Trump and queers


In 2018, Colorado State University political scientist Ernesto Sagás noted that with the legitimization of “bad hombres, shithole countries, (and) nasty women” coming from the White House, we need ethnic studies “now more than ever.” For sure, President Donald Trump’s administration’s assault on the well-being of immigrants, people of color, and women have been well documented by what the President dismisses as “fake news.” What we may know less about is the White House’s attacks on the LGBTQ community during the first term of his presidency.

According to Lucas Acosta of the Human Rights Campaign, the Trump administration had by June 2020 asserted close to 40 actions that deliberately sought to diminish the lives of queers in employment, education, housing, families and health care. (For the full list see

In 2019, the Department of Justice under Trump’s guidance submitted amicus briefs requesting that the U.S. Supreme Court legalize discrimination against gay and transgender workers since “sexual orientation” is not explicitly included in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Department of Labor additionally issued a pathway for federal contractors to fire queer workers because of the contractors’ religious beliefs, even though Executive Order 11246 explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.”

The Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era protections in not just employment by ceasing the enforcement of non-discrimination protections, but also in education. Trump’s Department of Education has refused to respond to civil complaints filed by transgender students; eliminated earlier guidance clarifying that schools must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity; and stated clearly that it will continue to fund schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students. In an ironic twist, the administration additionally used Title IX, established to prevent discrimination in education based on sex, to bar schools from allowing their trans students to participate in sports consistent with their gender identity.

Despite a 2016 update to the Fair Housing Act that again explicitly protected transgender people from discrimination in homeless shelters, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in July 2020 set in motion a change that would allow shelters to deny housing to trans and gender non binary folks under the logic of “religious liberty” and “women’s safety.” The National Center for Transgender Equality cites that one in five transgender individuals have experienced homelessness at some point in the lives, thus access to homeless shelters or housing generally is a critical need.

The logic of “religious liberty” emboldened Health and Human Services to roll back another Obama-era protection from 2017 that prohibited discrimination against queer couples from adopting and fostering and also allowed agencies to withhold services from LGBTQ clients including children. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted, “religious liberty is not a license to discriminate” and that the welfare of children must come first. UCLA’s Williams Institute, a research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, found that queer couples are seven times more likely to adopt and foster than straight couples. And in California, LGBTQ youth comprise a disproportionate 30 percent of foster youth and remain woefully underserved in comparison to their heterosexual counterparts.

Amid the pandemic this past June, the Trump administration issued final regulations in the implementation of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which was originally designed to prohibit discrimination, to instead allow for the denial of health care insurance to LGBTQ individuals. Health and Human Services has also created a new office to defend medical professionals including physicians who refuse care to LGBTQ patients.

Eerily, the Trump administration has sought to erase the very existence of queers as part of America. Within hours of Trump’s swearing-in, officials eliminated pages on LGBTQ rights and representation on all government Websites. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also successfully blocked questions on the census on sexual orientation in order to forgo the possibility of gathering data that would justify providing resources for the queer community.

While a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton upheld that sexual orientation and gender were indeed part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the passage of the Equality Act has stopped at the Senate. The Equality Act, which the Trump administration also adamantly opposes, would codify LGBTQ discrimination protections in key areas of life. Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to take up the bill.

The Human Rights Campaign reminds us that it’s not just actions specifically targeting the LGBTQ community that have a negative impact. Rescinding of the Affordable Care Act as well as the already changed policy on sexual harassment in schools hurts a queer community that has less health care access and faces more bullying in schools.

For many of us, legislative reform, the Supreme Court, and executive orders might seem to exist in a distant world far from our day-to-day living. Indeed for many people in the LGBTQ community who are not middle class, particularly queer and trans folks of color living on the margins of society, protections from discrimination may be of little comfort. One must first have a job to encounter employment discrimination and then take advantage of a law that prohibits employment discrimination.

Indeed, queer theorist Dean Spade notes that legislative reform will not liberate a trans community that does not currently have access to basic opportunities that non-trans people take for granted such as employment, housing and healthcare. He instead calls upon policy makers to invest in community change to broaden opportunities and interventions for trans people. Yet the call is not just for policy makers, Spade’s work asks all of us to think about how we can locally advance a world free of violence and economic insecurity particularly for trans people of color.

Amy Sueyoshi is dean of the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University with a joint faculty appointment in Sexuality Studies and Race and Resistance Studies. She holds a Ph.D. in history from UCLA and has authored two books titled “Queer Compulsions” and “Discriminating Sex.” She is also the founding co-curator of the GLBT History Museum in San Francisco. She can be reached at The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *