Gay Republicans back Trump, struggle with rest of party

Josh Lederman
Associated Press

Cleveland — Pro-gay Republicans have held Donald Trump up as the most supportive nominee in GOP history, but at this week’s Republican National Convention, their excitement is clashing with the stark realization that their party is still pushing a very different message.

While Republicans seek to broaden their appeal ahead of November’s election, the party adopted a platform that moves farther away from gay rights with a new admonition of gay parenting, adding language that says kids raised by a mother and father tend to be “physically and emotionally healthier.” On the convention’s first day, the platform maintained its opposition to gay marriage and to bathroom choice for transgender people.

Trump declares himself a “friend of the gay community,” but his nominating convention has featured awkward silences on the rare occasions when gay rights have come up. Connecticut State Rep. Cara Pavalock said that’s a reflection of how much work the party needs to do on the issue.

“I joined the party not for what it is but for what I know it will be in the future,” said Pavalock, a Trump supporter.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, a Trump supporter who has faced blowback in Silicon Valley, became Thursday night the first person in a GOP convention speech to acknowledge being gay and was met with a standing ovation.

Thiel said Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan isn’t about returning to the past but leading “us back to that bright future.” The Silicon Valley billionaire doesn’t agree with every part of the party’s policy platform, but said what he calls “fake culture wars” only distract Americans from economic issues.

For those hoping Trump’s nomination will help repair the perception that Republicans are hostile to equality, there’s another challenge: Mainstream gay rights groups are denouncing the New York billionaire, arguing that tolerance for one minority group doesn’t excuse prejudice toward others — like Hispanics and Muslims.

Trump, who has said he’d nominate Supreme Court justices who might overturn gay marriage, has nonetheless spoken effusively about his friendships with gay people while avoiding anti-gay rhetoric that many other GOP candidates have embraced. After a gunman claiming Islamic State allegiance killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Trump said he’d be better than Hillary Clinton because he wouldn’t allow in Muslim immigrants who want to “murder gays.”

At the same time, Trump has rattled many voters with unflattering comments about women, while insisting Mexico sends rapists and criminals into the U.S.

“His hatred toward anybody is a huge concern,” said Jay Brown of the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay rights group. “When he attacks women, he attacks us. When he attacks Muslims, he’s attacking us.”

Gay Republicans who attended one event in a downtown ballroom Tuesday — titled “Wake Up! (the most fab party at the RNC)” — said it promoted the message that Islam and LGBT tolerance are incompatible. Outside the party, police kept at bay protesters with signs reading “Queers Against Racism.”

Though gay rights groups have pointed to Trump’s rhetoric about other minorities as evidence of intolerance, Republicans say that’s an attempt to blur the issues to help Democrats win elections and raise money.

“They are hell-bent on keeping this a political issue,” said GOP strategist Richard Grenell.

As the convention’s final night began Thursday, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona’s Maricopa County vouched for Trump’s hard-line credentials on immigration.

“We have terrorists coming over our border, infiltrating our community and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “Donald Trump will build the wall.”

Just the mention of Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border won cheers from the delegates.

Later, the GOP chairman had a new description for the Democratic Party.

“The dirty little secret Democrats don’t want you to know is that they’re the party doing the same old thing,” party chairman Reince Priebus said. “Next week they are going to trot out the same old Democrats with the same old message running the same old candidate.”