Wall Street Journal
July 19, 2016
CLEVELAND— Len Olds and Hugh Rouse went to their first California Republican Party convention in 1982, when passersby mistook their gay-rights brochures for sex-club ads. They attended their first national convention in 2000, cheering then-Rep. James Kolbe of Arizona, an openly gay congressman, for speaking over the objections of the Texas delegation.
The gay couple and longtime members of the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest gay GOP group, feel more optimistic about their party than ever this week at their fourth national convention, the first since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.
Despite his stated opposition to gay marriage, nominee Donald Trump has called the ruling “the law of the land,” and is viewed by some gay Republicans as the friendliest GOP nominee in history. Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender celebrity and former Olympian who has said positive things about Mr. Trump, is slated to headline a Wednesday gathering near the convention hosted by a conservative group that favors gay rights. And Peter Thiel, the gay Silicon Valley billionaire, is scheduled to address the convention Thursday.
But the outlook for gay Republicans is more complicated.
The party platform includes provisions viewed by gay Republicans as discriminatory. And Mr. Trump’s pick for running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, was a leading defender of a state law that civil-rights leaders said would allow businesses to refuse to serve gays and lesbians. The law sparked a backlash that led Mr. Pence to sign an amendment outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Mr. Olds, a 73-year-old retired teacher and investment banker, described the political climate for gay Republicans in 2016 as “two steps forward, one step back.”
“I feel wonderful about our place in the party,” said Mr. Olds, who with the 85-year-old Mr. Rouse looked out at the sea of red, white and blue on the convention floor. “We haven’t won all the battles, but I think we’ve won the war.”
The GOP, long dependent on the votes of religious conservatives, has been united against same-sex marriage for decades. Now the party is more fractured, as public opinion has swung increasingly in favor of gay marriage and a number of GOP officials have dropped their opposition.
A pro-Trump group of gay Republicans is hosting a party Tuesday at Cleveland State University that aims to raise awareness of the threat that terrorism poses to the gay community, after the killings at a Florida club last month.
Mr. Trump has cast himself as a champion of the gay community in light of his antiterror policies, like his proposal in December to temporarily ban Muslim immigrants and more recent plans for “extreme vetting” of immigrants from countries with terrorist links.
“Radical Islam is the number one gay-rights issue in the world, and Donald Trump is the only candidate taking this threat seriously,” said Chris Barron, one of the event’s organizers.
Other gay-rights groups are more skeptical of Mr. Trump. Jay Brown, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, said the businessman’s opposition to same-sex marriage and incendiary rhetoric about Muslims, Mexican-Americans and other immigrants show a lack of tolerance.
“His policies are so divisive. I don’t seen how anybody can see him as pro-LGBTQ,” said Mr. Brown, a spokesman for HRC, which has endorsed presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
HRC is part of a coalition of groups airing a television ad on Fox News during the convention on Thursday featuring a transgender woman in North Carolina, where the state passed a law requiring people to use bathrooms matching their birth certificate.
When he was first asked about the law in April, Mr. Trump said people should “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.” But more recently he has said the matter should be left up to the states.
A super PAC related to the group hosting Ms. Jenner on Wednesday, the American Unity Fund, was founded by hedge fund billionaire and major GOP fundraiser Paul Singer. He has also been critical of Mr. Trump and said his policies would cause a “global depression.”
Ms. Jenner isn’t planning to attend the convention. Tyler Deaton, a senior adviser to the American Unity Fund and PAC, called the event with Ms. Jenner “the hottest ticket in town. If you scratch the surface in Cleveland, people are divided and unhappy, and we are trying to embody what the future of the Republican Party should look like.”
Some activists say the GOP platform looks backward, not forward. It opposes the high-court ruling on gay marriage, approves of adoption organizations that won’t work with gay couples, and suggests children are better off if raised in a traditional household.
Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, called it “the most anti-LGBTQ platform in the party’s 162-year history.” The Log Cabin Republicans took out a full-page ad in the Cleveland edition of USA Today calling the platform “out of touch, out of line.”
The platform also supports laws that would prevent transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice. Efforts to add LGBTQ people to a list of terrorist targets were unsuccessful.
“Donald Trump did not become our presumptive nominee because he was fixated on social issues,” Mr. Angelo said. “He shot to the top of the pack because he centered his campaign on economic issues that were resonating with Republican voters this cycle, but you wouldn’t know that from our platform.”
James Bopp, an Indiana lawyer and member of the platform committee, said Mr. Trump’s campaign didn’t interfere with efforts by social conservatives to make sure the platform supported traditional marriage.
“We’ve always been the party for traditional marriage and family, and as threats have arisen we have stood in favor of those values,” Mr. Bopp said.
“The gay lobby wants to prohibit us from doing that, but we will continue to advocate for traditional marriage as the ideal unit for raising children.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump’s campaign, Hope Hicks, declined to comment on the platform.
“We’ll keep fighting the platform,” Mr. Olds said. But in the short term, he’s looking forward to Ms. Jenner’s speech: “She has shown such personal courage while remaining a loyal Republican.”