Trump looms large over international LGBTQ political conference

Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump awaits the arrival of Finnish President Sauli Niinisto to the White House August 28, 2017 in Washington.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file
By John Paul Brammer

The Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference drew some big names to its stage in D.C. last week. But the person at the center of much of its agenda was absent: President Donald Trump.

“He cannot be trusted,” Rep. Maxine Waters, who served as the keynote speaker at the conference’s opening reception, told NBC News shortly after her speech. “He must be impeached.”

The California Democrat and long-time LGBTQ ally took aim at Trump while speaking before a room of lawmakers and advocates. “Under this president, we’re all at risk and under assault,” she said.

Trump’s failed ban on transgender people in the military and his recent support of U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, an Alabama Republican who has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women and has frequently spoken out against LGBTQ people, provided plenty of ammo for pro-LGBTQ politicians and public figures at the conference.

Sen. Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, was one of them. In a fiery speech addressed to attendees on Thursday, Booker said trans people serving in the armed forces “display more courage” than Trump.

Rep. Mark Takano, an openly gay California Democrat, also called out Trump’s agenda.

“His White House and his administration’s policies have been very disrespectful, insulting, and no doubt he’s been looking to roll back the progress we’ve made,” Takano told NBC News after delivering his speech.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Democrat of Wisconsin and the only openly LGBTQ person in the U.S. Senate, said "hatred and bigotry" fueled Trump's rise and the LGBTQ community is at risk of losing their hard-won advancements toward equality.

"With President Trump in the White House, the progress we’ve made over the course of a generation is going to remain under attack," Baldwin said.

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, one of the first openly gay mayors of a major U.S. city and the newly appointed leader of the Victory Institute and Victory Fund, echoed Baldwin, saying Trump has "caused a lot of people to fear the gains we've made over the last decades could be unwound."

The LGBTQ conference’s focus on Trump is contemporaneous with other marginalized groups, such as immigrants and Muslims, who are dealing with an ongoing barrage of incendiary rhetoric and surprise policy changes from the president.

However, amid the fear of LGBTQ rights being rolled back, Parker said she does see a silver lining: More LGBTQ people have been motivated to get involved with politics.

"There are a lot of folks across the country who are disturbed at some of the directions the United States has taken," she said. "LGBTQ candidates, women candidates, candidates of color are stepping up in unprecedented numbers, and we hope to take advantage of that passionate energy and help channel that into winning races."

Some LGBTQ people have done just that. While many at the conference had a lot to say about Trump, attendees also celebrated the community’s historic wins.

Virginia Delegate-elect Danica Roem, who also spoke at the conference, is set to become the first openly transgender state legislator elected and seated in the U.S. Andrea Jenkins, also in attendance, became the first openly transgender black woman to be elected to public office when she won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council.

“Representation matters,” Jenkins told NBC News. “I can very honestly say that while I’m on the Minneapolis City Council there will never be any legislation that dictates when and where transgender people can use the bathroom.”

Roem also spoke about the importance of LGBTQ representation in government. She mentioned a young transgender girl who got involved with her campaign in Virginia and who was with Roem the night she won her election.

“I’ve got a little girl who believes that she can be whoever she wants to be when she doubted that last year,” Roem said. “She doesn’t have that doubt now.”

Roem, like most of the other speakers, took the opportunity to take a shot at President Trump in her speech.

"I won because I had a vision," Roem said. “Unless you’re in the White House, you don’t shout your way to office."

The White House did not respond to NBC News' request for comment.