorado rally in October, the banner was upside down. During a time of warfare, an inverted American flag is meant to signal “dire distress,” a threat to our safety so great that it has upended the country as we know it. Although the gesture was meant to be supportive, as the flag that had “LGBTs for Trump” scrawled on it in black marker, there’s no image that more perfectly distills the looming menace of his administration.
Since being named the President-elect on November 8, Trump has wasted no time in opening the floodgates of anti-LGBT bigotry. His Cabinet, filled with far-right picks whose selection challenges the very function of the offices they serve, is made up of politicians and public figures that have spent their careers opposing the rights, livelihood, and basic dignity of the LGBT community.
These choices are not merely careless, ill-informed, and downright bad, as so many have pointed out. Together they are a 50-foot missile pointed directly at LGBT people. Trump has, in essence, enlisted a hate group to run the country.
While the phrase “hate group” is used in common parlance to refer to any organization that harbors anti-LGBT sentiment, the Southern Poverty Law Center more narrowly defines what these groups do and how they function. In a 2010 report, the civil rights watchdog claims that the label is “based on [the] propagation of known falsehoods—claims about LGBT people that have been thoroughly discredited by scientific authorities—and repeated, groundless name-calling.”
The organization adds, “Viewing homosexuality as unbiblical does not qualify organizations for listing as hate groups.”
Here’s what that really means: It’s not whether these groups approve of what queer people do in the bedroom but how they act upon that animus. Of the 892 active hate groups in the U.S., 48 are specifically dedicated to anti-LGBT causes, according to a 2015 report from SPLC. That’s a 78 percent increase from 2011, when there were just 27 such organizations. These groups include the Westboro Baptist Church, Illinois Family Institute, and the American Family Association, the latter of which led a boycott of Target’s trans-inclusive bathroom policies earlier this year.
The purpose of these groups is to oppose equality at every level, whether that’s pushing legislation that rolls back the LGBT community’s hard-won rights or lobbying to elect politicians who will use their platform to demonize the marginalized.
The National Organization for Marriage, for instance, was founded in 2007 to help pass Proposition 8, a referendum that eventually overturned same-sex marriage at the ballot box in California. The group was also the chief donor to Stand for Marriage Maine, a coalition group that worked to strike down legislation legalizing same-sex marriage in the state. NOM reportedly gave at least $1.6 million to the effort, which successfully repealed the equal marriage bill in 2009.
The cadre of politicians that Trump has tapped to lead his Cabinet, as well as the officials cementing his transition to power, have numerous ties to these groups.
Betsy DeVos, Trump’s choice for the Secretary of Education, is a longtime donor to the National Organization for Marriage. Most widely known as a staunch advocate for the adoption of charter schools, DeVos chipped in $500,000 to NOM’s fight against the recognition of same-sex unions in Maine. Her family also donated $200,000 to a 2004 initiative in Michigan to limit the state’s definition of marriage to one man and one woman. That referendum also passed.
Ken Blackwell, who served on the President-elect’s “action team” to identify candidates for the Departments of Energy and Transportation, among others, is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council. Ken Klukowski, a Breitbart editor who also sat on the transition team, formerly served as the director of the Center for Religious Liberty at FRC.
Formed in 1981 by James Dobson, the Family Research Council was officially designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group in 2010. That same year, Peter Sprigg, a Senior Researcher for Policy Studies at FRC, argued that the United States should enforce “criminal sanctions against homosexual behavior” on MSNBC’s Hardball. The organization’s current president, Tony Perkins, has falsely claimed that there’s a link between homosexuality and pedophilia.
The explicit tie between Trump’s White House and national anti-LGBT organizations is not happenstance. While Trump was publicly marketing himself as a “friend to the gays” during the 2016 race, the moderate alternative to extreme anti-LGBT candidates like Sen. Ted Cruz, he was privately courting the far right.
In June, Trump appeared with Ben Carson at an event designed to court religious extremists who had previously distanced themselves from his campaign. Hosted by Perkins, the meeting was sponsored by three organizations officially recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-LGBT hate groups: the Family Research Council, Vision America, and AFA Action, the latter of which is the political organizing branch of the American Family Association.
Even the officials in Trump’s administration who don’t officially have ties to anti-LGBT hate groups still manage to do their bidding, opposing any modicum of positive recognition for the queer community.
Carson, slated as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, once claimed that trans people are “the height of absurdity.” Jeff Sessions, who Trump has chosen to lead the Department of Justice, voted in favor of a constitutional ban on same-sex unions as the Senator of Alabama. He was also against recognizing gender identity or sexual orientation under the state’s hate crime statute. Tom Price, tapped to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services, opposed workplace protections for LGBT workers, ones that would prevent them from being fired on the basis of their orientation.
Reince Priebus, Trump’s Chief of Staff, was behind the passage of the most virulently anti-LGBT platform in the history of the GOP as chairman of the Republican National Convention. The party’s 2016 platform opposes marriage equality, same-sex adoptions, and the right of businesses to refuse services to LGBT customers based on “sincerely held religious belief.”
The platform also includes language widely viewed as an endorsement of conversion therapy, a harmful, widely discredited practice that attempts to “cure” LGBT minors of same-sex attraction. Perkins himself pushed for the GOP to embrace conversion therapy, and in doing so, he was not likely to get pushback from the Vice President-elect. Mike Pence, who signed into law an anti-LGBT “religious liberty” bill as the governor of Indiana, supported the practice during his 2000 run for Congress.
If you need any further proof that Trump’s White House will effectively act as the nation’s largest anti-LGBT hate group, look at how far-right organizations have responded to his impending presidency.
Shortly after Donald Trump was named the winner of the Electoral College, NOM president Brian Brown sent out a message to supporters claiming that Trump’s victory represented a new golden age of hate. In a press release, the National Organization for Marriage said that it would put pressure on Trump to push through the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), a bill markedly similar to the law passed by his running mate last year. Trump has already signaled his support of the legislation, which would legalize broad-based anti-LGBT discrimination.
“This is a bright and exciting time for NOM, and we are committed to taking full advantage of the opportunity we have,” Brown wrote in November.
For LGBT people, the prospect of four years of Donald Trump is anything but exciting. As hate crimes against marginalized communities skyrocket around the U.S., Perkins has already called upon Trump’s Secretary of State, former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, to lead a McCarthy-style witch-hunt of government workers who support LGBT equality. He hopes to pack the White House with the sorts of people who got Trump elected, those who will help turn back the clock on equality.
How many bigots will it take to decimate LGBT rights? We may soon find out.