President Trump’s first State of the Union address hit on many of the right words and phrases to claim there is a union. He said he wanted to make America great “for all Americans,” to “seek out common ground,” to see the nation as “one American family,” and a promise to extend “an open hand to work with members of both parties.”
But as the television camera panned to the leaders of the Democratic Party, their facial expressions exposed hardened disbelief and refusal to participate in the Republican side’s 100-plus interruptions for applause (more than 70 of which were standing ovations). And when the speech –the third longest in duration among all State of the Union speeches – was over 80 minutes later, the Democratic response from U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts could not have drawn a more stark contrast.
Where President Trump never spoke of LGBT people, Kennedy did, criticizing the Trump administration for “targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection” and measuring a person’s worth based on their “net worth, your celebrity, your headlines, your crowd size, not to mention the gender of your spouse.”
Kennedy criticized the Republican majority for “turning American life into a zero-sum game where, in order for one to win, another must lose.”
“We are bombarded with one false choice after another: Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland,” said Kennedy, delivering the Democratic Party’s response to the State of the Union. “As if the mechanic in Pittsburgh and the teacher in Tulsa and the daycare worker in Birmingham are somehow bitter rivals, rather than mutual casualties of a system forcefully rigged for those at the top. As if the parent who lies awake terrified that their transgender son will be beaten and bullied at school is any more or less legitimate than the parent whose heart is shattered by a daughter in the grips of opioid addiction.”
No one expected President Trump to mention the contributions and struggles of LGBT Americans in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, and he delivered on that expectation. There was no mention by him; none whatsoever.
As braggadocious as the president is about everything he does, President Trump did not try to reassert his campaign pledge to stand in “solidarity” with LGBT people. He did not claim, as he did at the Republican convention, to have “many fabulous friends who happen to be gay.”
He also made no mention of the executive order he signed in his first year in office, gutting a previous executive order that barred federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees. And he did not boast about his move to ban transgender service members from the military or his nomination of federal judges who have made disparaging remarks about transgender students.
When President Trump, in his address, said, “I am extending an open hand to work with members of both parties -- Democrats and Republicans -- to protect our citizens,” he limited the range of concern to citizens “of every background, color, religion, and creed.”
The absence of “sexual orientation” in the sentence stood in stark contrast to a White House statement issued just a year ago, in which the newly installed Trump administration assured citizens that, “President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community.”
Leaders of LGBT and other civil rights groups expressed no faith in those words. The nation’s largest LGBT political group, the Human Rights Campaign, said the administration of Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence has “systematically and meticulously eroded years of progress and protections.”
“What’s more, Trump and Pence have appointed and nominated scores of extreme and unqualified anti-LGBTQ officials to crucial agencies and court benches — some of whom will serve lifetime appointments,” said HRC. “Beyond these extensive, explicit attacks on LGBTQ equality, the Trump-Pence Administration has targeted many of the most marginalized within our community — from banning Muslim refugees, to undermining voting rights, to putting the lives and livelihoods of 75,000 LGBTQ Dreamers at risk.”
At its popular “Creating Change” conference in Washington, D.C., last week, NGLTFQ Task Force Executive Director Rea Carey vowed that her group “is no longer going to call Trump the President.”
“Trump has morally and ethically vacated the office of the president,” said Carey, in her annual State of the Movement speech. “Donald Trump is a sexual harasser and abuser, he is a racist, and a white supremacist. He is erratic, dishonest, and anti-democratic. He works to ignore or undermine the Constitution he is sworn to uphold….
“We will refer to him as Trump, or maybe businessman Trump, maybe some other things,” said Carey. “But he has simply not lived up to the responsibilities or role of President.”
In a telephone press conference with a variety of civil rights groups just hours before the State of the Union address, Sharon McGowan, director of strategy for Lambda Legal, sounded an alarm about Trump’s judicial appointments. They are “so extreme and so reactionary that all the progress [of the LGBT movement] hangs in the balance.”
“We won’t be able to count on judges to strike down any unconstitutional action by this administration,” said McGowan.
Todd Cox, director of policy for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the Trump administration has demonstrated a “breath-taking hostility towards civil rights.”
“We’re under attack,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, who participated in the conference call. “We’ve come really far in last 20 years… and we haven’t come this far to only come this far.”
“We’ve always known we need to be playing the long game,” said Keisling, saying that the movement for LGBT civil rights has often relied on the ability of individuals to educate other individuals about LGBT people –“neighbors learning about neighbors.”
“That is going to continue,” said Keisling, “and when this administration is long gone, our community, our movement will still be here. It may be beat up, but the Trump administration will look historically as disgraceful….We will stand up to them at every turn.”