President Donald Trump on Tuesday dodged a question about his administration’s proposed rule change that seeks to make it easier for companies to discriminate against LGBTQ employees. Instead, he claimed to have deep support from LGBTQ Americans.
"I think I've done really very well with that community," Trump said. "They like the job I'm doing."
The question was about a proposal unveiled last week by the Labor Department that would allow more companies that claim to be "religious" to ignore employment antidiscrimination laws.
Talking to reporters in the Oval Office, the president was asked by Chris Johnson of The Washington Blade: “Mr. President, your administration has been taking steps to make it easier to discriminate against LGBT people in the workforce. Are you OK with those actions?”
Trump took the opportunity to tout his recent endorsement by the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group, saying, “Some of my biggest supporters are of that community, and I talk to them a lot about it.”
He added that “Peter Thiel and so many others” are with him “all the way.” Thiel is the gay billionaire co-founder of PayPal who endorsed Trump before the 2016 election and spoke at that year's Republican National Convention.
Trump did not respond when Johnson followed up and asked, “But what about those actions?"
The Log Cabin Republicans declined to endorse Trump in 2016. In an op-ed in The Washington Post on Thursday, the group's chairman and vice president said Trump "met his commitments to LGBTQ Americans." They cited his commitment to ending HIV/AIDS in 10 years and his work with Richard Grenell, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Germany, to encourage other nations to end the criminalization of homosexuality, as examples of his dedication to the community.
While the Log Cabin Republicans' endorsement is a win for Trump, LGBTQ voters are a reliable part of the Democratic base, according to exit polls. In the 2018 midterm elections, over 80 percent of LGBTQ people said they voted for the Democrat in their local federal election, while just 17 percent voted for the Republican. And in 2016, 78 percent of LGBTQ voters said they voted for Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, while just 14 percent reported supporting Trump.
Trump’s record with the LGBTQ community is noteworthy largely for its hostile stance toward transgender rights. Even though the Republican Party's national platform endorses only heterosexual marriage, Trump has largely abandoned the “marriage wars” of the past in favor of a more focused attack on Obama-era rule changes that broadened the interpretation of civil rights law to protect transgender rights.
In 2017, the administration moved to ban transgender people from the military, which even the Log Cabin Republicans in its endorsement said it opposes “and will continue to press the administration to reconsider.” And just last week, the Trump administration submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court that argued that transgender workers are not protected by federal civil rights laws.
The proposed Labor Department rule that Trump faced questions over relies on an array of legal opinions to construct a new, national legal test of whether a company is “religious.” The company need not be primarily religion-oriented, but only declare itself to be, for instance, religious “in response to inquiries from a member of the public or a government entity.”
Under the proposal, companies that refuse to hire LGBTQ people, or women, or any other protected class would be able to do so if they say their religion prohibits them from hiring those who disagree with their faith. The proposal makes clear that it’s expanding the right of religious companies to not just “prefer” to hire those who share their religious beliefs, but “to condition employment on acceptance of or adherence to religious tenets as understood by the employing contractor.” If a construction company says it hires only Christians, this rule would allow that company to compete for a federal contract to renovate a government building, for instance.