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Donald Trump said in 2012 that transgender women could compete in Miss Universe. In 2016 while campaigning, Trump said Caitlyn Jenner could use the bathroom of her choice. But as president and in 2023, he has taken stances against the transgender community.
When Trump was president, his administration banned transgender people in the military with some exceptions. It is one of a number of actions that LGBTQ+ advocates say contradict some of his supportive rhetoric.
The Trump administration took actions favoring religious liberty over LGBTQ+ rights.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign shared a headline-grabbing video that paints former President Donald Trump as a champion of LGBTQ+ rights.
"To wrap up ‘Pride Month,’ let’s hear from the politician who did more than any other Republican to celebrate it," the DeSantis War Room tweeted June 30.
The 1 minute, 13 second video opened with 24 seconds of clips showing Trump expressing support for LGBTQ+ freedoms. But the video didn’t make clear that most of his comments were from before he was elected president. As president, Trump sometimes made pro-LGBTQ+ overtures, but his administration took several actions that LGBTQ+ rights advocates oppose — facts the DeSantis campaign video also omits.
The video was created by the "Proud Elephant" Twitter account and deleted sometime July 7. Proud Elephant, which frequently retweets DeSantis campaign posts, sought to paint a striking contrast between Trump’s approach and DeSantis’ aggressive stance on LGBTQ+ issues. We found the video being shared elsewhere on social media.
DeSantis was seen in a black-and-white image with lightning bolts shooting out of his eyes as a bold red "NO" pops over the screen. Headlines about DeSantis flash, announcing he has signed "anti-trans" legislation, banned gender-affirming care for minors and targeted teachers’ use of gender-affirming pronouns in school.
Trump speaks in support of LGBTQ+ people during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Thursday, July 21, 2016, a month after a mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (AP)
Here is what the DeSantis video shows Trump saying or doing in support of LGBTQ+ rights, along with the context in which he said it:
Claim: Trump said, "I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens."
Context: Trump said this at the Republican National Convention in July 2016. But the video omits the context of his speech, which occurred one month after the mass shooting at Pulse, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Trump referred to the murder of "49 wonderful Americans" and said, "As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of the hateful foreign ideology, believe me." (The shooter, Omar Mateen, was born outside of the U.S. and declared allegiance to the Islamic State group on Facebook.)
Claim: Trump held a rainbow pride flag that included a handwritten message "LGBTs for Trump"
Context: Trump unfurled that flag at an October 2016 Colorado rally, but some LGBTQ+ advocates said that was hypocritical based on his stances.
Claim: "Trump campaign website offers ‘LGBTQ for Trump’ shirts."
Context: This is a picture of a CNN website headline attached to a 2016 segment in which LGBTQ+ advocate JoDee Winterhof of the Human Rights Campaign and Trump campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn sparred over Trump’s record on gay rights issues. Trump’s campaign sold such shirts, but some gay rights advocates argued it contradicted his actions.
Claim: In weighing in on a North Carolina bathroom law, Trump said Caitlyn Jenner could use any bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower.
Context: During an April 21, 2016, town hall with NBC's Matt Lauer, Trump was asked to comment on a North Carolina bathroom bill that required transgender students to use bathrooms that corresponded with the gender assigned to them at birth. Trump said North Carolina was "paying a big price" economically for the bathroom bill. "People go, they use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate, there has been so little trouble."
Lauer asked Trump whether Jenner, a former Olympic gold medalist who in 2015 came out as transgender, would be fine to use "any bathroom she chooses" if she walked into Trump Tower.
"That is correct," Trump answered, saying he believed building new bathrooms would be expensive and possibly discriminatory. "Leave it the way it is."
Within a day, Trump altered his stance on the North Carolina law, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity that the matter should be left to local communities and the state.
Claim: "Donald Trump sides with Disney. The former president goes for woke to trash DeSantis"
Context: That’s a headline and subheadline in April from the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal after Trump said the DeSantis’ feud with The Walt Disney Co. would lead Disney to stop investing in Florida. One month later, Trump wrote on Truth Social, "Disney has become a Woke and Disgusting shadow of its former self, with people actually hating it."
Claim: Caitlyn Jenner tweeted "MAGA Trump 2024!"
Context: This is a legitimate tweet from May 2023. Jenner, a Republican who ran for California governor in 2021, has alternately supported and criticized Trump, once writing a 2018 The Washington Post op-ed titled, "I thought Trump would help trans people. I was wrong."
Claim: Trump tweeted in support of "LGBT Pride Month"
Context: This is a real May 31, 2019, tweet in which Trump praised "outstanding contributions" by LGBT people and urged "solidarity" with those in nations that punish people for their sexual orientation.
In the same thread, he touted what he called "a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality."
