Tale of the Tape: Trump vs. Clinton on LGBT issues

Log Cabin Republican President Gregory Angelo said it early on: Donald Trump is the “most pro-gay” Republican presidential candidate in history. And following the deadly attack on an LGBT nightclub in Orlando last June, Trump himself suggested that he –not Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton— is the presidential candidate who is “really the friend of women and the LGBT community.”

Clinton’s claim to the mantle as the Democratic Party’s most pro-gay presidential candidate in history has to compete with the party’s 2012 nominee, President Barack Obama. But even during this year’s general election campaign, when most Democratic presidential candidates typically grow subtle about their support for the LGBT community, Clinton prominently and repeatedly stated her support in stump speeches and debate answers.

Asked to make their best arguments for their party’s candidate, gay Democratic and Republican leaders said this:

Earl D. Fowlkes Jr., chairman of the Democratic National Commitee’s LGBT Caucus: “As a black gay man, I know that Mrs. Clinton will protect and work to extend LGBT rights gained under the Obama Administration. She will appoint Supreme Court judges who will not undo same-sex marriage, women’s reproductive rights, and more provisions of the Voting Rights Act. In short, Mrs. Clinton will be a president that will fight for all Americans.”

“She is one of the most qualified candidates to ever run for the Presidency,” said Fowlkes. “As First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State, Mrs. Clinton has both the experience and temperament to handle the complex issues that our nation is facing.”

Charles T. Moran, a prominent Trump delegate from Los Angeles to the GOP convention, offered this: “The strongest reason why LGBTQ’ers in our community should vote for Donald Trump is that he’s constantly recognized our community and treated us with respect. In his business and philanthropic work, he’s always been supportive, even when it hasn’t been popular. From the money he’s given to HIV/AIDS causes in NYC, to opening the first private club in Palm Beach to allow open homosexuals to join, to just recently dismissing the dramatic debate in the GOP and stating that Caitlyn Jenner should use whatever bathroom she wants at his Trump properties, to bringing forward the issue of protecting our community against radical Islamic jihad and threats of violence against our freedoms, he has truly walked the talk, and that is a 30-plus year history of support, unlike Hillary Clinton’s zig-zag on our issues over her 30 years in the public eye.”

Log Cabin Republicans withhold Trump endorsement

Log Cabin Republicans issued a statement Oct. 22 saying it would withhold an endorsement of Trump.

“Mr. Trump is perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party. His unprecedented overtures to the ‘LGBTQ community’—a first for any major-party candidate in our nation’s history—are worthy of praise and should serve as a clarion call to the GOP that the days of needing to toe an anti-LGBT line are now a thing of the past,” said the statement. “But Log Cabin Republicans have long emphasized that we are not a single-issue organization, nor are our members single-issue voters. Even if we were, rhetoric alone regarding LGBT issues does not equate to doctrine. As Mr. Trump spoke positively about the LGBT community in the United States, he concurrently surrounded himself with senior advisors with a record of opposing LGBT equality, and committed himself to supporting legislation such as the so-called ‘First Amendment Defense Act’ that Log Cabin Republicans opposes.”

The group gave a “qualified” endorsement for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in October 2012, noting that, while he may not be the first choice for voters with LGBT issues as a priority, Romney was better qualified overall and not likely to “waste his precious time” in the White House with attacks on the community.

In early September 2008, Log Cabin’s board issued an enthusiastic endorsement of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, calling him an “inclusive Republican” who bucked his own party by voting against the anti-gay Federal Marriage Act.

Meanwhile, numerous LGBT groups have endorsed Clinton: the Human Rights Campaign, the Lesbian Political Action Committee, the Congressional LGBT Caucus political action committee, and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. She has also won the endorsement of several statewide LGBT political groups, including Equality California and Equality Pennsylvania.
She has the backing of prominent LGBT elected officials, such as former U.S. Rep. Barney Frank and five of the six current LGBT members of the U.S. House (only Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona has not).

Polls past and present

Historically, LGBT voters have supported the Democratic presidential candidate over the Republican one by a margin of about 3 to 1. Over the years, the polls suggest that many LGBT people who used to identify as “independent” are now identifying as Republican or Democrat. In September 2012, a Gallup study found 43 percent of LGBT-identified adults said they were “independent,” 13 percent Republican, and 44 percent Democratic. An NBC poll in September of this year found that only 13 percent identified as independents, compared to 18 percent “Republicans or Republican-leaners” and 70 percent “Democrats and Democratic-leaners.”

Over a shorter span of time, support for Clinton among LGBT voters has also grown. In a Gallup survey in May, 54 percent supported Clinton and 18 percent Trump. But in the NBC poll in September of 1,728 registered voters who identified as “homosexual or bisexual,” 72 percent said they would vote for Clinton; 20 percent for Trump. (Including the Libertarian and Green party candidates in the mix, the NBC survey found 63 percent of LGBT voters supported Clinton, 15 percent Trump, 13 percent Libertarian Gary Johnson, and eight percent Green Party Jill Stein.)

Looking at data going back to 1990 (the first year the National Election Pool exit poll sought to identify “gay, lesbian, and bisexual” voters), the lowest LGB vote for Republicans came in 2008 when only 19 percent of LGB voters supported Republican John McCain. A 2012 exit poll conducted by the New York Times and other major media outlets found that 76 percent of LGB voters supported Democratic incumbent President Obama. That meant, at best, 24 percent for Republican Mitt Romney.

