Even as the New York Times assured us last year that Trump’s “More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.” and the Washington Post observed he was “Teaching the GOP a Different Way to Embrace Gay Rights,” LGBTQ Americans knew exactly what was coming.
Now, we have a Supreme Court justice who has already gone out of his way to target the high court’s 2015 marriage equality decision, a Justice Department that’s going out its way to block nondiscrimination protections of gays under federal law, and a pr*sident who is trying to turn back the clock on the ability of transgender Americans to openly and honestly put their lives on the line for their country.
But how—how?—you ask, did mainstream reporters get it so wrong? Because they were reporting from a mindset and political culture that was a decade behind the times. In the ’90s and early aughts, Democratic politicians used to score points by saying nice things about lesbians and gays even though they had almost completely failed to make any pro-LGBTQ advances at the federal level. That empty positive rhetoric was generally rewarded precisely because so many fire-breathing Republicans were busily scoring their own points by demonizing gays.
But after Obama was elected, LGBTQ activists and donors finally said, “Enough! You don’t get points for being an ally unless you produce.” The Obama administration and Democrats produced—a lot, given how far legal advancements for queer Americans had languished behind the culture.
But during Trump’s candidacy, mainstream reporters applied a distinctly 2008 political mindset to a Republican candidate who, on the surface perhaps, sounded different. Nice talk was good enough, even revolutionary, as they framed it. They didn’t bother to look at the obvious train wreck in the making when, for instance, Trump made anti-gay crusader Mike Pence his choice for VP or promised right-wing conservatives he would nominate Supreme Court justices to overturn the landmark Obergefell ruling.
Speaking as someone who has spent a decade reporting on LGBTQ rights, let me say this: Activists were never fooled by Donald Trump’s hollow promises of support on the campaign trail.