‘Bone-chilling’ Donald Trump threat shows 2024 will be a ‘race to the bottom’, expert says

Donald Trump smirking in front of a US flag

Donald Trump’s vow to roll back trans rights if he returns to the White House suggests the Republican primary will be a “race to the bottom”.

Trump confirmed in November that he is running for president again, and in the months since has amped up his culture war rhetoric.

In January, he threatened a federal rollback of trans rights if he is re-elected in 2024. The former president promised to ban gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, go after hospitals that provide such treatments and push for a federal law recognising only two genders.

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Trump attacking the LGBTQ+ community, especially trans youth, is nothing new – his administration made several policies that attacked queer folk. But Ari Drennen, the LGBTQ+ programme director of Media Matters for America, says the former president’s speech could mark a “race to the bottom” for the Republican primary. 

Drennen found Trump’s speech “particularly bone-chilling” and an “interesting departure from his first campaign” in 2016, when he presented himself as “being more favourable on LGBTQ issues”. 

Republican president Donald Trump wears a suit and tie as he holds both his hands up near his head in the shape of fists
During his presidency, Donald Trump brought forward several anti-LGBTQ+ policies. (Getty)

At one point during his first presidential run race, Trump said that trans people should “use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate”. He acknowledged: “There has been so little trouble.”

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Coming out of the gate with transphobic rhetoric shows how far he and his party have fallen.

“I think it’s a marker of a party that’s not offering its voters anything except fear and anger to try to keep them on board,” Drennen says. 

“Making life harder for trans people is not a solution for any kind of future. It’s just something that keeps people outraged while they don’t tackle any real problems.”

Several Republicans are expected to run against Trump for the party’s nomination – so far, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have made formal announcements, and Florida governor Ron DeSantis is widely tipped to throw his hat into the ring.

Republicans Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis hug as they speak at a rally
Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis may run against each other for the Republican nomination. (Getty)

DeSantis repeatedly presented himself as a fighter against so-called wokeness. He championed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, has persisted in attacking trans healthcare and said youngsters shouldn’t be allowed at drag events

“This is how DeSantis has tried to define himself, as this kind of culture warrior, attacking vulnerable people, and Trump obviously cannot let that go unresponded to,” Drennen says.

She adds that it’s never a “good sign” when trans people are “becoming the centre of a political conversation” given approximately 1.6 per cent of US adults are trans or non-binary.

Many are expecting either Trump or DeSantis to clinch the Republican nomination, and polls suggest either man would be virtually tied with Biden in the 2024 election.

Drennen says the “prospect of having an anti-LGBTQ president again” is “very alarming” for queer folk. 

“We’ve seen people leave different states where they’re no longer comfortable raising a family,” she says. “I have some close friends who had to leave Florida because of the climate that DeSantis has created there, and so the idea of that kind of agenda coming to national politics is very concerning.”

She continues: “It has me, and probably a lot of trans people, looking at renewing passports. 

“One thing from [Trump’s] speech is that he promised he would have Congress pass a law that would say there are only two genders, which could have worrying implications for non-binary people who’ve taken advantage of the Biden administration’s updated proposals on allowing an ‘X’ marker on identification.”

One person holds up a sign reading 'Trans lives matters' while others hold up signs in support of the LGBTQ+ community during a rally against Republican president Donald Trump
Campaigners continue to fight against anti-LGBTQ+ hate perpetuated by Republican politicians like former president Donald Trump. (Getty)

Trump’s recent series of anti-trans proposals came after he met with right-wing influences behind Libs of TikTok and The Babylon Bee at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Chaya Raichik, from Libs of TikTok, also appears to have close ties to DeSantis.

Drennen says it’s a bad sign when politicians are “beholden to the most extreme voices”. She is concerned about how anti-LGBTQ+ groups are making Republican legislators “very concerned about their primaries”. 

Anti-trans rhetoric and calls to roll back LGBTQ+ rights have grown bolder in recent years, and there have been concerted efforts by right-wing pundits to build their political platforms by stomping on the queer community. 

Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed across the US in 2022, and, while most failed to pass into law, Republicans have pushed even-more-bigoted measures in the first few months of 2023.

Speeches attacking queer folks and allies exploded online in the wake of Florida passing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

The hatred whipped up against LGBTQ+ folk by the far-right online has real-world consequences, being linked to the deadly Club Q shooting, in Colorado Springs, and bomb threats against trans-affirming hospitals