The Long History Behind Donald Trump’s Outreach To LGBTQ VotersRoundup
tags: sexuality, Donald Trump, LGBTQ history, Gay Republicans
Neil J. Young is working on a book about the history of LGBTQ Republicans, and co-host of the podcast Past Present.
Last week, the Trump campaign released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees that LGBTQ advocacy groups identified as alarming and terrifying for LGBTQ rights.
But the president’s campaign is also targeting LGBTQ voters, hoping to attract their electoral support. The campaign has named Richard Grenell, Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence, as senior adviser for this purpose. In addition, the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s largest LGBTQ Republican organization, has launched OUTspoken, a multimedia platform to produce pro-Trump content. Its first video features Grenell calling Trump “the most pro-gay president in American history,” a claim swiftly dismissed by The Washington Post as “absurd.” That didn’t stop Trump from tweeting the label was his “great honor.”
These overtures mark a noteworthy departure from past GOP demonization of LGBTQ Americans. Yet, those tactics haven’t made the GOP anathema to all LGBTQ voters. Since the 1970s, gay Americans have routinely given the GOP as much as a quarter of their vote in presidential elections, even as religious conservatives came to dominate the Republican Party and actively opposed their fundamental rights. LGBTQ conservatives have also consistently organized on behalf of the GOP and worked to forge a place for themselves in the party, which shares their views on economic and national security issues. In response to critics, they point to these shared values and argue that only by working from within can they change the party.
But rather than a culmination of their hopes, Trump’s outreach may simply be empty rhetoric designed to mask quiet efforts to roll back numerous LGBTQ rights and court moderate suburbanites he must win but who are uncomfortable with his attacks on minority groups. Instead of a new direction for the GOP, Trump’s approach may only differ rhetorically from traditional GOP tactics.
In the early 1970s, LGBTQ Republicans in California began to organize for the first time in small groups, such as San Francisco’s Gay Voters League and San Diego’s Teddy Roosevelt Republican Club, in the hopes of pushing the party in a libertarian — and sometimes liberal — direction. They also wanted to make sure those who shared their sexual orientation but were far to their left politically did not speak for the entire LGBTQ community. Yet, their biggest motivator came from the emerging religious right.
“Gay Republicans are beginning to come out of the woodwork,” Dorr Legg, a leader in the Lincoln Republicans of Southern California group, told the Bay Area Reporter in the spring of 1978. The cause? The Briggs Amendment in California, a 1978 ballot initiative that would have made it illegal for any gay man or woman to teach in the state’s public school system.