The month of June was filled with big moments for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
In that monthlong stretch, the Supreme Court rendered a sweeping decision providing workplace protections for gay and transgender people. It came shortly before the fifth anniversary of the high court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality. L.G.B.T.Q. people and others commemorated the murder of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Florida in June 2016. Thousands marched in Brooklyn, N.Y., in support of Black transgender lives.
President Trump was almost entirely silent through it all.
There was no tweet in honor of Pride Month, despite suggestions from several aides to Mr. Trump that he write one. No rollout of a coalition aimed at L.G.B.T.Q. voters by his campaign, despite preparations that had been made for one. Embassies overseas were told they couldn’t fly the Pride flag.
There was, however, a rollback by the Trump administration of a regulation put in place by the Obama administration in 2016 to mandate health care as a civil right for transgender patients under the Affordable Care Act.
It is what many in the L.G.B.T.Q. coalition have come to expect from Mr. Trump, who during his 2016 presidential campaign used gay people as a wedge against Muslims, whom he painted broadly as extremists, following the shootings at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub by a Muslim man. While Mr. Trump has signaled a willingness to publicly align himself with some gay men and women, he selected a deeply conservative running mate in Vice President Mike Pence, and, as president, has systematically dismantled protections implemented by President Barack Obama, especially for transgender people.
Just over two months before Election Day, Mr. Trump is trailing in almost every poll to Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, whom activists credit with pushing Mr. Obama to support gay marriage. And Mr. Trump’s advisers are suddenly talking about L.G.B.T.Q. people as they scramble to find new voter support.
Last weekend, the campaign announced the L.G.B.T.Q. coalition that had been expected in June, blaming the delay on the coronavirus.
And now Trump officials are turning to Richard Grenell, the openly gay former U.S. ambassador to Germany who served for three months as the acting director of national intelligence, to sell the president, and to attack Mr. Biden.
Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest L.G.B.T.Q. civil rights group, responded, “We’re not taking the bait.”
For years, now, Mr. David said, the president has tried to divide the coalition by targeting transgender people in particular, with actions that affect the entire coalition.
“The Trump administration is looking to drive a wedge within the L.G.B.T.Q. community between L.G.B. and T.,” Mr. David said.
Tori Cooper, the group’s director of community engagement for the transgender justice initiative, said that the administration in is especially focused on people who have the least protection in society, transgender people of color.
“It shows the cowardice — that’s the word I like to use of the current president,” Ms. Cooper said.
The targeting of transgender people has extended across the federal government: a ban on transgender service in the military, an effort at the Education Department to block transgender students from choosing which bathroom to use, the rollback of health care protections by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Justice Department’s move to end protections for transgender people in federal prisons.
Last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed allowing homeless shelters to deny transgender people access to single-sex shelters, and this month, the Education Department’s office of civil rights publicly moved to block transgender girls from joining female track teams in Connecticut high schools.
Mr. Grenell, in the video, cited almost no specific domestic policy accomplishment that Mr. Trump achieved on L.G.B.T.Q. rights, as he made the pitch that Mr. Trump is the “most pro-gay president in American history.” Instead, Mr. Grenell referred to his own appointment, as well as to the president’s acceptance of the Supreme Court’s ruling of gay marriage as constitutional and his efforts to push countries that criminalize being gay to end those practices. In the video, Mr. Grenell specifically mentioned gays and lesbians, but not transgender people.
And the night before Mr. Grenell’s scheduled speech, a convention speaker praised Mr. Trump for his administration’s revocation of some protections for transgender students.
To describe Mr. Trump as supportive of gay people because he appointed Mr. Grenell is the essence of “tokenism,” Mr. David said.
“It’s actually offensive,” he said, “because you are appointing someone but removing all the rights associated with that identity.”
Some administration officials have acknowledged that they see targeting transgender rights as different from gay rights.
In a statement, Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said, “While the radical left has pushed false and disgusting accusations that L.G.B.T. Americans, which includes me, are threatened under this administration, that could not be further from the truth.”