That effort was started in February 2019 by Richard Grenell, an openly gay official in the Trump administration. When Trump was asked about the campaign by a reporter the next day, he seemed unfamiliar with it stating, "I don't know, uh, which report you're talking about."
But in a September 2019 address before the United Nations, Trump referred to the global campaign again. His statements met with criticism from some gay rights activists who said it didn’t square with other actions he’d taken domestically on LGBTQ+ issues.
PolitiFact found scant evidence of progress or anything beyond Grenell’s advocacy on the decriminalization of homosexuality. The Obama administration announced a similar effort in 2011.
Claim: Trump said that transgender women can compete in the Miss Universe pageant.
Context: This comes from a 2012 interview Barbara Walters conducted with Trump after Jenna Talackova, who was assigned the male gender at birth, was disqualified from the Miss Universe Canada pageant. She hired a famous lawyer, and the dispute drew viral attention. Trump, who owned Miss Universe, told Walters Talackova could compete.
Claim: "Trump repeatedly celebrated the inclusion of transgender women in his beauty pageant."
Context: That’s a June 16 CNN headline about what Trump said in 2012 about Talackova. He praised the pageant’s winner, Olivia Culpo, for saying it would be fair for transgender women to compete. But the CNN story juxtaposed those comments with Trump’s more recent 2024 campaign stance, calling to ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports and describing gender-affirming surgery for minors as "child sexual mutilation."
A supporter of President-elect Joe Biden waves a pride flag during outside Trump Tower on Nov. 7, 2020, in Chicago. The crowd was celebrating Biden’s defeat of Trump in the 2020 presidential election, (AP)
Despite some of Trump’s statements of support for LGBTQ+ people, Trump’s administration enacted policies that conflicted with that platform. Trump, the first president to take office after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, said in 2016 that he was "fine" with gay marriage after years of expressing opposition. But as he has campaigned for the GOP nomination in 2024, he has used messaging that contradicts some of the earlier rhetoric that Proud Elephant highlighted.
Trump has invoked the terms "transgender insanity" and "gender insanity" when speaking about gender-affirming care. On June 24, at a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference in Washington, D.C., he said if re-elected he will "ban all taxpayer funding for sex or gender transitions."
In April, he told people at an Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event, "Under my leadership, we will defeat the cult of gender ideology and we will reassert the timeless truth that God created two genders, male and female."
Actions by his administration included:
Banning transgender people from military service: Trump tweeted in July 2017 that the U.S. government would "not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military." After years of legal challenges, the Trump administration banned transgender people from enlisting as new military service members, with limited exceptions. Transgender members who were already serving in the military and received a gender dysphoria diagnosis before the policy took effect could continue serving openly.
Reversing bathroom rules for transgender students: The Trump administration in February 2017 rescinded Obama-era guidance that federal nondiscrimination laws required schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.
Arguing that the Civil Rights Act did not protect transgender workers: In 2019, the Trump administration filed a brief in a U.S. Supreme Court case arguing that the Civil Rights Act’s prohibition on discrimination because of sex "does not bar discrimination because of transgender status." The brief stood in contrast to comments Trump made in 2000 in favor of amending the Civil Rights Act to include a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation. The court ruled in 2020 that an employer who fires someone merely for being gay or transgender violates the Civil Rights Act.
Favoring religious liberty over LGBTQ+ rights: The Trump administration took steps favoring the rights of faith-based organizations over those in the LGBTQ+ community. In January 2021, it finalized a rule that allowed taxpayer funded agencies to refuse adoption placement to LGBTQ+ families. In 2020, it filed a brief in the Indiana Supreme Court arguing that the Archdiocese of Indianapolis had a right to fire a gay teacher.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national group that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights and endorsed Joe Biden in 2020, wrote in a timeline about Trump’s presidency that Trump had "attacked the progress we have made toward full equality for the LGBTQ+ community."
Trump, meanwhile, has found support from the Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay Republican group, that has defended Trump’s record and recently denounced the DeSantis video as "divisive and desperate." In 2022, the group touted Trump as going farther than other GOP candidates to support LGBTQ+ rights. However, after Log Cabin Republicans released a video in 2020 describing Trump as "the most pro-gay president in American history" The Washington Post’s Fact Checker gave the statement four Pinocchios, classifying it as a "whopper" level falsehood.
We contacted the Trump campaign to ask about Trump’s record on LGBTQ+ issues and received no response. But then-Trump spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany tweeted in 2020 that Trump had a "great record when it comes to the LGBT community," citing the global initiative to end gay criminalization, his pledge to end HIV transmission in the U.S. by 2030 and his administration’s decision to loosen blood donation restrictions on gay and bisexual men.
