Some of the nation’s most prominent gay Republicans, including former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, have said they are not supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But like big name Republican elected officials and party leaders across the country, an informal Washington Blade survey has found LGBT Republican activists are divided over whether Trump should become the next U.S. president.
A majority of the prominent LGBT Republicans contacted by the Blade say they are supporting Trump, who’s now considered the presumptive GOP nominee, although not all of them appear enthusiastic in their support.
“As chairman of the D.C. GOP, I will support the party’s nominee,” said Jose Cunningham, the gay chair of the D.C. Republican Party. “Mr. Trump is on a roll and Republicans across the country will support him in droves,” Cunningham told the Blade in a statement.
Longtime gay Republican activist Bob Kabel, an elected D.C. Republican Committeeman and, like Cunningham, a member of the Republican National Committee, said he too is supporting Trump.
“I’m in the position where I will back the Republican presidential and vice presidential nominees,” Kabel said. “I feel it’s important to take back the White House.”
Added Kabel, “In all candor, I think Trump will be fine on LGBT issues. I don’t agree with him on some other issues, but he will at least not do anything bad on gay issues.”
One of the nation’s most prominent gay Republicans, former U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona who served for 22 years in Congress before retiring in 2007, said he would not support Trump in the general election.
“He is manifestly unqualified to be president of the United States, having demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of policy issues or how he would work within the system to achieve his goals,” Kolbe said in a statement to the Blade.
“Moreover, he has repeatedly demonstrated an authoritarian streak that runs completely counter to the democratic values of this country,” Kolbe said.
Like most other LGBT Republicans contacted by the Blade who are opposing Trump, Kolbe did not say who, if anyone, he would support in the November presidential election.
Mehlman, who served as manager of President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and served as chair of the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007, became one of the nation’s most prominent gay Republicans when he came out in 2010.
He didn’t immediately respond to a call from the Blade to his New York City office at the international investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, where he works. But in a Facebook posting in March, Mehlman made it clear he was not supporting Trump.
Among other things, he criticized Trump for claiming he needed to do research to find out whom former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was after rumors surfaced that Duke was supporting Trump for president. Leaders shouldn’t need research to reject support from the Klan, Mehlman wrote in his posting.
“They also don’t mock people with disabilities, insult war heroes, divide people by religion and nationality, and insult women. #NeverTrump,” Mehlman wrote in his Facebook posting.
Scott Evertz, a gay Republican activist from Wisconsin who President Bush named as director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said he has voted for every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan.
He said he cannot support Trump because of strong differences he has over Trump’s stated positions on foreign policy and national security, many of which have been riddled with inconsistencies, Evertz said.
Although he is unsure of where Trump stands on LGBT issues, Evertz said he could not support Trump regardless of whether his positions on LGBT rights and foreign policy were consistent with his own due to Trump’s demeanor and temperament.
“I’m terribly troubled by the mean spiritedness that is the Trump campaign and has happened since the campaign began – the name calling, the suggestion about the behavior of immigrants, the attitude towards women,” Evertz told the Blade.
“My parents didn’t raise me to behave like Donald Trump,” he said. “So I have no intention of voting for someone that my parents would not have raised me to be like.”
Gregory Angelo, president of the national LGBT group Log Cabin Republicans, said the organization has a longstanding policy of not endorsing a presidential candidate until after the Republican National Convention, when the candidate is officially nominated.
One of Angelo’s predecessors, former Log Cabin head Rich Tafel, said he is not supporting Trump. Other Log Cabin activists, including one of the group’s founders in the 1980s, Frank Ricchiazzi of Nevada and his partner, longtime GOP activist Bordon Moller, are backing Trump.
Also supporting Trump is longtime gay Republican activist and former Log Cabin AIDS issues adviser Jim Driscoll, also of Nevada, and gay Massachusetts former GOP congressional candidate Richard Tisei.
“I plan to vote for Trump,” said Tisei. “I feel that Hillary Clinton clearly lacks the basic ethical standards that all in government must share,” he said. “Trump is also the best hope to change the national GOP’s position on social issues, as evidenced by his recent stand on the North Carolina law.”
Tisei was referring to Trump’s recent comment that he did not think North Carolina’s controversial, recently passed “bathroom bill” was needed. Critics of the law, including LGBT activists, say it singles out transgender people for discrimination.
Gay conservative GOP activist Richard Grenell, who served in the Bush administration as a foreign policy adviser at the United Nations and who worked briefly for former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, told Fox News he hasn’t officially endorsed Trump. But in a Fox News interview last month Grenell praised a speech Trump delivered outlining his foreign policy positions.
“There are some issues I think he has to iron out,” Grenell said of Trump’s foreign policy positions. “But overall I thought that it was a speech that really challenges the elites in Washington, the status quo,” he said. “Some of these ideas are long overdue and good. And yet the status quo types, the elites in Washington, are going to have their hair on fire because they can’t control this guy.”
D.C. gay Libertarian Party activist Martin Moulton said he has joined a newly created group called Libertarians for Trump because he believes Trump is in a position to advance libertarian policies. Moulton told the Blade he also believes Trump would be supportive on LGBT issues.
Angelo, Log Cabin’s current president, said that while the group won’t make a presidential endorsement decision until after the Republican Convention in July, he said Log Cabin’s board won’t make a final decision on whether to endorse Trump at that time unless two conditions are met.
“Number one, we would need to survey our members around the country to determine whether they would personally support a Log Cabin Republicans endorsement of Donald Trump for president,” he said.
“The second, I would need to meet at the very least with the Trump campaign if not the man himself because I think at the very least we would need to discuss specifically where Trump stands on a whole host of issues,” said Angelo.
“I am on record as saying if Donald Trump won the Republican presidential nomination quantifiably he would be the most pro-gay nominee our party has ever had, not just because he has attended a same-sex wedding or believes that discrimination is wrong,” Angelo said.
According to Angelo, Trump has distinguished himself by saying in the past that he supports amending the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include a provision banning sexual orientation discrimination and by giving “tens of thousands of dollars to gay charities,” including AIDS-related charities impacting gay men.
“But as with so many other things with Trump, he seems to have vacillated at times from the sympathetic tone that he’s exhibited to date to the LGBT community,” Angelo continued. “And all those things give me pause,” he said, especially Trump’s recent “chumminess” with anti-gay religious right figures Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, and Tony Perkins.
“So until and unless we’re able to get some definitive answers to whether Donald Trump would do no harm to the progress we’ve seen in LGBT rights to date in this country or perhaps even be an ally, I’m not going to put the weight of our organization and its name or its brand behind his candidacy,” said Angelo.
Despite this cautionary note, Angelo said that in his travels throughout the country to meet with Log Cabin chapter members and rank and file LGBT Republicans he has found that most LGBT Republicans in all parts of the country except the Washington, D.C. to New York City corridor are supporting Trump.
“People who live in or between Washington, D.C. and New York City are almost to a man never for Trump and many are now considering supporting Hillary Clinton,” he said.
“LGBT Republicans I know who live outside that Acela corridor are 100 percent for Trump right now,” he said, referring to the Acela Amtrak train that connects D.C. to New York.
Angelo said he couldn’t predict how many LGBT Republicans would follow the path of those — including gay former GOP activist Charles Francis — who are supporting Hillary Clinton for president.
Francis, who led a gays-for-George W. Bush effort during the 2000 presidential campaign, left the Republican Party in 2004 after Bush and the GOP establishment came out in support of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
“I am an ex-Republican for Hillary and a donor to her campaign,” Francis told the Blade.
“Trump is more than a horrendous demagogue,” he said. “He is a threat to our democracy itself.”