Amid worry, gay conservatives see hope for LGBT rights with Trump

Posted at 1:13 PM, Jan 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-22 13:19:19-05

By Jana Kasperkevic for Tribune Media Wire, in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Brian Powers and Dan Cunningham arrived to the March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C., on  Saturday like thousands of other people: Powers in a pink hat with the suggestion of cats' ears and Cunningham in a rainbow-flag cape with a homemade sign that read “I can’t believe we are still protesting this ----!”

The two had driven in from Kalamazoo, Mich., to join an estimated 500,000 people who came to the nation's capital to participate in the women’s march. The city's estimated turnout was more than double the people organizers had expected, filling the original parade route. In addition to marching for women’s rights and gender equality, many of the people in the crowd on Saturday were hoping to draw attention to issues such as health care, reproductive rights and LGBT rights.

“We are going to support women and all the humans that are marginalized,” said Cunningham.

One of the issues on their mind in particular was marriage equality: Trump has previously said that the issue of same-sex marriage was “settled” by the U.S. Supreme Court, but some Americans fear that his future nominees to that Court could overturn the decision. Besides which, not everyone takes the president at his word, especially since he promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

“Anything in this country can be overturned. People have to realize that. Nothing is ever done. And we can attest to that through Roe versus Wade and the constant pushback to overturn that,” said Catherine Marino-Thomas, who was board president of Marriage Equality USA for 17 years and currently works with Gays Against Guns. “I don't believe anything the guy says.”

She is not alone.

“You can’t believe Trump. He has no integrity,” Cunningham said on Saturday.

“The choice of Pence says a lot,” added Powers, referring to Vice President Michael Pence. Pence has said that he believes that being gay is a choice and opposed a number of laws which would protect LGBT people in the workplace, including the repeal of the military's Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy and a law that would explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination against LGBT people. Last week, about 200 LGBT activists staged a dance party at Pence’s residence to let him know they would not tolerate bigotry and hate, according to CNN.

But Chris Barron, co-founder of the now-defunct conservative LGBT group GOProud and a former Trump surrogate, said that LGBT community should not worry about Pence.

"Trump is in charge now. When people tell me they are worried that Mike Pence is the Vice President, I remind them that Trump is the president," he said. "Trump is not going to be signing anything into law that hurts the LGBT community."

“Mike Pence isn't setting policy in D.C.; Donald Trump is."

That didn’t resolve Cunningham's concerns. He pointed out that, just hours into Trump’s presidency, a page dedicated to LGBT rights had been removed from the White House website. “It’s frightening,” he said.

Gregory T. Angelo, the president of the right-of-center LGBT group the Log Cabin Republicans, dismissed concerns over the changes as “nonsense”.

"Standard protocol in Washington, D.C. is to wipe the slate clean every time there is a new administration" he said. "And it's not that they don't exist, they have been archived on White House website."

"What you are seeing already from the left is Chicken Little histrionics that are not actually rooted in any tangible political philosophy or legislative agenda that President Trump could push in support of LGBT community," he added

Trump’s transition team had been in discussion with Log Cabin Republicans “for weeks,” according to Angelo which, to him, signals an interest from this administration in working with the LGBT community—or, at least the moderate conservatives in the LGBT community.

Angelo's biggest hope is that Trump’s administration will work with lawmakers on the center-right to finally pass federal LGBT non-discrimination law (with the full support of the liberal lawmakers who regularly introduce it, only to see it blocked by conservatives).

But Angelo's hope for a non-discrimination law doesn't even necessarily reflect the concerns of many more right-leaning LGBT conservatives.

On Friday night, many of those gay conservatives and their allies feted the 45th president at Gay "Deploraball" in Potomac, Maryland.

For most of the very conservative attendees, the main issue in this election was economy, not LGBT rights. Kellen Picou, from New Orleans, hoped the president would repeal Dodd-Frank, the massive financial services regulation and consumer protection law passed in 2010, which Picou says would make it easier for him to open a third restaurant.

And Christopher Deraney, from Georgia, expressed disappointment in the economic recovery under President Barack Obama.“The growth was just not as much as it should have been,” said Deraney, who works with his local chamber of commerce.

Most of the ball's attendees actually praised Trump for his stance on LGBT issues—pointing to his appearance withthe rainbow “LGBT for Trump” flag just prior before the election—while others complained about the perception that all gay people are liberals.

“People assume if you are gay, you are a Democrat. People assume that if you are a conservative in any way, shape or form, that you are straight," said Kristopher Morris, another ball attendee. "Whereas the reality is there is a diversity of thought regardless of sexual orientation or gender or anything else like that. We prefer to label people so that we can pigeonhole them and not listen to what they are saying and that just doesn’t help.”,

Barron, of GOProud, says that it’s not surprising most of the LGBT community votes for Democrats.

"Why should anybody vote for you if you don't ask for their vote?" he said, pointing out that other Republican presidential candidates like Mitt Romney and John McCain did not court the LGBT voters. "Trump actually made the ask. There is an opportunity going forward for the Republican party to start attracting more LGBT voters and that way has been paved by Donald Trump's campaign."