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By Lisa Keen
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is an unattractive political choice for many voters because of his unabashed hostility toward Muslims, Mexicans, and media scrutiny. But, oddly enough, he is still the most LGBT friendly Republican presidential candidate in history.
He accepted GOProud’s invitation to speak at a CPAC conference in 2011 when many conservatives attending the conference raised objections to the gay conservative group’s participation. He eliminated a beauty pageant rule requiring contestants be “naturally born female.” He said he has “many fabulous friends who happen to be gay.” He accepted gay actor George Takei’s invitation to lunch to discuss same-sex marriage and he attended the wedding of a gay couple. And last year, when asked on Meet the Press whether private companies should be able to fire people for being gay, he said, “I don’t think it should be a reason, no.”
Trump was quick to speak out against the shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, and he has repeatedly expressed “our nation stands in solidarity” with the LGBT community.
Among LGBT voters who evaluate candidates on a range of issues – in addition to their positions relative to LGBT-specific concerns – some will find Trump attractive. He promises to “put America first,” “grow the American economy,” and “reclaim millions of American jobs” from foreign countries.
Gregory Angelo, president of the national Log Cabin Republicans group, has described Trump as “the most pro-gay nominee that the [Republican] party has ever had for president.” And, given LGBT voting patterns in the past, there’s a prospect for Trump earning significant support this year.
In 2008, 19 percent of self-identified gay, lesbian, or bisexual voters said they voted for Republican presidential nominee John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama. In 2012, 22 percent voted for Republican Mitt Romney over incumbent Democrat Obama, who was already establishing himself as the most pro-LGBT president in history.
Trump seems to be aware of the prospect for winning LGBT votes. He’s careful to word his disagreements with the LGBT community very delicately. For instance, rather than say he’s opposed to allowing same-sex couples to marry, Trump says, “I’m for traditional marriage.”
But nearly every statement by Trump – with the exception of his desire to “build a wall” between the U.S. and Mexico – seems subject to revision by the candidate. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, Trump’s response was: “I don’t say anything. I’m for traditional marriage,” and he said he accepted the decision is the “law of the land.” But a few months later, he said he would “strongly consider” appointing justices who would overturn that decision.
After North Carolina passed a law to ban transgender people from using public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity, Trump said he thought people should be able to use “the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” Then later, he said the issue should be left to state law, and he criticized the Obama administration’s guidelines for helping transgender students.
Trump takes frequent swings against “political correctness,” a term many in the LGBT community associate with basic respect for people despite their differences. He was reluctant to disavow former KKK leader David Duke and white supremacy because he knew “nothing” about them.
Visible support in the LGBT community for Trump is small.
One gay political activist, Chris Barron, is organizing an LGBTrump group that will host an event in Cleveland during the convention. Barron declined to say how many people have expressed interest in the group, but said he speaks with the Trump campaign “regularly” on LGBT issues.
“I haven’t asked them for anything in reference to (Trump’s) speech” at the convention, but added, “I think his approach on LGBT issues, particularly in the wake of Orlando, has been perfect.”
Three openly gay people are part of the delegation from California, and all three are pledged to Trump: Charles T. Moran, former president of the California chapter of Log Cabin Republicans; Peter Thiel, founder of Paypal; and Ric Grenell, an openly gay advisor to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a political commentator for Fox News.
Three other openly gay delegates to the convention come from Washington, D.C., and none are pledged to Trump: Christian Berle (a Kasich supporter) and Rachel Hoff and Bob Kabel (Rubio supporters). Openly gay delegate winner Kevin Cain of Washington, D.C., gave up his delegate seat in May, telling the Washington Post he did not want to be involved “in any way” in nominating Trump for president.
A search of leaders of Log Cabin’s 46 other chapters around the country matched against the RNC delegate list found no other openly LGBT delegates, and the party does not collect information about LGBT status.
So what should LGBT viewers watch for at the July 18-21 convention in Cleveland?
What to watch for
Party Platform: For months, the American Unity Fund, a pro-marriage equality political action committee, has been lobbying convention delegates to support a more LGBT friendly platform. So far they have been unsuccessful (see related story). The nominee would not be obliged to advance any particular part of the platform, but a softening of language hostile to LGBT people could be seen as a political victory. There is also reportedly an effort underway to get the platform committee to adopt language condemning the “radical Islamic terrorism” behind the attack on an Orlando LGBT nightclub in June. The committee, which includes at least one openly LGBT member (Rachel Hoff of Washington, D.C.), began debating its platform Monday, July 11, and is expected to approve a final document this week. In addition to LGBT-specific matters, the platform will lay out a lot of ideas for advancing “religious freedom,” which is often code for sexual orientation oppression.
The Nomination: Although Donald Trump won enough delegates during the primaries to secure the nomination, staunch opponents of his nomination have threatened to try and derail that. But party leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have in recent days said they’d call on Republicans to rally around Trump, in the interest of party unity.
Vice-Presidential Pick: Of critical concern to many will be who Trump secures as his vice-presidential running mate and what that person’s credentials will be on LGBT issues. Trump said he would announce his choice this week, but an announcement had not been made by deadline.
LGBT community visibility: LGBTrump plans to host an event at Cleveland State University on Tuesday night. Log Cabin Republicans and the local GOP chapter will host a convention watch party on Tuesday night. Log Cabin will join the American Unity Fund in hosting a “Big Tent Brunch” on Wednesday morning, with a panel of conservatives – including Olympic legend Caitlyn Jenner – discussing “diversity and inclusion in the GOP.” On Wednesday evening, Log Cabin will team up with PFLAG to host a party.
Convention Speeches: Trump said earlier this month that the convention speaker list is all filled and that he would release it by July 6. That didn’t happen and it had not been released by deadline for this article.