June 12, 2020 at 2:36 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
GOP renews 2016 platform, ignoring calls to take out anti-LGBTQ planks
RNC, gay news, Washington Blade
Republican National Convention delegates met at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

This is not the Republican Party platform Jared Kushner wanted.

Despite earlier reports that talks were underway for the 2020 Republican Party Platform that would favor a simple document as opposed to the previous iteration, which included anti-LGBTQ planks and veiled support for conversion therapy, the Republican National Committee is sticking with what it did last time.

On Wednesday evening, the RNC’s executive committee voted unanimously to adopt Rule 37(e) procedures for the Republican National Convention in Charlotte, citing limited operations under direction from North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, due to coronavirus concerns.

In addition to establishing rules for delegates and President Trump’s acceptance speech, the adoption of RNC Rule 37(e) procedures means the Platform Committee won’t convene, the 2016 platform will be the official platform until 2024 and no changes to the platform are permitted.

“The Convention Committee on Platform will not convene during the Rule 37(e) Convention Proceedings and the Rule 37(e) Convention will not adopt a new platform for the Republican Party in 2020,” the language says. “The Rule 37(e) Convention will adjourn with the 2016 Republican Platform continuing to serve as the official platform of the Republican Party until the 2024 Republican National Convention adopts a new platform pursuant to The Rules of the Republican Party. Any motion for the Rule 37(e) Convention to amend the 2016 Platform or to adopt a new platform, including any motion to suspend the Procedures that will allow doing so, will be ruled out of order.”

Although no Platform Committee actively readopted the 2016 platform in a traditional sense, by the language of the Rule 37(e) procedures, that 68-page document — and its anti-LGBTQ language — remains the official position of the Republican Party.

Even Log Cabin Republicans deemed the 2016 platform the most anti-LGBTQ in the party’s history. The 2016 platform calls for ending same-sex marriage either through judicial reconsideration or a constitutional amendment, offers veiled support for widely discredited conversion therapy and objects to enforcing civil rights laws to ensure transgender people can use the restroom consistent with their gender identity.

Although the 2016 document doesn’t explicitly mention conversion therapy, it includes this line: “We support the right of parents to determine the proper medical treatment and therapy for their minor children.”

The platform also contains nebulous language against “social experimentation” in the military that could be read not as opposition to transgender service, but allowing service from gay, lesbian and bisexual people as a result of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

“We reject the use of the military as a platform for social experimentation and will not accept or continue attempts to undermine military priorities and mission readiness,” the platform says. “We believe that our nation is most secure when the president and the administration prioritize readiness, recruitment, and retention rather than using the military to advance a social or political agenda.”

Jennifer Williams, a New Jersey-based transgender Republican activist and an honorary delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, expressed disappointment the RNC wouldn’t seek to change the 2020 platform.

“While I understand the legal reasons and logistics of trying to have the delegates travel to Charlotte for the platform and then travel again to Jacksonville for the rest of the convention, the 2016 platform should have been discussed, argued upon, updated and voted upon in an open forum,” Williams said. “Having the vile anti-LGBTQ language in the 2016 platform remain in the RNC platform for the next four years is disappointing and misses a great opportunity to make necessary changes reflecting GOP support of ending conversion therapy, banning gay and transgender panic defenses and discrimination in many states and supported by many Republican elected officials around our country.”

The decision to keep the 2016 platform stands in contrast to the RNC taking steps to reach out to LGBTQ people in time for Pride Month. Earlier in the month, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel tweeted a message wishing LGBTQ people a happy Pride Month and the RNC issued a brief identifying LGBTQ accomplishments under Trump’s leadership.

The RNC is sending mixed messages to LGBTQ people by issuing pro-LGBTQ messages and reaffirming an anti-LGBTQ party platform.

The apparent decision to keep the 2016 platform upends talks earlier in the year, as reported by Axios, among Trump campaign officials to change the platform in 2020 to a simpler document that outlines basic principles of the Republican Party as opposed to a lengthy, detailed document on which social conservatives have significant influence.

Among those officials was Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, who reportedly insisted on having a platform that could fit on “a single card that fits in people’s pockets.”

Envisioning an outline consisting of 10 principles or mission statements, Kushner said he “didn’t want to see anything about ‘gay conversion therapy’ in the 2020 Republican platform,” according to Axios.

Those talks, however, broke down after social conservative groups registered complaints with the White House, according to a report in Politico.

The White House didn’t respond to the Blade’s request to comment on whether Kushner was disappointed with the decision to stick with the 2016 platform.

Although Williams conveyed disappointment the RNC kept the 2016 platform, she said she was “heartened” by Kushner’s talks and in a sense the ultimate decision to avoid debate on the platform represents progress.

“Reusing the 2016 platform again, to me, also signals that enough gains have been made by LGBTQ Republicans and allies in non-red states and in some states like Utah — that having a big debate on LGBTQ freedom, liberty and equality was of concern to other wings of our national Republican Party,” Williams said.

From the perspective of the Republican Party, the decision to readopt the 2016 platform has amounted to the worst of both worlds. According to Politico, moderates in the Republican Party are disappointed they won’t have a chance to streamline the document, and traditional Republicans are unhappy they can’t express opposition to police reform, gender identity and third-trimester abortions. 

Additionally, keeping the 2016 platform opens up Trump and Republicans to attacks from Democrats and other critics on the other side.

Michael Kikukawa, LGBTQ media director for the Democratic National Committee, criticized Republicans for renewing the 2016 platform, saying it demonstrates “their disdain for LGBTQ Americans.”

“Their platform isn’t just stuck in 2016, it’s stuck in the Dark Ages,” Kikukawa said. “Trump and the GOP are endorsing overturning gay marriage, legalizing anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination, and doubling down on their disgraceful trans military ban. If Trump has it his way, our right to live proudly at school, work and even at home will be at risk. Trump and Republicans have no new ideas, so they’re getting back to their basics: Hate and division.”

One wrinkle in the reaffirmation of the 2016 platform is a tweet from Trump on Friday in which he declared definitive action hasn’t yet been taken on the platform.

“The Republican Party has not yet voted on a Platform,” Trump tweeted. “No rush. I prefer a new and updated Platform, short form, if possible.”

The tweet suggests Trump, as head of the Republican Party, is abrogating the RNCs decision to stick with the 2016 platform, but at the end of the day could be an attempt at damage control without any real meaning. The RNC didn’t respond to multiple requests from the Blade to comment on whether Trump’s tweet changes anything.

Charles Moran, managing director of Log Cabin Republicans, seized on Trump’s tweet as evidence decisions on the 2020 platform are still evolving, calling it an attempt to “to correct a lot of misinformation out there.”

“North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s refusal to allow the GOP Convention to occur in the normal, contracted fashion has prompted the RNC to invoke an extraordinary set of actions to ensure the primary purpose of the convention, nominating the presidential candidate, occurs,” Moran said. “To be clear — the RNC has not voted on a new platform or voted to continue the 2016 platform. And no decision has been made yet on what to do about the platform process.”

Moran said Log Cabin is still considering its next steps, but stands by its determination the 2016 platform was “one of the worst on the books.”

“It is totally outdated, ill-informed and not reflective of President Trump’s views, or the views of commonsense Republicans across the nation,” Moran said.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have yet to make any decision on their 2020 platform. A Democratic source said the DNC has no announcement at this time, but the platform drafting process would begin soon.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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