Hit & Run

Trio of LGBT News Stories Shows We're Not Backsliding on Cultural Acceptance

Trump to keep Obama's anti-discrimination order.


Hanna Barbera

While the populist triumph of President Donald Trump represented the possibility of backsliding on freer immigration and trade policies, look at all this news that makes it abundantly clear that America, at least, won't be backtracking on gay and transgender acceptance.

To wit:

Federal executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT workplace discrimination remains intact. This morning the White House announced that Trump will be keeping President Barack Obama's 2014 anti-discrimination order in place. This order prohibited discrimination against gay and transgender employees by federal contractors. The White House put out a brief statement:

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.

To be clear, the administration here is setting the terms for working with the federal government and not attempting to establish (or advance) a general federal ban on LGBT discrimination by private employers elsewhere. If you want to get government money, you have to follow their rules. The order maintains narrow exemptions for religious organizations who provide federally funded social services.

This decision (and the White House deliberately publicizing it) is an important test of whether Trump as president would be able to maintain his own generally pro-acceptance positions as policy even while bringing in social conservatives to run his administration. Now whether the executive order will actually be enforced is another question (that won't be answered for some time).

The response by the Human Rights Campaign, the top LGBT activist organization, is very "Yes, but … ," (via The Hill):

"You can't claim to be an ally when you send LGBTQ refugees back to countries where their lives are at risk. You can't claim support and then rip away life-saving services made possible through the Affordable Care Act for transgender people and those living with HIV or AIDS. You can't be a friend to this community and appoint people to run the government who compare being gay to bestiality," [Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin] added.

Exit polls showed that even though Trump has been the most vocal supporter of LGBT issues the Republican Party has seen in a presidential candidate, he did terribly with LGBT voters, even worse than previous candidates. But we'll have to wait to see how actual policies affect LGBT folks moving forward.

Betsy DeVos, friend of the gays? When Trump selected DeVos as his choice to head the Department of Education, supporters of school choice cheered. She's a massive ally and fighter for the rights of families to control where their children get educated. But many within the LGBT community were not so happy. DeVos' family has a lengthy history of opposing gay issues; and we're not just talking about speaking out or voting against gay issues. The DeVos family has helped bankroll ballot initiatives against gay marriage recognition.

But according to a story by The New York Times, DeVos does not share the positions of her elders. She has a history of personal support for gay and transgender accommodation that she doesn't make a big public deal about:

Ms. DeVos's personal experience with the debate over gender identity and bathrooms dates back decades. As chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, she came to the aid of a transgender woman who wanted to use the women's restroom at a call center, upsetting some of the other women there, according to two associates at the time — Mr. McNeilly, who was the party's political director, and Eric Doster, the general counsel.

"We made the accommodation, and that was Betsy's call," said Mr. Doster, who did not recall the woman's name but said this happened in an office near the Michigan State University campus in 1997 or 1998. "A lot of the co-workers weren't happy with it. But that's who Betsy is."

But, like other supportive moves she has made over the years, it was done quietly. When Ken Mehlman, a former Republican National Committee chairman, was collecting signatures from Republicans for a 2015 legal brief that argued in favor of a constitutional right for same-sex marriage, he turned to Ms. DeVos for help in recruiting people in Michigan. She agreed, friends said.

What this means now for the battle over whether public schools should be either forced or prohibited from accommodating transgender students' facility needs is unclear or whether she would leave it to the states. Her responses in her confirmation battle suggest a strong support for leaving control of education policies to the states. Looking at what went down in North Carolina, where the state put a prohibition in place for all public schools, hopefully DeVos' support for choice would include allowing parents of LGBT kids the option of attending schools that will accommodate them—even if these parents have to get together and make new programs themselves.

The Boy Scouts open up membership to transgender children. The fight to convince the Boy Scouts to allow gay teens to participate only as members took decades. It even went all the way to the Supreme Court (which affirmed the Scouts' Freedom of Association).

The ban on gay scouts ended in 2013. It took less than four years after that for the ban on transgender scouts to fall. From The Washington Post:

Boy Scouts chief executive Michael Surbaugh said in a video message that the organization will now accept boys based on the gender a parent puts on a child's scouting application, ending a policy of accepting boys based on the gender listed on a child's birth certificate.

"We realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient," Surbaugh said in a video message. "Communities and state laws are now interpreting gender identity differently than society did in the past. And these new laws vary widely from state to state."

Surbaugh said the new policy goes into effect immediately.

"Our organization's local councils will help find units that can provide for the best interest of the child," he said in a written statement.

What has always been wonderful about the transformation of the Boy Scouts is that this slow walk toward acceptance has been a result of cultural influence and pressures and not a government mandate. It's an important reminder that government authority is not the alpha and omega of making life better for LGBT people and other minorities. It doesn't always take threats of fines or other forms of official punishment for life to get better for people.

Bonus link! "New DC Comic Reinvents Snagglepuss as 'Gay Southern Gothic Playwright.'"