WASHINGTON – On the evening of Nov. 8, Tracy Terrill smiled and kissed his partner beneath the vaulted glass ceiling of the Javits Convention Center, Hillary Clinton’s election night headquarters. When the Associated Press called Florida for Donald Trump shortly before 11 p.m.,, and it became apparent that Trump would win, the smiles vanished. They were speechless, Terrill said.l
“There was something that changed,” said Terrill, 42, an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Small Business Administration. “Because there was so much rhetoric, we almost immediately started looking over our shoulders in ways that we didn’t before.”
With President-elect Trump set to be sworn in next month, LGBT and particularly transgender people say they feel uncertain about their future.
Although Trump has said little on gay issues other than to alternatively acknowledge and disagree with same-sex marriage, the charged rhetoric the Republican employed throughout his campaign and his selection of Mike Pence – who once warned gay marriage could trigger “societal collapse,” – as vice president has many worried.
“This is a terrifying time,” said Nathaniel Frank, a gay historian, Slate contributor and author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the military and Weakens America.
Frank and other advocates said President Barack Obama’s administration was the most pro-LGBT in American history. But because many of his signature achievements in that arena came through the executive branch – prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, including gender identity under broader prohibitions against sex discrimination, and guidance for schools to include trans students – they can be quickly undone.
“All of that is at risk under the Trump administration,” said James Esseks, the American Civil Liberty Union’s LGBT project director at a recent Atlantic Live event.
A Trump administration could in fact move these executive actions in the opposite direction, Frank said, sanctioning discrimination under a religious liberty bill similar to the law Pence signed as governor of Indiana. Trump has promised to sign the First Amendment Defense Act, which would allow businesses to discriminate in transactions related to same-sex marriage, such as the Christian baker refusing to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
Repealing Obamacare, one of Trump’s main campaign promises, would disproportionately impact LGBTQ Americans, said Dr. Carl Streed Jr., chairman of the American Medical Association’s LGBT advisory committee. It would allow healthcare providers to deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, including the over 600,000 gay and bisexual men with HIV.
Trump has said he would keep protections for pre-existing conditions in his replacement, but experts say it’s not clear that the provision could work without the individual mandate, leaving the healthcare status for hundreds of thousands up in the air.
In the immediate future, many are grappling with renewed fear after years of growing acceptance.
Tracy Terrill said he and his partner are staying “vigilant” after learning two friends were beat up outside a gay nightclub after a nearby Trump rally. In the first 24 hours after the election, Trans Lifeline, a support hotline for transgender people, was overloaded with over 500 calls, expressing concerns. The Southern Poverty Law Center tallied 80 anti-LGBT harassment incidences in the first week after the election.
“For many of the folks in our community, they’ve already been living in an America where they faced violence and discrimination every day,” said Hayden Mora, board chairman of the advocacy group Trans United. “The difference is now things are getting much worse for those people.”
Streed said discrimination generally has “downstream” effects on health outcomes for LGBT people and other minority groups.
Trump, however, still captured 14 percent of the LGBT vote, per election night exit polls. Facebook groups such as “Gays for Trump” and “LGBTrump” offer a home for these voters, who find Trump’s stance on LGBT issues adequate and find some of his other stances appealing.
Justin Lee Sutherland, a gay. Ohio-based Trump supporter, said he voted for Trump because of his hardline stance on “Islamic terrorism.” He was satisfied with Trump’s statements accepting gay marriage and permitting transgender person.to use the restroom of their choosing adequate.
“As an LGBT citizen you kind of have a target on your back when it comes to the extremists,” Sutherland said in a Facebook message, referring to the Orlando massacre in which a gunman, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, killed 49 people in a gay night club.
And even among those less than thrilled about a Trump victory, some say the new president would struggle to reverse some Obama’s key initiatives.
The departing president put a particular emphasis on making the military more inclusive, signing a repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the ban on openly gay service members, and more recently using executive authority to allow transgender people to enlist. Trump could undo those executive orders – he’s not threatened to do that — and potentially push a new Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell bill through a Republican congress. But Eric Fanning, the first openly gay Secretary of the Army Secretary, doesn’t think Trump would take any such action. Society has changed too much, Fanning said.
“It is one thing to have a debate on whether someone should be able to put on a uniform,” Fanning said at the recent Atlantic Live event. “It’s an entirely different thing to tell someone who has a uniform they have to take it off.”
Hayden Mora said that whatever actions Trump takes, activists will fight back. In addition to explicitly LGBT issues, she pointed to Trump’s hardline stance on policing and immigration, which disproportionately affect transgender people. For instance, she noted, trans people are more likely to face abuse in immigrant detention centers and from police.
Watching Trump win on election night, Mora said she knew a long battle was ahead.
“I felt afraid for my friends and for myself,” Mora, a transman, said. “I felt determined to move forward.”