CLEVELAND — Although their party adopted an anti-LGBT platform and anointed as a presidential nominee a candidate who seeks to marginalize minority groups, LGBT delegates at the Republican National Convention say they’re sticking around because the underlying principles of the party are right for them.
Robert Kabel, a gay lawyer and delegate from D.C. pledged to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), said he’s been a “lifelong Republican” based on the principles of strong government and a balanced budget.
“I say to fight, to open up the party for a variety of people, most importantly the LGBT community,” Kabel said. “That’s why I’m still here, but I believe in the basic tenets of the party.”
Kabel said the 2016 platform is “egregious” on LGBT rights and “unnecessarily long and complicated,” but noted Rachel Hoff, another lesbian delegate from D.C., sought to eliminate the anti-LGBT language as a member of the platform committee.
“We’ve never had a real, serious advocate on the platform committee raising these issues, and she’s done it,” Kabel said. “She’s done it, and we’re not going backwards, so it’s just a matter of breaking the ice and generational change will make a lot of difference.”
On Trump’s candidacy, Kabel said he’s “not presently” planning to vote for the nominee and is unsure about whom he’ll support in the general election.
“Frankly, I want to see how the campaigns go and how he does going forward,” Kabel said.
Christian Berle, a gay D.C. delegate pledged to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, said he remains a Republican because he has “long been a believer of the party in its roots and where it can be.”
“I want the party to return to where it has been in its roots,” Berle said. “I want to continue to be a part of that fight because I think it’ll benefit all of America. It should be a truly two-party system, but our party needs to get on the page of individual liberty and basic tenets of freedom.”
Still, Berle said he’s “obviously furious” with the anti-LGBT platform and Trump, saying the nominee “does not represent my or the party’s values as our party nominee.” Berle said he doesn’t know whom he’ll vote for in the presidential election.
Charles Moran, a 35-year-old gay delegate from the Los Angeles area pledged to Trump, said he’s “clearly unhappy” with the results of the platform, but said supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) ran the platform committee and called the document the “Cruz consolation prize.”
“He didn’t win,” Moran said. “His delegates are still trying to exert power. We saw that on the floor with Colorado. We’ve seen with the discontent and disunity that Cruz’s supporters are doing on the floor. So, they’re part of the ‘Never Trump’ movement, they’re the people trying to keep the party from being shaped in the image of Donald Trump.”
Although Trump has publicly supported the platform, Moran insisted Trump has made clear he doesn’t feel bound by the platform, has no intention of following the platform and won’t invest any political capital in it.
“Is it embarrassing for me?” Moran said. “It is. And I think for a lot of Republicans they probably don’t agree with some of the language that’s in there that’s taking a few steps back, especially in the LGBT issues, but Donald Trump has said time and time again that it’s not the Republican Party that’s being voted on. It’s him and his candidacy that’s being voted for.”
Calling Trump the “most pro-LGBT” Republican presidential nominee in history, Moran cited the candidate’s business record, philanthropic giving to HIV/AIDS groups in New York, interview with The Advocate in 2000 and initial opposition to the anti-trans law in North Carolina. (Trump has since reversed himself said he’s “with the state” on the controversial statute.)
On Hillary Clinton, Moran insists she’s “a lot of talk” on LGBT issues, saying an email she sent in opposition to a change at the State Department for same-sex couples on passport forms undermines her stated support for LGBT rights.
“I believe in individual responsibility and personal freedom and strong national government, and I don’t see the Democratic Party supporting that,” Moran said.
Jennifer Williams, a 48-year-old transgender woman who described herself as an “honorary delegate” from New Jersey, said she thinks each day about whether she wants to stay inside the party, but has decided for now to remain with the GOP because she wants to change anti-LGBT attitudes.
“I know people, particularly where I live in New Jersey, who do not feel this way, and I would rather be part of the system to try and change it,” Williams said. “I know a lot of folks don’t understand that, I get it, I respect that opinion, but we’re not going to change the Republican Party unless we have people in the Republican Party to do that, and that’s why I’m here.”
Williams added her views in terms of fiscal issues, having a strong military, foreign policy and limited government are in line with the Republican Party. That philosophy, Williams said, is consistent with opposition to anti-trans laws.
“There’s no reason why they should be going out of their way to try to create more laws that discriminate against people,” Williams said. “We should be the party that offers freedom, that enables people to have personal liberty to choose their own destiny, make their own way in the world and succeed in life.”
Williams said Republicans at the convention who’ve found out she’s transgender have treated her “very well” and said she has “had very good respectful discussions,” recalling one incident in particular with a pastor who happened to have ministered in her hometown.
“We had a few rounds about my being trans, what the Bible said, usual stuff,” Williams said. “When I pointed out that we were both Republicans, he said to me, ‘You know I don’t agree with your lifestyle.’ I said that it is not a lifestyle and there are political views that we can agree on. After that he said he still loved me even though I am sinning and that he could still be my friend.”
Williams said she asked the minister if she could give him a hug and said “we hugged it out.”
“I didn’t move him from his position, but in my mind – he met a trans person, had a respectful intellectual discussion and I didn’t insult him.” Williams said. “Maybe that will soften his views a smidge or not, but I am glad I tried.”
Although Williams plans to remain a Republican, she said the “jury is totally out” on whether she’ll vote for Trump in the general election and will make a determination as Nov. 8 approaches.
“Growing up in the Northeast, living in the New York area, I know Donald Trump pretty well and want to see is he going to be the Donald that was on ‘The Today Show’ supporting transgender rights and speaking on behalf of us, or is he going to be the Donald Trump that walked back his comments later that evening?” Williams said.