PHILADELPHIA — LGBT delegates at the Democratic National Convention were unimpressed with Donald Trump’s pledge to protect the LGBT community in his speech to accept the Republican presidential nomination, saying the candidate must back up his words with supportive policy positions.
Chirag Vasavade, a gay Baltimore delegate pledged to Hillary Clinton, said for the Republicans, Trump’s LGBTQ reference was “probably a little bit of step forward,” but not enough.
“I think that they aren’t focusing necessarily on the domestic issues and are kind of using the foreign issues as like a way to say that they are advocating for the LGBT community,” Vasavade said.
Vasavade pointed out the Republican Party ratified a platform that even Log Cabin Republicans have called the most anti-LGBT in history and nominated as vice presidential candidate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has a long anti-LGBT record and signed a “religious freedom” law enabling anti-LGBT discrimination.
“[Trump] tried to get away with saying something, but not actually having any substance behind it because his actions don’t match his words,” Vasavade said.
Rick Palacio, who’s gay and chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, had a nuanced view of Trump’s LGBT inclusion, but on a whole said it wasn’t worth much.
“I think that anyone who references the LGBT community in a way that is attempting to do outreach deserves a little bit of credit, but I think that Donald Trump, just like his running mate, is on the wrong side of our issues,” Palacio said. “Being in a hall full of Republicans that would scale back and roll back rights for gays and lesbians is the wrong place to be.”
Palacio, who attended the convention an unpledged superdelegate, said Trump would “simply be wrong for our community and he’d be bad for our country.”
On the final night of the Republican National Convention, Trump explicitly included a line promising to protect LGBTQ people, which marked the first-time a Republican made a reference to the community in a positive way during a speech accepting the GOP presidential nomination.
“Only weeks ago, in Orlando, Fla., 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist,” Trump said. “This time, the terrorist targeted the LGBTQ community. No good, and we’re going to stop it. As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me.”
In response to the applause that followed, Trump ad-libbed: “And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”
But Trump left out any pledge to protect LGBT people from discrimination. Later in the same speech, Trump said he’d appoint conservative justices in the mold of the late U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, which critics say could lead to a reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of same-sex marriage.
Zach Wahls, a 25-year-old LGBT rights activist and Iowa City delegate pledged to Clinton, categorically said “no” when asked if Trump deserves credit for the LGBTQ reference in his speech, pointing out the candidate’s pledge in the same speech to appoint conservative justices.
“He’s going to appoint justices who’d overturn Obergefell, he said very clearly that he wants somebody in the tradition of Scalia, and that’s not acceptable,” Wahls said.
Wahls, the son of a lesbian couple, said the only thing that would have been acceptable for Trump would be “if he said he was going to nominate a justice who was the antithesis of Antonin Scalia, if he said he’d support the Equality Act and if he said that he’d be willing to make sure that the people in his administration would reflect LGBT identity.”
“But, of course, that’s not what he is going to do, and that’s not who he is,” Wahls added.
Babs Siperstein, a New Jersey-based transgender delegate and member of the Democratic National Committee, echoed a similar sentiment, saying she doesn’t think “anyone should get any credit for simple pandering.”
“There’s nothing behind it,” Siperstein said. “He said unequivocally that he was going to appoint the most conservative Supreme Court justices. He will say anything. This is the new Republican Party, and Trump has just taken everything to a new level.”
Steve Elmendorf, a gay D.C. lobbyist and delegate pledged to Clinton, said Trump’s words were “nice,” but don’t make up for his record.
“It’s nice he said the letters, but it doesn’t change his fundamental policies, and he’s against gay marriage, he’s against gay equality, so I don’t think it matters,” he said. “I’m happy he said the words, but we need to see some action behind it. He has a terrible record.”
Elmendorf said a declaration from Trump that “he supported marriage equality” would be the only thing acceptable for him to say on LGBT rights during his acceptance speech.
“To me, that’s the litmus test for any politician now is can you support marriage equality because that’s where all our fundamental rights come from,” Elmendorf said.
Instead of supporting same-sex marriage, Trump has told social conservatives to “trust” him to oppose it and said he would “strongly consider” appointing justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who’d reverse the decision in favor of marriage equality.
Donavon Hawk, a 35-year-old gay delegate from Butte, Mont., said Trump’s pledge to protect LGBTQ people from a foreign ideology was just another way for the candidate to stoke fears about Muslims.
“My take from that was basically all he is trying to do is muster any reason to pull Muslims into the picture and scare people in the United States into backing him up because he’s going to keep us safe, he’s going to protect us, he’s going to protect gays and lesbians, too — no, he’s not,” Hawk said. “He just used that as talking point to be able to bring Muslims and Islamic terrorists into the picture and scare more people.”
Ed Greenleaf, a 53-year-old and gay Columbia, S.C. delegate pledged to Hillary Clinton, said in response to Trump’s LGBT inclusion the candidate would “throw anything at the wall to see if it stuck.”
“The man only knows how to sell reality television,” Greenleaf said. “That just is a good example of everything he threw in that speech, which does not marry up with the Republican platform at all.”
The only thing Trump could say in his speech that would have been impressive, Greenleaf said, would be for the candidate to reverse his earlier statements he never had to ask God for forgiveness.
“I’m a Christian, I have trouble with that,” Greenleaf said. “I ask for God’s grace every day, I’m gay, I’m from the South and I’m a lifelong Episcopalian, and for him in that quote … where he said he had never asked God for forgiveness, for some people that works, but, for me, it seems kind of odd.”
Greenleaf said support for Trump among evangelical Christians is strange given his lack of adherence to the faith’s principles, adding it demonstrates a “cognitive dissonance in what he says and does, and what is reality.”
“Just like his statement on the stage and the platform,” Greenleaf added. “It’s like he talks out of both sides of his mouth. He’s like a great used car salesman, but he doesn’t need to be our president.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), the only out lesbian in Congress and a superdelegate at the Democratic National Convention, ignored Trump’s LGBT remarks when asked if the candidate deserves credit for them, turning instead to the anti-LGBT Republican Party platform.
“What I look at is the party platform where the values and the visions of parties are put, and he had some influence on other provisions of the plank, and if he showed leadership, he could have prevented some of the very hateful provisions in the Republican Party platform,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin also laid into Trump for choosing someone who gained nationwide prominence for signing into law a “religious freedom” law enabling sweeping anti-LGBT discrimination as his running mate.
“I thought that spoke volumes, too,” Baldwin said. “So, that’s what I listen to more, the platform and his selection of Mike Pence.”