On HIV, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the U.S. has made "modest progress toward goals" but is not on pace to reach the 2030 target. And when asked about the blood donation change, Trump said months earlier that he knew nothing about it, crediting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration with making that decision.
DeSantis War Room, Tweet, June 30, 2023
Washington Post, The absurd claim that Trump is the ‘most pro-gay president in American history’ Aug. 24, 2020
Human Rights Campaign, "Trump’s record of hate," January 2017-January 2021
GLAAD, Donald Trump, Updated June 4, 2023
Log Cabin Republicans, A thorough debunking of every lie about Trump on LGBT issues, Sept. 1, 2020
Log Cabin Republicans, Log Cabin Statement on ‘Divisive and Desperate’ DeSantis War Room Tweet, June 30, 2023
ABC News 20/20, Transcript of interview with Donald Trump and video, April 6, 2012
ABC News, Donald Trump OK with Caitlyn Jenner using any bathroom in his tower, April 1, 2016
Common Dreams, DeSantis Signs 'Most Extreme Slate of Anti-Trans Laws in Modern History,' May 17, 2023
Huff Post, Ron DeSantis Signs Draconian Anti-Trans Bathroom Bill Into Law, May 17, 2023
New York Times, DeSantis, Seeking Attention, Uses L.G.B.T.Q. Issues to Attack Trump, July 1, 2023
The Advocate, READ: Donald Trump's Advocate Interview Where He Defends Gays, Mexicans, 2000
Caitlyn Jenner, Tweet, May 25, 2023
CBS, Donald Trump amends stance on North Carolina transgender bathroom law, April 22, 2016
The Guardian, Trump's Republican convention speech: what he said and what he meant, July 22, 2016
CNN, Trump campaign website offers 'LGBTQ for Trump' shirts, Aug. 29, 2016
Donald Trump, Tweet, May 31, 2019
Team Trump, Tweet, July 13, 2020
Trump twitter archive, LGBT, 2013-2020
Donald Trump, Truth Social post, May 23, 2023
Politico, George W. Bush’s AIDS-fighting program’s new critics: Republicans, June 27, 2023
KFF, PEPFAR Reauthorization 2023: Key Issues, March 2023
President Donald Trump, Remarks by President Trump to the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 25, 2019
NBC, Trump Administration Removes LGBTQ Questions From Elderly Survey, March 20, 2017
Justice Department and Education Department, Letter, Feb. 22, 2017
SCOTUS blog, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, June 15, 2020
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Progress, June 9, 2023
Washington Blade,Trump says he had nothing to do with FDA easing gay blood ban, April 3, 2020
ABC News, GOP President-Elect Donald Trump Says Same-Sex Marriage Is 'Settled' Law, Nov. 13, 2016
Beirut Pride, Decriminalizing Homosexuality in Solidarity w/ LGBTQ People, Dec. 18, 2019
NBC, Town Hall: Donald Trump Interviewed by Lauer and Guthrie on NBC's The Today Show, April 21, 2016
NBC, 'I don't know': Trump draws blank on homosexuality decriminalization push, Feb. 21, 2019
Washington Blade, Trump waves rainbow Pride flag at Colorado rally, Oct. 31, 2016
The Advocate, Donald Trump waves LGBT rainbow flag at Colorado rally, Oct. 31, 2016
Wall Street Journal editorial board, Donald Trump sides with Disney, April 18, 2023
Right Side Broadcasting, Trump speaks at Faith and Freedom Coalition: Road to Majority Conference June, 24, 2023
Reuters, Rights advocates call Trump's pledge to decriminalize gay sex 'a lie' Sept. 25, 2019
The Hill, Caitlyn Jenner pledges to support Trump if he makes another bid for the White House, July 21, 2021
Colorado Independent, GUEST POST: Why an upside-down rainbow flag is dangerous for LGBT people, Nov. 3, 2016
Washington Blade, Trump waves rainbow Pride flag at Colorado rally, Oct. 31, 2016
Washington Post, Opinion Caitlyn Jenner: I thought Trump would help trans people. I was wrong., Oct. 25, 2018
PolitiFact, Donald Trump is against same-sex marriage, Aug. 14, 2016
PolitiFact, Checking on North Carolina's bathroom law affecting its economy, March 8, 2016
PolitiFact, Disney cancels plans for Florida campus amid feud with Ron DeSantis, forgoing historic tax incentive, May 18, 2023
Email interview, Cullen Peele, Human Rights Campaign spokesperson, July 5, 2023
Email interview, Jose Abrigo, HIV Project Director for Lambda Legal, July 5, 2023
Email interview, Charles Moran, president of Log Cabin Republicans, July 5, 2023
Email interview, Robert Kessler, spokesperson for amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, July 6, 2023