After last week’s mass shooting that killed 49 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, politicians of all stripes have been speaking out about the LGBTQ community — arguing what should be done to protect them, speaking to the importance of their safe spaces, and pledging commitment to their needs. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump, per usual, seems to have made the most waves with his words.
On Monday, one day after the attack, Trump spoke as an ally of the community. “A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation,” Trump said. He then called the attack a “strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation,” as CNN reported, saying it was an “assault” on people’s ability to “love who they want and express their identity.”
But by Wednesday, the tone had shifted. While Trump seemed to still be showing sympathy to gays and lesbians, the delivery was off for many watching — his talk shifted from support for the community to boastful pride. “The LGBT community, the gay community, the lesbian community — they are so much in favor of what I’ve been saying over the last three or four days,” Trump said during a campaign stop in Atlanta on Wednesday, defending his tough talk on limiting Muslim immigration and fighting ISIS.
“Ask the gays what they think and what they do, in, not only Saudi Arabia, but many of these countries, and then you tell me — who’s your friend, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?”
We’re not even going to touch the fact that he used “the” in a strange way with those words, a thing he’s done before when referencing other minority groups, like the Latinos, or the blacks. What stood out most, besides that precariously placed definite article, was the question: “Ask the gays.”
Well, the gays answered. It was an exercise in Gay GIF (and Vines, and stills) Magic.
Some were just beyond words.
Even Hillary Clinton got in on the fun, with one simple word.
There was a certain power on display in all the tweets, and in the LGBTQ community’s ability to not just speak for itself, but to find humor in a painful week, when politicians could be seen as using gays and lesbians as political props. But there is also a more serious undercurrent to #AskTheGays — how, why, and how quickly an entire group can become political footballs in moments of such distress.
To be fair, both Clinton’s and Trump’s records on LGBTQ issues are up for debate. Trump has spoken less disparagingly of gays and lesbians than he has of other minority and affinity groups, though he has opposed issues like same-sex marriage. He has said he would allow transgender people to use any bathroom at Trump Tower, but also argued that states should be allowed to decide their own policies concerning bathrooms for transgender individuals.
Hillary Clinton has gained the endorsement of most major LGBTQ organizations, and has campaigned with her support of same-sex marriage and transgender rights. But she did not always support same-sex marriage, and has made some missteps with the LGBTQ community before — most recently during the funeral of Nancy Reagan, when she argued that Reagan had helped advance the nation’s conversation on AIDS. (Nancy Reagan’s husband was actually silent on AIDS for years.)
Still, Clinton seems to have the advantage — in a May Gallup poll, 54 percent of those who identify as LGBT view Clinton as favorable while only 18 percent view Trump as such.
There is much to unpack in the way LGBTQ people have been both marginalized, co-opted, and embraced in just a matter of days since a physical safe space was taken from the community. But, in a way, #AskTheGays was able to create a safe space online in a week where it might have been particularly hard to find those spaces in the real world or our political discourse.