Trump and Gay Rights

The Future of the Global Movement

U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order rolling back regulations from the 2010 Dodd-Frank law at the White House in Washington, February 2017. Kevin Lamarque / REUTERS

We are only at the beginning of U.S. President Donald Trump’s new administration, but it is already possible to divine some of the more precise contours of its foreign policy. Despite Trump’s claim at the 2016 Republican National Convention that as president he would “do everything in [his] power to protect LGBTQ citizens,” it is unlikely that this pledge will apply to the global gay community as a whole. Indeed, all signs point to a dramatic reversal of American global leadership on the issue of gay rights. Both in rhetoric and in action, much is at stake in this reversal. For the first time in U.S. history, the Barack Obama administration made how other countries treat their gay citizens a priority for U.S. diplomats. Indeed, “gay rights diplomacy” became a pillar of the Obama administration’s foreign policy and one of the administration’s most high-profile departures from previous administrations, Democratic and Republican alike.


Obama’s emphasis on gay rights in his foreign policy was an extension of his robust domestic advocacy of gay rights. While in office, he lifted the ban on gays serving openly in the military and extended hate crimes legislation to the LGBT community. And during his 2012 reelection campaign, he became the first sitting president to campaign in favor of marriage equality. For this activism, a 2012 cover story in Newsweek named Obama “The First Gay President.” In June 2016, to coincide with gay pride celebrations, Obama made more gay history by declaring New York’s Stonewall Inn a national monument. The site of the 1969 Stonewall Riots, a violent confrontation between the police and ordinary gays and lesbians that is widely regarded as the launchpad of the contemporary gay rights movement, the Stonewall Inn is the first national monument honoring the American struggle for LGBT rights. 

Gay rights became an official component of Obama’s foreign policy in 2011, with a presidential memorandum mandating that all government agencies engaged abroad “ensure that U.

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