LGBTQ is not a noun. But 45 seems to think that it is. Because President Donald Trump's campaign is selling a Pride t-shirt that says “LGBTQ for Trump” right on its unironically rainbowed front. NewNowNext reported that the shirt is available now for the low, low cost of $24 (on sale from $30) just in time for June (a month that Trump has never acknowledged the month as Pride). But we need to talk about how this t-shirt encapsulates everything that's gut-wrenching about the Trump administration's approach to LGBTQ people and issues.
The first thing that struck me when I saw this shirt was the phrasing, which is profoundly, absurdly, non-grammatical. LGBTQ is a descriptor, a broad umbrella term meant to encompass a community, not an individual wearing a shirt. But I shouldn't be surprised: this isn't the first time Trump has used something as subtle (and powerful) as grammar to strip LGBTQ people of our humanity. In 2017 tweets seeking a ban on trans people in the military, Trump wrote that the military "cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail."
Let's look at the phrasing of "transgender in the military," not transgender people. This might be an example of Trump's infamous Tweet grammar, but it also points to something more insidious. By using transgender without "people," Trump is literally stripping us of our personhood, creating a non-human other that appears as an ominous shadow in "the military." He repeats this dehumanizing language with this shirt, which is meant for LGBTQ folks to buy and wear in support of him. With this shirt's messaging, the Trump campaign creates a vision of the world where LGBTQ people are treated as a label unconnected to real, living humans, rather than a community with a history of fighting back against structures and terrors like him. (That's where Pride Month comes from, after all.) But I guess that’s appropriate: his entire administration has been about stripping us of our humanity.
“Really?” my wife asked when I told her about the shirts. “You don’t wanna be gay for Trump?” I think it’s the first time I’ve heard her speak his name in years — it’s a banned word in our home — because we sure won’t say his name when he’s trying to take away my health care as a trans person and my best friend’s right to live in this country as a Latinx person (just to give two examples).
At least this "equality tee" (seriously?) is so hilariously awful that we get to laugh, if bitterly, about it. Which is why the first place my brain went was the ridiculous grammar faux pas: it feels like a low, almost irrelevant blow against the only rainbow I’ve ever seen that’s pissed me off. (Other rainbows are simply spectacular.) Because it’s easier to mock the grammatical nonsense of the shirt than it is to confront the reality that this shirt represents.
During the campaign, Trump tweeted that he would treat LGBTQ Americans better than Hilary Clinton would have. But during his presidency, his policies have denied trans people access to health care, threatened to increase homelessness among trans people, and explicitly told trans people that our medical needs (and by extension, our bodies) are a burden.
Trump said that religious objections to providing healthcare for women and transgender people should be a right, over the right of women and transgender people to receive healthcare. "Just today we finalized new protections of conscience rights for physicians, pharmacists, nurses, teachers, students and faith-based charities. They've been wanting to do that a long time," he said at a National Day of Prayer Service on May 2, CNN reported.
This t-shirt says that even though the Trump administration's policies do not respect your right to exist as an LGBTQ person, Trump wants you to support his campaign anyway. Because June (again, not Pride) is the month to celebrate you, and all the trans women of color ancestors that fought for you to roll into the streets, chanting about your love of life and other queer people, all of whom he has publicly maligned.
I think it makes me so nauseous because it’s gaslighting, in a similar pattern to the way he's gaslit the entire country: he said he'd care for LGBTQ people, and then proceeded to treat us without humanity in front of a global audience. But now, this t-shirt is meant to appeal to LGBTQ people, because election time is rolling around. In the time-honored spirit of colorful queer protest, I can’t wait to see what the visually creative folks in our community do with this shirt idea. Because us "LGBTQs" have much cooler things to wear than t-shirts that stand for hate dressed up in a rainbow.