Faced with the Trump campaign’s attempt at LGBTQ outreach — an unprecedented effort from a Republican presidential nominee, especially from an incumbent who has built an anti-LGBTQ record — LGBTQ advocacy groups say they’re staying the course in their efforts to expose the real President Trump.
On the heels on the successful video of Richard Grenell, who’s gay and former acting director of national intelligence, dubiously calling Trump the “most pro-gay president” in history, the New York Times last week reported Trump, after years of anti-LGBTQ attacks in his administration, would make LGBTQ outreach a component of his campaign.
But LGBTQ advocates who spoke to the Washington Blade said Trump’s pivot to LGBTQ outreach hasn’t forced them to rethink strategy. In fact, they say they’re sticking with their plans as initially envisioned, confident the anti-LGBTQ actions from the Trump administration would speak for themselves.
Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, said “we were always going to ramp up our communications to LGBTQ voters and pro-equality voters about LGBTQ issues: this is what that strategy looks like.”
“Ric Grenell, like Donald Trump, is divorced from reality, and their attempts to gaslight pro-equality voters necessitates a response from HRC,” Acosta said. “It’s important that we highlight again for equality voters the reality of this administration’s record, that this is a horrifically anti-LGBTQ administration.”
Barbara Simon, a spokesperson for the media watchdog GLAAD, said highlighting Trump’s anti-LGBTQ record is consistent with its mission “to educate the public and the media about LGBTQ people and issues, and to ensure accurate and respectful coverage.”
“This strategy isn’t new or a response to the Trump administration’s seemingly late in the game outreach,” Simon said. “GLAAD has been holding the Trump administration accountable since day one, when the administration wiped any mention of LGBTQ from the White House website. We have since tracked more than 172 attacks of rhetoric and policy coming from the administration in our Trump Accountability Project. We have been calling out these attacks as they happen and pointing to the cumulative record as needed throughout the last three and a half years.”
Although they disavow they’re rethinking strategy, the response effort from LGBTQ advocates seeking to defend Biden and denounce Trump is apparent. The Human Rights Campaign in response to the Grenell video launched an online video, titled, “Liar, Liar,” asking viewers why they should believe Trump is pro-LGBTQ when he’s lied on so many other issues.
The Human Rights Campaign has also been blasting out to news outlets examples of Trump’s anti-LGBTQ actions in news statements, which culminated last week with a list of 50 attacks against the LGBTQ community and 50 ways Biden will help LGBTQ people.
In terms of Trump attacks, among the items name-checked are the transgender military ban, arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court LGBTQ people shouldn’t be covered under federal civil rights law, opposing the Equality Act and siding with taxpayer-funded religious child welfare agencies seeking to refuse placement into LGBTQ homes.
Also noted is a recent high-profile development: the Trump administration is denying gay couples citizenship for their children born overseas via surrogacy, citing language in the Immigration & Nationality Act restricting U.S. citizenship to biological kids. Asked by the Blade about the Trump administration’s litigation against these couples, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said this week it was about surrogacy and had “nothing to do” with sexual orientation.
For its part, GLAAD bought ad time on Fox News for an ad titled, “The Conversation,” which depicts a Zoom call of a gay youth attempting to convince his Trump-supporting mother to vote otherwise in the upcoming election.
“He’s hurting me,” the youth pleads, saying Trump is blocking changes to the federal law that would protect him from discrimination like being evicted because he’s gay. (It should be noted the legal landscape has changed significantly after the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County.)
Simon, however, insisted GLAAD’s ad on Fox & Friends was planned well in advance of any news Trump would attempt LGBTQ outreach.
“The ad buy was placed for the week of the Republican National Convention, well before Richard Grenell and the Log Cabin Republicans began their push to pinkwash the Trump administration’s record,” Simon said. “We responded to that as it happened, to loudly and forcefully set the record straight about the administration’s attacks against LGBTQ people.”
But who is actually the target of the Trump campaign’s new LGBTQ outreach? Observers told the Blade they think the audience is not LGBTQ voters, but suburban mothers who are fearful of discrimination against their children and friends.
