Michelangelo Signorile Trump's LGBTQ 'pride' merchandise is a hypocritical insult to queer Americans

The truth must ring out louder than any rainbow-colored Trump campaign T-shirt.
Donald Trump
Donald Trump holds a flag as he arrives at a campaign rally at the University of Northern Colorado on Oct. 30, 2016, in Greeley, Colo.Evan Vucci / AP file
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By Michelangelo Signorile

For three years, President Donald Trump has rolled back LGBTQ equality in unprecedented ways. This makes his ongoing and preposterous attempts to portray his White House as a supporter of LGBTQ rights even more infuriating. Case in point, his campaign's LGBTQ pride merchandise, including rainbow-themed “Make America Great Again” hats and T-shirts. According to the Donald Trump website, the pride hat is currently sold out.

But who is buying this gear? The Trump rainbow apparel is not only monumentally hypocritical and insulting; it’s also part of a long list of attempts to grab media attention that momentarily makes Trump appear as an ally of LGBTQ people — at least to those who don’t read past the headlines.

The Trump rainbow apparel is part of a long list of attempts to grab media attention that momentarily makes Trump appear as an ally of LGBTQ people.

This is a cynical attempt to court heterosexual voters who might be turned off by blatant bigotry. And, ironically, it’s a testament to the great progress on LGBTQ rights over the past two decades: An administration that bows to anti-LGBTQ extremists in its base nonetheless fears being perceived as harsh, especially heading into an election year.

This was true when Trump sent a tweet supporting LGBTQ pride last June, and when his ambassador to Germany last February announced a supposedly new campaign to fight the criminalization of homosexuality around the world (which turned out to simply be the continuation of an existing Obama-era policy). But these pronouncements, like the selling of Pride merchandise, paper over the fact that Trump has been among the most hostile presidents in history on LGBTQ rights.

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In the past, blatant anti-LGBTQ policies — and a refusal to even acknowledge queer people — were more politically and culturally acceptable. For years, they could even help candidates running for national office. Now, as support for equality has dramatically shifted, a large portion of the electorate is repelled by anti-LGBTQ attitudes in a way similar to how they perceive the overt shunning of other minorities.

And that explains why the superficial embrace of LGBTQ people by Trump isn’t actually targeted to LGBTQ voters. Trump and his campaign advisers know that the vast majority of LGBTQ people, after witnessing Trump ask the Supreme Court to allow discrimination against them in employment, and after seeing Trump move to strip anti-discrimination protections from them under the Affordable Care Act, aren’t going to vote for him. Indeed, according to exit polls only 14 percent of LGBTQ people cast a vote for him in 2016.

The larger groups that Trump’s campaign is worried about include much-coveted straight suburban voters, many of whom support LGBTQ rights and have moved away from Trump and the GOP. The campaign is hoping these voters aren’t paying much attention to the deep rollbacks on civil rights — which often get short shrift given how much chaos emanates from this administration — while Trump makes empty gestures of support for LGBTQ people and other minorities.

Trump’s aides are also often shameless in the claims they make, attempting to gloss over the horrendous damage he’s done.

“President Trump has never considered LGBT Americans second-class citizens and has opposed discrimination of any kind against them,” White House spokesman Judd Deere recently told The New York Times, even as Trump’s executive orders and other actions have been aimed at allowing discrimination in the name of “religious freedom.”

Trump’s aides are also often shameless in the claims they make, attempting to gloss over the horrendous damage he’s done.

Top presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway even claimed in 2018 that Trump came into office “approving of the gay marriage.” In fact, Trump courted religious conservatives throughout his 2016 campaign, stating emphatically that he was opposed to marriage equality at the federal level and promising to place judges on the Supreme Court who might overturn it. While he has given a variety of interviews on the topic since then — saying he is “great” with Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s same-sex marriage, for example — his record can by no means be construed as proactively in favor of same-sex marriage or other rights.

Indeed, the best way to judge Trump’s record is by looking at his biggest supporters. The religious right hasn’t reacted at all to Trump’s attempt to appear LGBTQ-friendly, because anti-LGBTQ leaders know that Trump has no desire to actually further equality. This is all just for show.

I was present at the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland. Right after Trump’s acceptance speech vowing to protect the “LGBTQ community,” I interviewed Tony Perkins, president of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council. He, too, was confident Trump would push his agenda, no matter statements like the one he had just made from the stage.

“[Trump] has said that these issues should be dealt with at the state level and he has not been for the government forcing it on people,” Perkins told me of LGBT rights. And that’s something Trump has certainly followed through on: Dismantling federal protections for LGBTQ people while paying lip service to equality in the abstract.

That’s why LGBTQ activists, as well as those in the media, must be vigilant. The horrendous truth must ring out louder than any rainbow-colored Trump campaign T-shirt.

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