Mr. Judd said that Mr. Trump has hired L.G.B.T.Q. people across the government, mentioning Mr. Grenell again, cited the president’s commitment at last year’s State of the Union address to ending H.I.V. transmissions in the country by 2030, and saying the president “launched a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality, standing in solidarity with all L.G.B.T. people who live in dozens of counties around the globe that punish, imprison and even execute individuals based on their sexual orientation.”
There’s no evidence that Mr. Trump’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality has had any impact, or that it’s been substantially different than what Mr. Obama had attempted. For instance, White House officials declined to say whether Mr. Trump had raised the brutal anti-gay purges by the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, with whom he’s spoken several times in recent months. His H.I.V. pledge was similarly met with skepticism.
Mr. Trump is famously transactional, and the support he has given L.G.B.T.Q. people has usually been in connection with celebrity or support they have given him.
Mr. Trump allowed gay members into his Florida club Mar-a-Lago as long as they could pay the exorbitant membership fee; he broadcast donations to groups like the Gay Men’s Health Crisis when the AIDS epidemic became a celebrity cause; and he publicly embraced the civil union between the singer Elton John, someone whose music and fame Mr. Trump admires, and Mr. John’s longtime partner, David Furnish.
In 2015, when Mr. Trump was just a few months into the Republican primary contest, some of his advisers discussed a plan for exiting the campaign if his poll numbers dropped. The plan, according to one person with direct knowledge of the discussions, was for Mr. Trump to say that the party did not agree with him on a number of issues, including gay marriage, even though he’d never publicly supported it.
But after Mr. Trump won the New Hampshire primary, his advisers knew he needed the support of evangelical voters. So in an interview with the former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly in 2016, Mr. Trump said, “I take a lot of heat because I come from New York. You know, from New York, it’s like, how you can be against gay marriage? But I’m opposed to gay marriage.”
Christine Quinn, the first openly gay speaker of the New York City Council, said Mr. Trump’s New York business background makes his actions as president “worse — because he knows better.”
As president, Mr. Trump has not demagogued L.G.B.T.Q. issues the way he has with immigrants, Muslims and Black people protesting systemic police brutality.
But Mr. Trump’s embrace of initiatives promoting religious freedom has been used by people inside and outside his government to justify discrimination against gay and transgender people.
Over many years, Mr. Trump has been skeptical about whether he gets any political benefit from the L.G.B.T.Q. community, turning frequently to Mr. Pence, who was Mr. Trump’s bridge to evangelical voters in 2016, for advice, according to administration officials. Those are the voters Mr. Trump is most anxious about losing.
Charles Moran, a spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans, conceded that he would have preferred that Mr. Trump acknowledge Pride Month in June. But he maintained that the president is being treated unfairly and said that Mr. Obama’s pro-L.G.B.T.Q. regulations were legal overreach.
“The L.G.B.T. left and what I call ‘Gay Inc.’ has hijacked the narrative,” Mr. Moran said, adding that he himself had to get educated quickly on transgender-related issues. He accused groups like the Human Rights Campaign of being unwilling to engage with the White House.
“My phone calls get returned” by the White House, he said. “There is a genuine willingness to work with us in our community.”
The Log Cabin Republicans did not endorse Mr. Trump in 2016, and the group’s current support has caused a rift within its ranks. Jerri Ann Henry, the group’s first woman executive director, resigned in August 2019 over the pending endorsement.
“Ultimately what should be promised is not devotion to a specific class or group of people but dedication to the set of principles,” she said, “and Trump has not shown his devotion to that set of principles.”
Last month, Mr. Trump was questioned about whether he would consider rescinding his ban on transgender people entering the military by a reporter for The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper.
Mr. Trump gestured to his chin, appearing to signal the reporter’s mask was muffling him.
“I can’t hear you,” Mr. Trump said. “I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” He never answered the question.