At a campaign rally last October, a grinning Donald Trump held up a rainbow Pride flag with “LGBTs for Trump” written across the yellow stripe. He held the flag, tellingly his critics might say, upside down.
This Pride Month, President Trump has held up no flag. He has made no proclamation. The White House—lit up in rainbow colors two years ago to celebrate the nationwide legalization of marriage equality—has remained white.
In fact, apart from a State Department statement and a couple of stray tweets from Ivanka Trump, there has been silence from the White House on the topic of Pride Month—a silence that seems likely to last until the month is over.
The contrast between the smiling, rainbow flag-waving Trump and the president’s current Pride Month silence begs an obvious question: Does Trump only care about symbols of LGBT equality when they have his name written all over them?
LGBT advocacy organizations like GLAAD have been rebuking President Trump all month for not officially recognizing June as LGBT Pride Month, as President Obama did annually since 2009.
And never was Trump’s silence louder this month than on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting. Last year, after the horrific massacre at an Orlando LGBT nightclub, he tweeted, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs.”
This year, as Newsweek noted, Trump vowed on Twitter to “NEVER FORGET” the 49 people who were killed but made no mention of the LGBT community.
Even Marco Rubio—who scored a “0” on the Human Rights Campaign’s latest congressional scorecard—acknowledged this year in a tweet that the horrific mass shooting was “an attack on the LGBT community.”
So what happened to the Trump who held up the Pride flag—the Trump whom gay conservatives like former United Nations official Richard Grenell told us had an “easy and consistent embrace of the LGBT community” that was “rarely highlighted” by a biased media?
“I think it’s more of the same,” GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis told The Daily Beast of the White House’s Pride Month silence. “Candidate Trump was lip service and now President Trump is absolutely erasing LGBTQ people.”
Last year, even before Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to make a specific appeal to the LGBT community in his acceptance speech, the narrative had already emerged that he presented no true threat to LGBT people compared to other Republican candidates.
In fact, in April, The New York Times ran a piece with the headline: “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.” (It was the Times’ own editorial board, as HuffPost took relish in pointing out, that would later refer to the election-year theory that Trump was an LGBT-friendly candidate as a “fallacy.”)
By now, that narrative of an LGBT-friendly Trump has all but crumbled.
In January, when rumors were swirling that Trump would sign an anti-LGBT executive order within a few weeks of becoming president, the White House issued a statement claiming that he “continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election.” Trump didn’t sign the rumored executive order but the accompanying statement didn’t stay relevant for long.
In March, the U.S. Census Bureau opted not to include questions about LGBT identity on the 2020 Census. Along the way, Trump has made controversial nominations—like Tennessee State Sen. Mark Green for Army secretary—who had a history of making anti-LGBT remarks. And earlier this month, six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned, saying that Trump “simply does not care” about stopping new infections.
At this point, then, would it really make a difference for Trump to issue a proclamation declaring June Pride Month? Wouldn’t LGBT groups just ream him as hypocritical, the same way Ivanka Trump was criticized on Twitter for mentioning Pride Month?
“I would see it as a small step in the right direction but it would need to be backed up by action—and by unwinding a lot of the erasure that has already happened,” Ellis told The Daily Beast.
In her estimation, Trump “even acknowledging that we exist” would be a minor victory that would provide some degree of LGBT visibility—but it would be no substitute, of course, for more substantive changes.
If Trump fails to recognize June as Pride Month, Ellis says, it would only confirm what by now should seem obvious: that he never truly cared about LGBT rights in the first place. That the rainbow flag he held up on stage was a red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple herring for a campaign that wanted to be seen as a friendlier face without doing the work to back it up.
If President Trump goes until July 1 without mentioning Pride Month, Ellis says that “it sends a continuation of the message that he’s been sending since January which is that we’re not valued, that we’re not important, that we don’t exist, and that he and the administration that he’s put in place will do everything to roll back and unwind any progress that we’ve been able to achieve as a community.”
The White House did not immediately respond to Daily Beast questions about Trump’s Pride Month silence. Three days remain in June.