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FOWLER: New administration is detracting from LGBTQ progress

Opinions Column: Sex and the City

The pendulum swings. I was first told this by a high school history teacher as he was explaining the way in which a conservative comes into office, and then there is democratic backlash and election — and vice versa, on and on. This seems fairly true in the case of former President Barack Obama’s eight-year presidency and its following by President Donald J. Trump's administration. Conservatism in response to the Obama-era can be seen everywhere, but it is now starting to reflect in a place that is perhaps unexpected — LGBTQ people and attitudes toward them. Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) recently released its Accelerating Acceptance survey for the year 2017. GLAAD has long been a highly visible organization focused on LGBTQ individuals, and the results of this survey found that LGBTQ acceptance has not increased for the first time since the survey began being measured. This leads to a quite obvious question: What happened?

The Obama era did a lot for LGBTQ people and acceptance, even discounting the fact that marriage equality came to fruition under him. He repealed "don’t ask, don’t tell," which allowed gay, lesbian and bisexual people to serve in the military without being open about their sexuality. He helped Congress pass and sign the Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law in October 2009, “which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” These are only a few of the things accomplished within the Obama era — and on his “frozen” White House page, an entire fact sheet exists devoted to the accomplishments of his administration for LGBTQ people. The Obama era made great strides not only legislatively for LGBTQ people but for governmental acceptance and discourse affecting attitudes across the nation.

To say Trump has treated LGBTQ differently than Obama would be a great understatement. One of the first things Trump did during his presidency was take down the page on the White House website dedicated to LGBTQ rights. Perhaps more recently in the news is the issue of Masterpiece Cakeshop. The bakery was recently taken to the Supreme Court when Jack Phillips, the owner, decided he would not make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his Christian beliefs that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Regarding the case "White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said President Trump backs the position articulated by the U.S. Justice Department that bakers should be able to put up signs saying they won’t serve gay people." This lack of support, though, likely did not come to the public as a shock — perhaps the most egregious way Trump shows his lack of support for LGBTQ people is via his Vice President, Mike Pence. Pence once said in his speech, “societal collapse was always brought about following an advent of the deterioration of marriage and family.” In the same speech, Pence also called being gay a choice and said keeping gay people from marrying was not discrimination, but an enforcement of “God’s idea.”

It is shocking that the attitudinal changes of the public like those reflected in GLAAD’s survey would be changed with only a year into Trump’s presidency, especially because no real anti-LGBTQ policy has been passed. Some people speculate that Trump’s appointments for Supreme Court judges could do damage to marriage equality, but these claims seem speculative and far-fetched. A New York Times piece synthesizes the study nicely — “For the first time since the poll began, support for L.G.B.T.Q. people has dropped, in all seven areas that the survey measured. They include 'having an L.G.B.T. person at my place of worship' (24 percent of Americans are 'very' or 'somewhat' uncomfortable), seeing a same-sex couple holding hands (31 percent are uncomfortable) and 'learning my child has an L.G.B.T. teacher at school' (37 percent are uncomfortable)."

Perhaps people have always felt the way reflected in 2017’s survey, but feel more comfortable admitting it under the Trump administration. This sort of mentality, that Trump allows people to express beliefs they were concerned about expressing during the Obama era, is much of the reason the polls incorrectly predicted a win for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during election season. 

Although these findings are disappointing, we can look for hope at the recent election cycle, wherein a trans-woman in Virginia beat the runner-up who sponsored the bathroom bill. As the pendulum has swung to the conservative side with the election of Trump, strides for LGBTQ equality from the Obama era still last. And the pendulum always swings back. 

Ashley Fowler is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in English. Her column, “Sex and the City,” runs on alternate Thursdays.


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