Much has changed since 1992, when Pat Buchanan used the stage of the Republican National Convention to demonize LGBTQ people. The event in 2020 avoided anti-gay animus and reached out to gay voters, although the transgender community remains in the GOP’s crosshairs.
The Republican Party is making some overtures to gay voters, most notably with plans at the largely virtual event for an openly gay speaker, a vague reference from a high-profile Republican congressional candidate and undoing its decision to renew an anti-LGBTQ platform.
Richard Grenell, who has the distinction of being the first openly gay Cabinet member after Trump named him acting director of national intelligence, was set to address the Republican convention on Wednesday night. He’ll be the third openly gay speaker at a Republican convention, following former Rep. Jim Kolbe in 2000 and entrepreneur Peter Thiel in 2016.
In terms of gay visibility, Grenell will be filling the role Thiel played at the 2016 Republican convention, although he indicated on Twitter his focus would be foreign policy and not innovation.
As the Trump administration official who in his dual capacity as U.S. ambassador to Germany spearheaded its global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality, that topic may well be a component of his speech as well as his own identity as a gay conservative.
Sean Parnell, a Republican congressional candidate in Pennsylvania who landed a high-profile spot Monday at the convention, made a vague reference to gay people when arguing communities traditionally affiliated with Democrats, but disaffected by the party, should come to the other side.
Parnell, among other things, called for people to join Republicans regardless of “who you love” — a term of art Democrats have used in the past to incorporate the gay community into speeches.
“It doesn’t matter what you look like, who you love, how you worship, your gender or your job,” Parnell said. “If you are a traditional Democrat who has become disillusioned with how radical your party has become, then stand with us! You are most welcome. America needs all her patriots to rush to her defense.”
The Republican National Committee also changed course amid consternation over its decision last month to renew its 2016 platform — which included anti-LGBTQ planks, including an endorsement of a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, opposition to transgender people using the bathroom consistent with their gender identity and veiled support for widely discredited gay conversion therapy.
Instead of creating a new 2020 platform, the Republican National Convention adopted a resolution to support Trump’s second-term agenda, blaming the media for distorting coverage on its renewal of the 2016 document in lieu of the platform committee meeting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Charles Moran, managing director of the Log Cabin Republicans, had few words when asked about the Republican Party dropping renewal of the 2016 platform in favor of support for Trump’s agenda — which consists of a two-page summary of bullet points the campaign issued earlier in the week.
“I know that the president’s team does not want to see language included in anything that the Republican Party does that’s going to be exclusionary of the LGBT community,” Moran said. “But I can’t say more about it than that because I wasn’t involved in those conversations.”
Referencing an earlier Axios report that Trump campaign advisers, including Jared Kushner, wanted a simple platform that omitted planks on conversion therapy, Moran said Trump wanted “something put forward that’s going to be representative, and more inclusive, of his leadership style.”
Nothing in the resolution adopted by the Republican National Committee, however, explicitly discontinues the 2016 platform. Instead it says the convention “will adjourn without adopting a new platform” and “any motion to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.”
While the convention may have eased up on gay people, the transgender community wasn’t so lucky.
Cissie Graham Lynch, granddaughter of evangelist Billy Graham, lambasted Democrats for supporting transgender youth in her remarks, drawing attention to Obama-era regulations allowing transgender kids to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which the Trump administration revoked.
“Democrats pressured schools to allow boys to compete in girls’ sports and use girls’ locker rooms,” Lynch said.
Lynch praised Trump for his anti-trans reversal, saying once he came to the White House, he “withdrew the policies that put our little girls at risk.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of GLAAD, said Lynch’s remarks are evidence the Republican convention “seems to be embracing a theme of weaponizing religion to discriminate against LGBTQ people.”
“Cissie Graham Lynch is sadly not alone in her bigoted, inaccurate beliefs, as the Trump administration has been working hand-in-hand with anti-LGBTQ activists like her from day one,” Ellis said in a statement. “The record is clear — from arguing all the way to the Supreme Court against LGBTQ workers and adoptive parents, to speaking out against transgender girls — Lynch and anti-LGBTQ activists like her undeniably have an ally in the Trump administration, while LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender people, face rising numbers of policy rollbacks and growing levels of discrimination.”
Echoing that anti-trans animus less explicitly was Abby Johnson, a pro-life activist who as she pleaded with her audience to oppose abortion praised a “conscience rule” issued by the Trump administration allowing health care workers to exempt themselves from procedures to which they object.
That rule, which multiple courts have blocked the Department of Health & Human Services from enforcing, was also criticized for allowing health care practitioners to refuse treatment to transgender people, including transition-related care and gender reassignment surgery.
The attempt to reach out to gay people while attacking transgender people is consistent with overtures from gay conservatives, including Grenell himself, who notably omitted any reference to transgender people or transgender rights in a video praising Trump as the “most pro-gay president in history.”
Ben Jealous, president of the progressive People for the American Way, said in a statement the Republican convention Monday night was “nothing short of surreal.”
“The Trump campaign knows they can’t win on the president’s actual record, so they are doubling down on creating an alternate reality surrounding everything from his dismal failures on the coronavirus pandemic, to his treatment of the postal service, to using racist tropes in an effort to conjure up fear about mobs overtaking American cities,” Jealous said. “Running through the entire event was the ugly thread of bigotry and divisiveness that Trump is relying on to gin up his base.”