|The day before this was a rainbow flag|
It was a jarringly unorthodox moment even for Donald Trump. At a rally in Colorado last October, an audience member handed him a gay pride flag that bore a handwritten endorsement: “LGBTs for TRUMP.” The candidate smiled as he unfurled the flag, displaying it for a few seconds. A spokesman later said Mr. Trump was “proud to carry the ‘L.G.B.T. for Trump’ rainbow flag on stage,” since he was campaigning to be “president for all Americans.”
It didn’t take long for prominent gay Republicans to proclaim that the Republican Party had, at long last, turned a corner on gay rights under Mr. Trump. After he was elected, some gay rights activists held out hope that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law, would be staunch allies in the West Wing, considering that they had traveled in liberal circles in New York.
Yet, the nomination of several key officials, who have disparaged the L.G.B.T. community and sought to curtail the rights of its members, has exposed the narrative that Mr. Trump would be a champion of gay and transgender people as a fallacy. “It has been a catastrophe,” said Mara Keisling, the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality and a leading strategist behind a string of legal and policy victories the community achieved during the Obama administration. “Every twitch we’ve seen from the administration has been anti-L.G.B.T.”
At the Department of Justice, where former Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year delivered an impassioned speech telling transgender Americans, “We see you; we stand with you,” her successor, Jeff Sessions, wasted no time reversing course. The Justice Department in February withdrew guidance issued to schools on the treatment of transgender students, signaling that it would no longer consider their rights to be protected under a 1972 civil rights law.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which worked to expand access to health care for gay and transgender Americans, is now being led by Tom Price, who was a vocal opponent of gay rights as a congressman. The agency’s civil rights office, which oversaw regulatory changes that made it easier for transgender people to get insurance coverage for medical care, is now run by Roger Severino, an ultraconservative activist who last year accused the Obama administration of attempting to “coerce everyone, including children, into pledging allegiance to a radical new gender ideology.”
Mr. Obama’s last secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, an openly gay man, was instrumental in nudging the Pentagon brass to allow transgender people to serve openly. Mark Green, a Tennessee state senator nominated to replace him, last year called being transgender a “disease.”
On Mr. Trump’s watch, federal agencies are rolling back efforts to collect data on the needs of L.G.B.T. Americans. Last month, Health and Human Services amended two surveys of the elderly to remove a question about sexual orientation. The Census Bureau, meanwhile, has scrapped plans to include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the 2020 Census and the American Community Survey.
The only good news for the L.G.B.T. rights movement this year has come from the courts. Early this month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a ruling that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay people from discrimination at work.
For the foreseeable future, the federal courts are likely to be the only avenue for progress. It’s not too late, of course, for Mr. Trump to act like the transformational Republican on gay rights that some of his supporters hoped he would be. He could, for instance, urge Congress to pass a federal anti-discrimination bill. Yet his record of empty talk makes that seem as unlikely as the sight of a Republican presidential candidate waving a gay pride flag.