The Horror Show in Washington

The anti-LGBTQ cabal in Washington scares me more than any monsters

by Hank Trout

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Halloween always reminds me of the curious fact that we all enjoy being scared. Whether it’s watching campy Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff movies on television, or re-reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Stephen King’s It, or cringe/binge-watching the Saw series of torture porn, everyone enjoys a little heart-stopping nerve-wracking terror from time to time.

We enjoy being scared because we know that we can make the terror stop at any moment. We can turn off late-night horror movies, we can close that book, we can cover our eyes when chainsawing off a foot becomes too hard to watch. We allow ourselves to be frightened for exactly as long as we’re enjoying it, no longer.

But there is a different kind of horror story emanating out of Washington, D.C., these days, one that I fear we will not be able to control.

To borrow a phrase, I ain’t scared of no ghosts—but the ghouls in the Trump-Pence-Sessions cabal in Washington scare the bejeebus out of me. Just a quick run-down of some of their actions reveals this administration as the most virulently, relentlessly, vindictively anti-LGBTQ administration in history.

• The administration has repeatedly tried to reinstate the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, refusing to give up even when stymied by the courts.

• According to Lambda Legal, one-third of the administration’s nominees to federal courts have virulently anti-LGBTQ records on issues such as marriage equality, workplace protections for LGBTQ folks, and transgender individuals’ access to bathrooms.

• The administration has rescinded President Obama’s instruction to K–12 schools that they must respect transgender students’ rights to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity; this cabal killed that instruction, along with another Obama memo protecting transgender workers.

• In the infamous Masterpiece case, the administration filed an amicus brief siding with the bakery’s right to discriminate against LGBTQ customers; it has filed amicus briefs in other cases arguing that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is legal.

• On its very first day in power, the administration deleted all references to LGBTQ rights from the White House website and fired all the members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

• Demonstrating just how petty and vindictive this small-minded administration is, the president has refused two years in a row to acknowledge June as LGBTQ Pride Month.

For me, as a long-term HIV survivor, the two most horrifyingly ghoulish recent developments are the creation in the Department of Health and Human Services of the “Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom” and in the Department of Justice of the “Religious Liberty Task Force.”

The first of these purports to ensure that health care providers’ religious liberties are not violated, but its real-world effect is to give doctors, nurses, EMTs, and other medical providers, even ambulance drivers, the federally protected right to refuse service to anyone they perceive as LGBTQ so long as they claim religious or moral objections. As a long-term HIV survivor who has frequently relied on ambulance service and emergency care in hospital, this new “right” to refuse me service scares me a helluva lot more than Freddy Krueger ever scared me.

As for the new DOJ agency, let’s face it, the only reason it’s called the “Religious Liberty Task Force” is because “WE HATE THE QUEERS AND WANT TO MAKE THEM SUFFER” didn’t fit on the letterhead. Under the guise of protecting religious people’s rights, this task force threatens every achievement the LGBTQ community has made over the last forty years—say goodbye to marriage equality, to same-sex couples’ right to adopt children, to workplace protections for LGBTQ workers, to on-campus LGBTQ protections, and to every other advance we’ve made.

Finally, for me, the three scariest words in the English language are “President Mike Pence.” As a member of the House of Representatives, Christian “Dominionist” Pence vehemently opposed funding the Ryan White CARE Act, insisting that the money be spent on “gay conversion therapy.” Ryan White funds ADAP, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. If Pence gets his way and ADAP is defunded, I and most of my friends will die. Plain and simple, without ADAP and access to our HIV meds, we will die horrible painful deaths.

If that doesn’t scare the crap out of you, what could?!

Who needs Boris Karloff or Stephen King, the Blair Witch or Michael Myers to scare us when our government has been taken hostage by hate-filled ghouls?

We LGBTQ folks are not the only ones who should be scared by the horror show in D.C. All of us marginalized under the current cabal—LGBTQ folks, African Americans, women, the elderly, Latino immigrants—have a real stake in shutting down this horror. I hope the resistance doesn’t come to pitchforks and torches—villagers chasing Dr. Frankenstein and his monster over the moors—but it could.

Will you be scared?


Hank Trout, Editor at Large, edited Drummer, Malebox, and Folsom magazines in the early 1980s. A long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS (diagnosed in 1989), he is a thirty-eight-year resident of San Francisco, where he lives with his fiancé Rick. Follow him on Twitter @HankTroutWriter.