By Sarah Wheaton
July 11, 2016
While a high-profile fight is brewing over same-sex marriage, gay Republicans and their allies are looking instead to the national security section as their best hope for pro-LGBTQ language in a document long dominated by social conservatism.
A letter to platform committee members calls for the party to respond to the massacre at a gay night club in Orlando by recognizing that “radical Islamic terrorism” poses an “existential threat” to freedom, especially to the freedom of LGBTQ people.
As the platform committee meets over the next two days in Cleveland, the move to form a modest new alliance in a very different culture war comes from Rachel Hoff. She’s a Marco Rubio delegate from Washington — and the first openly gay person ever assigned to the Republican platform committee. And while the party remains bitterly divided over same-sex marriage, Hoff’s letter, emailed to delegates on Thursday and obtained by POLITICO, points to sympathetic statements not only from presumptive nominee Donald Trump after the attacks, but also from people who oppose same-sex marriage, like Mitt Romney and Rubio.
“As we mourn the victims of Islamic terror in Orlando, Ann & I say a special prayer for the LGBTQ community that was the focus of this attack,” Romney tweeted the day after a man claiming allegiance to ISIS gunned down 49 people at Pulse nightclub.
Meanwhile, the current GOP nominee’s support for the LGBTQ community is unprecedented. While he’s said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman fairly consistently, he’s also feted the nuptials of gay friends. More recently, he’s spoken out against North Carolina’s transgender bathroom law, inviting Caitlyn Jenner to Trump Tower to use her toilet of choice, and he was quick to make his pitch to LGBTQ Americans after the Orlando attacks, citing his tough-on-terror approach.
“We want to live in a country where gay and lesbian Americans and all Americans are safe from radical Islam,” he said two days after the attack, “which, by the way, wants to murder and has murdered gays and they enslave women.”
Hoff, who declined to comment for this article, proposes similar language in the national security section of the GOP platform: ““Radical Islamic terrorism poses an existential threat to personal freedom and peace around the world and it particularly victimizes women, religious adherents of many faiths, LGBTQ individuals, and others. The Republican Party stands united with all victims of terrorism and will fight at home and abroad to destroy terrorist organizations and protect the lives and fundamental liberty of all people.”
While the language wouldn’t have much direct impact on policy, Log Cabin Republicans president Gregory T. Angelo said it would be “remarkable” because it would “mark the first time in history the platform included an affirming mention of gay individuals.”
The strategy by LGBTQ rights supporters: score a win while the religious right is looking the other way. Groups like the American Unity Fund, a pro-gay Republican group with financial backing from Paul Singer and other major GOP donors, has been working for years to get socially moderate delegates on the platform committee, and they’re gearing up for a major confrontation on the Healthcare, Education and Crime subcommittee over the language about same-sex marriage. They’re not expecting to get any sort of endorsement of marriage between two men or two women, but they do want the platform to acknowledge different views, and strike anti-LGBTQ language that was in the 2012 document, like declarations that kids need a mom and a dad.
“This is our sort of effort to challenge the elders in one wing of the party where they’re most comfortable and where they reside,” said American Unity Fund president Margaret Hoover.
On Monday morning, they were already facing steep resistance on the social issues panel. But they hope to be able to get some affirming language out of the National Security panel. While it’s unclear exactly how delegates are assigned to subcommittees, they are asked to rank their choices, and the foreign policy group is less likely to be “overrun with social conservatives,” Hoover said.
Hoff, hasn’t exactly been a culture warrior either: though she’s long been out in DC’s tight-knit community of gay conservatives, she hasn’t been affiliated with groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, and her subcommittee assignment better reflects her day job: director of defense analysis at the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank.
Hoff’s letter makes a libertarian-style case: “Followers of radical Islam hate everything we stand for as Americans. As we stand up for our freedoms, we must also stand together as Americans—and as Republicans—to protect everyone from extremist threats to our freedom and to our lives.”
Even if the Orlando language makes it out of the national security panel, it’s still likely to face resistance when all 110 members of the platform committee get to vote. Hoover estimated that there are “somewhere between 23 and 28 people who are absolutely opposed to any affirmative mention of LGBTQ people on the committee.”
But even some of those hardliners have offered some softer rhetoric toward gays in the wake of Orlando.
“ISIS murders gays regularly because they believe that’s part of their religion. We should oppose that,” said Jim Bopp, a conservative member of the convention’s Platform Committee, told POLITICO last month. “There’s all sorts of people that I disagree with that I would stand with if someone was trying to murder them.”
Bopp did not immediately respond to questions about the proposed platform language.
Similarly, Rubio gave an interview to the Advocate, a magazine focused on LGBTQ issues, the day after the shooting, and he condemned ISIS’s targeting of gays both in the Orlando attack and in their strongholds abroad.
And Florida’s Republican attorney general, Pam Bondi, vowed to go after “anyone who attacks our LGBTQ community.” For someone who had aggressively defended Florida’s gay marriage ban, the shift in tone seemed so stark that it prompted Anderson Cooper to accuse Bondi of hypocrisy on air.
Outside the platform meetings, LGBTQ Republicans are looking forward to an exceptionally welcoming scene in Cleveland.
The cheekily-named “Big Tent Brunch” will feature Jenner and Montel Williams on July 20th. It’s sponsored by the American Unity Fund, the Log Cabin Republicans and other groups that reflect the generational shift in views toward the LGBTQ community like the College Republicans.
The Cuyahoga County GOP has also made a concerted effort to reach out to potential LGBTQ supporters. It invited the Log Cabin Republicans to be an official co-host at its convention watch party on July 19th, with a concert by American Idol winner Candice Glover and The Voice winner Jermaine Paul. And two years ago, the county party and the local Log Cabin chapter teamed up to sponsor a booth when Cleveland hosted the Gay Games, essentially the LGBTQ Olympics.
They passed out water bottles that said, “The Cuyahoga Republican party welcomes you to the Gay Games. Now isn’t that refreshing.”
Gay Republicans in Ohio are also especially pumped to re-elect Sen. Rob Portman this year, who endorsed gay marriage after his son came out two years ago.
Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.