What Trump’s presidency will mean for global LGBT rights

Trump’s election will slow or stop the tremendous progress LGBT Americans made under Barack Obama, but the real impact will be felt globally

As a Canadian living in Los Angeles for the last eight months, I’ve had the opportunity to watch this gaping sinkhole of an election up close, and the privilege of staying above it all. Whatever happens, it’s not my country that has turned its sacred democratic institutions into an utter sideshow.

Luckily my smug sense of Canadian superiority went virtually unnoticed in this bluest of blue cities in the bluest of blue states, even as the race tightened up in the last few weeks.

But as I watched the results come in along with a group of other writers and performers, many of whom are queer and/or people of colour, the reality of Trump’s epic victory slowly sank in.

Not only is an unstable man who has said and done a litany of outrageous, bigoted and sexist things, soon to take the highest office in the country, but that man will be backed by a Republican party that controls virtually the entire government apparatus of the United States.

The White House, Congress and Senate will all be in Republican hands. The successful stall of Obama’s Supreme Court pick earlier this year will allow Trump to protect the conservative streak of the court, and perhaps consolidate it if another judge retires or passes during his term. The overwhelming majority of state governorships and congresses are also in Republican hands.

Virtually, every aspect of Obama’s legacy in office is likely doomed, starting with Obamacare. America’s dire problems with health care, justice and incarceration, wealth inequality and racial tensions will only get worse. Mass deportations of many of the 11 million undocumented people and a closing of the country to future immigration were both floated by the president-elect. And the prospect of war casts a heavy shadow over many concerned Americans.

In addition, LGBT Americans have considerable reason to be worried. Although same-sex marriage is unlikely to be undone by President Trump — he’s unlikely to find the votes for a constitutional amendment, and the process of relitigating through the Supreme Court would take years and offers no guarantee of success even with his new judicial picks — many other recent advances won by LGBT people are in jeopardy.

Unable to get much of his agenda through Congress, President Obama used executive orders to greatly expand LGBT rights, such as the freedom from work and housing discrimination by federal contractors. President Trump could undo this with the stroke of a pen.


Federal agencies that have expanded the definition of “sex” in discrimination law to encompass “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” never had the support of Republicans, and could now see their decisions easily reversed by a Trump cabinet.

A Trump White House could also fuck with LGBT Americans by enacting blatantly discriminatory laws and regulations — such as treating same-sex couples differently for tax and benefit purposes — forcing them to seek redress through the courts.

All the important stuff for LGBT people in the Clinton platform — especially her support of the Equality Act, which would have enshrined sexual orientation and gender equality in federal non-discrimination law — is likely dead, not to return for at least four years.

Ultimately, though, the biggest effect of the Trump presidency on LGBT people will be felt on non-Americans. There will be calls from anti-LGBT countries who insist this election was a referendum on LGBT people. Under President Obama, and thanks in no small part to Secretary of State Clinton, expanding LGBT human rights was a major cornerstone of US foreign policy.

Under Trump, we can expect the United States to rejoin the “Unholy Alliance” of gay-hating states like Russia, The Vatican, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan at international forums.

Nations around the world really do look to the United States for cues on human rights. If the US begins influencing states to restrict gay rights, efforts to build a global consensus on the dignity of LGBT people could stall out. It is unlikely that a Republican secretary of state would have the courage to stand up to the United Nations and declare that “gay rights are human rights,” as Clinton did in 2011.

Expect global progress on LGBT rights to slow down over the next four years.

The so-called progressives who denigrated Clinton for months during and after the primaries, who swore up and down it was Bernie or bust, that Clinton and Trump were all the same and who cast a protest vote or stayed home — they have to wear all the damage that Trump will do to LGBT and minority Americans, and to people around the world.

But all is not lost. Americans are already organizing, vowing to fight Trump’s extremism and to prepare for the next elections in 2018 and 2020. Moreover, there’s still potential for the independent judiciary to protect and expand human rights here.

America is a robust democracy. It will survive Trump.

Rob Salerno is a playwright and journalist whose writing has appeared in such publications as Vice, Advocate, NOW and OutTraveler.

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