Thousands of protesters gathered outside of New York City’s Stonewall Inn Saturday afternoon to decry the executive orders signed into action by President Trump during the first two weeks of his presidency, including a drafted order that could threaten the rights of the LGBT community.
The protest followed two weeks of large gatherings around the country, including women’s marches, rallies for immigrants and refugees, and a slew of other protests centered around Mr. Trump’s various executive orders. But at the historic Stonewall Inn, the gathering marked the first large rally primarily focused on and organized by gay and transgender people.
Stonewall, the bar credited as the launch site of the gay rights movement, became a nationally protected monument under former President Barack Obama. The designation recognizes the individuals who fought police raids of the gay-friendly bar in 1969. Through several violent riots, the community eventually won the right to gather free from police intervention.
"Let me remind people of why we're here," New York Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) said Saturday, according to NBC New York. "The pioneers at Stonewall were alone, but they fought and fought and eventually they won. We are gonna do the same thing!"
Minority groups including Muslims, women, Latinos, and immigrants have been vocal about their opposition to Trump’s rhetoric, executive orders, appointees, and widespread support among white nationalist groups. The Saturday gathering followed concerns about an executive order that could have serious fallout for gay and transgender individuals.
Last week, a leaked draft of an executive order calling for increased protections for religious freedoms raised alarms in the LGBT community. Many saw the provisions, which included safeguarding religious beliefs in education, healthcare, employment, contracting with government, and conduct in public spaces, as a way to bar those under the LGBT umbrella from receiving services or equal treatment from privately operated businesses or some parts of the government.
That order leaked just a day after the White House announced that Trump would not repeal an executive order protecting LGBT individuals from discrimination in federally contracted jobs. For many, the draft represented Trump’s intention to walk back the protections he promised to the community while campaigning in favor of appealing to his conservative Christian base, which helped propel him to the White House.
“They mean this to be extremely broad,” Marci Hamilton, a distinguished scholar the University of Pennsylvania, told The Christian Science Monitor last week. “This kind of generic religious liberty language opens the door to unimaginable applications.”
If the order were signed into law with its current language, it would allow welfare, adoption, or health care services with religious ties as well as privately owned businesses to discriminate against LGBT individuals and families based on religious beliefs. Some experts say that the order's language not only echoes, but becomes an even more extreme version of the Restoration of Religious Freedom Act (RFRA). The RFRA has been met with contention and legal challenges when enacted, including national backlash in recent years after current Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the law into action in his state.
As the recipient of 80 percent of evangelical votes, Trump has appealed to his voting base through early actions. At the Thursday prayer breakfast in Washington, D.C., he said that he would move forward with plans to repeal the Johnson Amendment, a provision in the US tax code that bars nonprofits such as churches from endorsing political candidates. Just days into his presidency, he defunded reproductive health care initiatives abroad that also provided information about abortion procedures to impoverished women.
But some have questioned whether Trump can continue to find favor with the bloc moving forward.
“As citizens of faith whose everyday actions are guided by a moral compass, Evangelicals cannot compromise our moral values by ignoring the president’s policy failures,” Chelsen Vicari, a conservative Christian millennial who participated in the pro-life March for Life last week, previously told the Monitor. “We must be willing to commend as well as condemn the president’s policy decisions that do not align with our values, just as we did during President Obama’s tenure.”
For Ms. Vicari, those moral concerns include the plights of immigrants and refugees. While the rights of gay and transgender people are out of step with Vicari's conservative religious beliefs, there could be other places where Christians like her can find common ground with protesters on the other side.
Just as in the women’s marches or airport gatherings, concerned protesters who don’t fall into the threatened group showed up in solidarity. Speaking up for refugee, immigrants, and women’s rights as well, some protesters noted the sense of community that Trump’s divisive presidency has fostered.
“I think that Donald Trump has brought a whole new group of people together in solidarity,” Stanley McBarnette, who attended the rally, told Time magazine.
Such intersectional concerns have spurred protesters to band together to decry the administration as a whole, making Saturday's protest an attack on Trump's agenda, not just the pending religious freedom executive order.
“All civil liberties are in danger under this administration,” José Chapa of New York told The New York Daily News as he waved a rainbow flag at the Stonewall protest. “I'm here to show my anger against this administration.”