The campaign rollercoaster

Donald Trump’s most pro-LGBT moments in the two-year campaign came in reaction to the June 12 mass shooting this year at an LGBT nightclub called Pulse in Orlando. He immediately expressed sympathy over the 49 lives lost and 50 people injured. During his nationally televised acceptance speech to the Republican National Convention in July, he reiterated his concern to the GOP –a party whose platform has been notoriously hostile to equal rights for LGBT people.

“Only weeks ago, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist—this targeting the LGBTQ community. No good, and we’re gonna stop it,” said Trump. “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful, foreign ideology–believe me.” Then, departing the text of his speech, Trump added, “And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just had to say. Thank you.”

But for many in the LGBT community, Trump’s statement of solidarity with the LGBT community was undercut by his insistence that the Orlando massacre was made possible because the U.S. allows Muslims, who he said want to “murder gays,” to immigrate. Trump has called for a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the country (more recently, he’s called for “extreme vetting” of Muslims). Trump also confused and dismayed many by seeming to signal initial support of transgender people in the North Carolina HB2 (bathroom) controversy only to say later that the issue should be “left to the states.” And his repeated promise to appoint a Supreme Court nominee in the mold of Antonin Scalia, who had the most anti-gay voting record of any justice on the nation’s highest court, will not likely earn him any LGBT votes.

Hillary Clinton has repeatedly included words of support for LGBT equality in her stump speeches. She addressed the 2015 national dinner of the Human Rights Campaign, unabashedly putting herself on record –early in the primary season— as supporting numerous positions favored by LGBT voters. Among other things, she promised, “as president, I would push to cut off federal funding for any public child welfare agency that discriminates against LGBT people.” She visited Orlando to show solidarity with the LGBT community following the Pulse massacre.

On LGBT issues, she stumbled twice: Once by saying that Nancy Reagan had helped lead public support for the fight against AIDS and a second time by saying that President Bill Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage Act” as a way to head off a constitutional amendment banning marriage for same-sex couples. Internal campaign emails made public by Wikileaks this month show that LGBT Democratic activists moved quickly to urge Clinton to correct the record on both of those statements. She did correct her remark concerning Reagan and apologized. She said her DOMA statement reflected her recollection of “private discussions” she participated in. In one of the leaked email, a staffer said Clinton would “never approve a true walkback” of the comment.

Position on the issues

  • Supreme Court: Clinton said she would make marriage equality a priority issue in choosing a nominee to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. Trump said he would appoint someone in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who is perhaps the most anti-gay justice in history.
  • Equality Act: Clinton supports it, saying it will mean “full federal equality for LGBT Americans and stronger anti-discrimination protections for everyone.” Trump has declined opportunities to say where he stands on the measure.
  • Marriage Equality: Clinton evolved over a period of 10 years to support marriage equality. In 2004, she said it was “a sacred bond between a man and a woman.” In 2007, she supported repeal of part of the Defense of Marriage Act but also wanted to leave the marriage equality issue to the states. Then, in a 2013 video after leaving her Secretary of State post, Clinton said she had “learned” and “come to believe” that LGBT Americans “deserve the rights of citizenship–that includes marriage….I support it personally and as a matter of policy and law.” On CNN, Trump said, “I don’t say anything. I’m just for traditional marriage.” But he has also said he would appoint Supreme Court justices willing to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell that struck down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples.
  • North Carolina’s HB2: Clinton issued a statement the day after the North Carolina legislature passed the law–banning local jurisdictions from prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people and prohibiting transgender people from using the public restroom that matches their gender identity. The statement said, “LGBT people should be protected from discrimination under the law—period.” When questioned about the law on NBC’s “Today Show,” Trump said the state should “leave it the way it is,” noting that there had been “very few complaints the way it is.” “People go. They use the bathroom that they feel is appropriate. There has been so little trouble,” said Trump. But three months later, he said he had spoken with North Carolina’s governor and “a lot of people” and he had changed his mind. “I’m with the state on things like this.”
  • Kim Davis controversy: A Kentucky county clerk named Kim Davis refused to allow her office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s ban. Clinton said it was appropriate that Davis was jailed until she agreed to let her fellow clerks issue the licenses. Trump said Davis should either let her fellow clerks issue the licenses or have same-sex couples go to other counties to obtain their licenses.

Additional points to consider

  • LGBTs in campaign: Clinton hired an openly gay man (Robby Mook) as her campaign manager. She also hired an “LGBT Outreach Director,” Dominic Lowell. Trump has not hired any openly LGBT people in his campaign leadership.
  • Vice-president: Clinton’s choice, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, is a long-time supporter of equal rights for LGBT people. Trump’s choice, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, is a long-time opponent of equal rights for LGBT people.
  • Proactive assist: As Secretary of State, Clinton spoke publicly about the need to address hostilities toward LGBT people around the world, saying “gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.” In 2011, Trump accepted the invitation of an LGBT Republican group, GOProud, to speak at the conservative CPAC conference. And he eliminated a beauty pageant rule requiring contestants be “naturally born female.”
  • Voting record: Clinton earned a 94 score from the Human Rights Campaign during her last Congressional session as senator; earned 89 and 88 in previous sessions. Trump has never held elective office and has no voting record.