Casey Pick, a lesbian D.C. attorney and former staffer with Log Cabin Republicans, expressed that sentiment in an email to the Blade.
“Instead of pro-equality policies, the Trump team and their allies are trying to reframe his abysmal record in a transparent attempt to win over LGBTQ Americans’ friends and family, particularly those suburban women polls consistently show they’re hurting with,” Pick said. “If they can neutralize the argument that Trump is hostile to LGBTQ rights, at least among those folks, it may help move the needle for them.”
Acosta said the votes of those suburban moms will be crucial in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Wisconsin, which are considered swing states in the upcoming election.
“It’s actually an attempt to gaslight pro-equality voters like the Republican-leaning suburban mom outside of Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, or Milwaukee who has an LGBTQ kid and is hesitant about voting for Donald Trump,” Acosta said. “The Trump campaign is targeting conservative media, they’re going on Fox News and talking about this because they want to shore up and reassure those voters.”
Regardless of the motive, the material from the Trump campaign is moving forward. On Monday, the Trump campaign issued an e-blast to reporters titled, “Nothing To Be Proud Of: The Biden LGBT Record,” which asserts Biden is “far from the champion for LGBT Americans that he claims to be.” The e-blast was timed the same day Biden took part in an LGBTQ fundraiser with Cher that ended up raising $2 million.
Among other things, the Trump e-blast cites a 1974 quote from Biden on gays being a security risk as well as his votes for the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, a defense authorization bill in 1993 that made “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” the law of the land and an amendment in 1993 that barred HIV-positive people from entering the United States.
The e-blast takes Biden’s comments coming out for same-sex marriage on “Meet the Press” in 2012, which is still remembered for being a catalyst for the marriage equality movement, and twists it around, pointing out his office issued a statement immediately after insisting Biden had made no news during the TV appearance.
Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson, built on the message that Trump is pro-LGBTQ, but Biden has little to show on his LGBTQ record, in response to a Blade inquiry on whether the Trump campaign thinks LGBTQ voters are persuadable.
“Joe Biden has spent nearly 50 years in politics offering nothing but lip service to the American people, including the LGBT community,” Zager said. “Biden, like so many other Democrats, is content to take voters and certain voting blocs for granted but President Trump ran to make America great for everyone – and he’s delivered for LGBT Americans in just his first term. From protecting and empowering the LGBT community, to appointing the first openly gay Cabinet member, to his commitment to end the criminalization of homosexuality around the globe, President Trump has given LGBT voters a multitude of reasons to support him this November.”
The next day after the e-blast, Outspoken, the newly launched media platform for Log Cabin Republicans, posted a response to the Human Rights Campaign’s list of anti-LGBTQ actions from the Trump administration, seeking to debunk all of them. Log Cabin subsequently tweeted it was the most highly viewed post on Outspoken since its launch.
“For HRC, GLAAD, and their associates, LGBT equality has been redefined to mean overreach, special treatment, and prioritizing one group’s rights over others,” says the post, which has no byline. “For those organizations, gays cannot have equality without state-sponsored persecution of other communities they deem hostile.”
Acosta called the Outspoken post “absurd,” taking particular issue with it minimizing the ongoing violence against Black transgender women, which he said isn’t consistent with the “reality we’re seeing on the ground,” and Trump’s lack of response to the issue.
The Outspoken post asserts based on data Black transgender women “experience violence at a lower rate than biological women nationwide” and much of the violence against them is because they “chose to put themselves in high-risk situations where the potential for violence is elevated, such as engaging in prostitution or drug-dealing.”
At least 26 transgender people have been murdered so far this year, including eight Black transgender women, according to a blog post from the Human Rights Campaign.
The Biden campaign didn’t respond to the Blade’s request for a comment for this article.
At the end of the day, Acosta predicted LGBTQ people wouldn’t waver in support for Biden at the polls, just as they came out strongly for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“We’ve long known that LGBTQ people have had Donald Trump’s number,” Acosta said. “We’re the only community that performed better for Clinton vs. Trump in 2016 than Obama vs. Romney in 2012. LGBTQ people knew Trump was going to be an anti-equality president before he was even elected.”
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.