December 5, 2012 | by WBadmin
The Republican Party’s gay opportunity

By MALCOLM LAZIN

Karl Rove and Rush Limbaugh expected a GOP presidential victory. Instead, Gov. Mitt Romney lost by 332 to 206 electoral votes and more than three million popular votes. In the last six presidential elections including 2012, the Democratic nominee has averaged 312 and the Republican nominee averaged 210 electoral votes.

Since the 1970s, Republicans have employed Pat Buchanan’s “divide and conquer” playbook using antipathy for liberals, blacks, immigrants, Hispanics and gays to rally the social conservative troops. In the short term, the demographics favored that approach.

Those demographics have changed. Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, gays and the younger generation are voting in higher proportions. In the aftermath of the 2012 election, Republican leaders are realizing that the Buchanan playbook will make winning the presidency ever more unlikely.

In 1992, less than 3 percent of voters were Hispanic. In 2012, about 10 percent of voters were Hispanic with 71 percent of Hispanics voting for President Obama. Amplifying that change were Cuban-American Floridians, who gave the president almost 50 percent of their votes.

Asian Americans, who represent 3 percent of the 2012 presidential electorate, gave the president 70 percent of their votes. Younger voters turned out in a higher percentage than four years prior and delivered 60 percent of their support to the incumbent.

Faced with these realities, the post-election pronouncements of House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Lindsey Graham and other GOP leaders make passage of a Dream Act look like an achievable bipartisan prospect. While its passage would not convert Democratic-leaning Hispanics to the Republican Party, it could be an important point of engagement.

With LGBT Americans, the Republicans have an easy lob. Approximately 5 percent of voters on Nov. 6 identified as LGBT. This is up from 2 percent in 2000. President Obama received 76 percent of the LGBT vote. According to the Williams Institute, 420,000 LGBT votes were cast in Florida with an estimated 300,000 (73 percent) of LGBT Floridians voting for the president. These voters helped ensure President Obama’s 75,000-vote victory in the Sunshine State.

Pundits opine that it was the president’s support for same-sex marriage that not only enlivened LGBT voters, but energized younger voters, progressives, parents and friends of gay Americans and other allies.

There is no federal workplace protection for LGBT Americans and only 21 states provide that protection. In short, you can be fired for being gay or transgender. GOP support for including sexual orientation and gender identity in the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act would help the GOP appear less homophobic and enable social conservatives to argue that their support for the Defense of Marriage Act is based on principle, not prejudice.

In collaboration with professors at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania and Yale Law School, Equality Forum, a national LGBT civil rights organization, made the business case for including sexual orientation protection directly to the CEOs, HR directors, boards of directors and large institutional shareholders of Fortune 500 companies.

When this initiative began in 2006, there were 323 (64.6 percent) of Fortune 500 companies that provided this protection. Today, 483 (96.6 percent) of the 2012 Fortune 500 voluntarily include sexual orientation non-discrimination in their human resource policies. These companies have concluded that recruiting and protecting LGBT employees is in their best corporate and shareholders’ interests.

Historically, Congress has not led on social issues, but followed business leadership and public opinion. According to recent polls, more than 89 percent of Americans believe that gays should be protected from bias in the workplace.

The last time the House of Representatives voted on ENDA was in November 2007. The measure was stripped of gender identity protections and passed by a vote of 235 to 184, with 14 members not voting. The bill was not voted on in the Senate. Among the House Republicans who voted in favor of ENDA was Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.

As American attitudes toward LGBT equality have dramatically changed, opposition to LGBT equality in the workplace appears to most Americans as blatant discrimination. This perception undermines a future Republican presidency.

In the late 1950s to 1972, the federal government would not employ a gay or lesbian American – not as a Veterans Administration doctor, postal worker, janitor or otherwise. In retrospect, that is shocking and un-American. The GOP has an opportunity to diminish its anti-gay reputation; be on the right side of history; and serve its prospects by supporting an amendment that includes sexual orientation and gender identity in ENDA.

Malcolm Lazin is executive director of Equality Forum, a national and international LGBT civil rights organization with an educational focus. Reach him at mlazin@equalityforum.com.

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