TAMPA, Fla. — Gay delegates attending the Republican National Convention share a similar mindset when discussing their vision for the country: the economy is a priority, LGBT rights are not.
The Washington Blade spoke with a handful of out delegates who were committed to electing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as they dismissed the notion that issues such as marriage equality and workplace non-discrimination protections had significant importance.
David Rappel, a gay 46-year-old travel agent from Los Angeles, said he wanted to represent his party on the national stage at this convention because he’s a conservative who has a long history as a Republican activist at the local and state level.
“I believe in the conservative message of lower taxes and of free trade, and people need to be independent of government,” Rappel said.
Asked whether he’s bothered by belonging to a party and supporting a presidential candidate that take a hard line against LGBT rights, Rappel invoked former President Ronald Reagan.
“I don’t agree with everything they say, but I agree with over 80 percent of what they say,” Rappel said. “Yes, we disagree on same-sex marriage, and some of my friends, we disagree on same-sex marriage, but that still does not preclude me from being a Republican.”
Rappel was similarly dismissive when asked about the anti-gay language in the Republican Party platform that strongly limits marriage to opposite-sex couples and endorses a Federal Marriage Amendment, calling the manifesto “worthless.”
“It doesn’t make a difference,” Rappel said. “No one reads a single word of the platform except for the press. There’s no one that’s ever run on any political platform.”
David Valkema, a gay 46-year-old business executive from Long Beach, Ind., similarly said he wanted to take part in the 2012 convention after participating in the 2004 and 2008 conventions.
“I see the new Republican Party that’s emerging in the last four years being united on issues that affect all of us — not just straight people, or religious people, but all Americans — gay, straight, white, black, Latino, Asian — and we are uniting as a party behind the core issues that really make us Republicans,” Valkema said. “I’m proud first-generation American, primarily. Secondarily, I’m a constitutional conservative who belongs to the Republican Party and I believe that change is only going to be effected by the two parties.”
The Long Beach, Ind., resident emphasized that being gay is only one part of him and he’s more concerned about the keeping the United States from adopting leftist policies than advancing LGBT rights.
“I don’t want to see it become any more socialist,” Valkema said. “You know what? I can redistribute my wealth much better than the government can, and I do. I give a lot away to charity. That’s not coerced wealth distribution.”
Valkema, who was pledged to Romney, touted being “a proud first-generation American” and said his parents were born and raised in the Netherlands, but immigrated to the United States after World War II after “they saw the storm clouds of socialism on the horizon.”
Asked whether he’s bothered by the anti-gay language in the Republican platform, Valkema replied he took part in drafting the Indiana state Republican platform, which makes no reference to marriage — even though that state is considering a constitutional amendment to ban marriage rights for gay couples.
“Now it’s OK, legally, for a Republican in Indiana, per the rules of the party, to feel however they want to feel about marriage, and I think you’re finding that across the board, state by state by state,” Valkema said. “And that’s where change happens in America — in the laboratory of the states.”
Additionally, Valkema professed a personal lack of interest in whether government recognition of same-sex unions is called marriage, civil unions, or some other name.
“You can call it marriage, you can call it partnerships, you can call it civil unions — for all I care you can call it jumping over the broomstick,” Valkema said. “What I care about are the equal rights inherent in a contractual union between a couple of the same sex. That’s all I care about.”
Pressed on whether he thinks civil unions are inherently inferior tom marriage, Valkema replied, “In your mind maybe, and if what you need is social acceptance, go somewhere else. Don’t go to the government for social acceptance, OK?”
It’s unclear how many openly LGBT delegates were in attendance at the convention in Tampa because the Republican National Committee doesn’t keep track of which of its delegates identify as LGBT. On the other hand, the Democrats do keep track and the Democratic National Committee works with states in setting goals for LGBT representation at the convention. Earlier this week, the National Stonewall Democrats announced Democrats would have a record 486 openly LGBT delegates at the convention as part of a group of 534 LGBT participants that include alternate delegates, standing committee members and pages.
Seth Kaufer, a gay 32-year-old physician and alternate delegate from Philadelphia, said his sexual orientation hasn’t been an issue — either in the process of becoming a delegate or in the treatment he’s received at the convention.
“There’s a lot of other things that describe me, and our party just doesn’t like to label people like that,” Kaufer said. “Democrats want to put everyone into a group, do identity politics, put up a specific ethnic candidate in a certain district. I see it all the time in Philadelphia. … You have a black district you have to put a black person [in]; you have a gay district, you have to put in a gay person there. That doesn’t even come into our thinking. You’re based on your merits, what you’ve done for the party.”
Kaufer also expressed confidence that limited measures such as domestic partnership would be able to pass even if Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.
“Everyone talks about marriage, but there’s a lot of things we can agree on, but there’s things like non-discrimination in the workplace, partnership rights, financial equality,” Kaufer said. “I think that is the stuff we can all agree on and probably pass regardless of Republicans or Democrats are in control.”
But informed that Romney is opposed to any kind of relationship recognition for gay couples, Kaufer said he’s not a one-issue voter and “it’s selfish to look at one little thing when the economy is 100 percent — that affects everyone right now.”
“Those are all campaign issues,” Kaufer said. “But it was the same thing when Bush was president and the whole Congress was Republican. Not one thing was passed that was anti-gay.”
Despite Kaufer’s assertion that nothing anti-gay was passed under the Bush administration, Congress attempted to pass a Federal Marriage Amendment in 2004 and 2006, although the efforts failed the measure didn’t receive the supermajority of votes necessary for passage.