Coming out of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland two weeks ago, Gregory Angelo’s predicament became a little less daunting.
Day in and day out, the president of the Log Cabin Republicans, the country’s premier, influential gay Republican organization, has agonized over how to persuade fellow gays and lesbians to join him in the GOP—a tough gig when polls show a vast majority of them view the party as bigoted.
He also wrestles with how to get fellow Republicans to end decades of hostility toward the gay community and embrace its agenda of equality. But in one speech, Donald Trump made these problems a little easier to overcome. For the first time in history, a GOP presidential nominee singled out the gay community—not for attack, but with a pledge to safeguard it. It was an arresting moment, even when most of the press has underplayed its significance.
“It was beautiful,” says Angelo, his eyes welling up with tears. “We’ve never had a candidate who has reached out explicitly to the LGBT community. Ever since August of last year, I’ve been saying if Trump were to win the Republican nomination, he’d be the most pro-gay nominee that this party’s ever had,” Angelo says. “He proved me right.”
Angelo sat with members of the Log Cabin Republicans’s national board of directors as they listened to the real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-TV star outline his “America First” policies to end American interventionism, terminate globalist trade deals and secure the U.S.-Mexico border–all policies that rebuke the Bush Republicanism the party has championed since the end of the Cold War. And when Trump got to his plan for how to deal with terrorist attacks by the Islamic State, he declared something else that flies in the face of GOP orthodoxy.
“Only weeks ago in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by an Islamic terrorist,” Trump said from the podium. “This time, the terrorist targeted our LGBTQ community. No good,” he said, “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.”
The arena erupted in applause, the enthusiasm of which seemed to take Trump by surprise: “I must say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”
Angelo and his colleagues looked at each other in astonishment. He’d been a child during Ronald Reagan’s presidency, but many of them have been attending GOP conventions since 1980, when Reagan was nominated. They’d watched with sorrow as the party moved away from a libertarian agenda. “I was so proud to be here with them because they’ve been through some conventions where it was a decidedly different message,” Angelo says. “They told me this was the best convention they’ve ever been to.”
For the first time in history, a GOP presidential nominee singled out the gay community—not for attack, but with a pledge to safeguard it.
The Bush presidencies were especially painful for gay Republicans. In 1992, when George H.W. Bush ran for reelection, he refused to push back against denunciations of the gay movement made by his convention speakers. In 2004, when George W. Bush was running for reelection, the Log Cabin Republicans didn’t even endorse him because Bush promised a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. It became the centerpiece of his campaign. Four years ago, presidential nominee Mitt Romney used his convention speech to pledge, “I will honor the institution of marriage”–typical Romney language that side-stepped taking a position but could be read to support efforts to obstruct same-sex marriage. (It should be noted that the Democratic Party also blocked strides for the gay movement in the past. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the “Defense of Marriage Act” into law, banning federal benefits for gay partners and allowing states to ignore same-sex marriages performed in other states. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.)
For almost 40 years, the Log Cabin Republicans have been fighting anti-gay elements in the GOP, but this was Angelo’s first convention. He says that even though the party passed an official platform at this convention condemning same-sex marriage and Trump’s veep selection, Mike Pence, has supported anti-gay measures, he was impressed that other key speakers nevertheless spoke out in support of the gay community.
The Trump campaign even showcased Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel in a coveted Thursday night speech. When he addressed the convention hall, he declared, “I am proud to be gay.” Delegates applauded him. “I am proud to be a Republican,” Thiel went on, “but most of all I am proud to be an American. I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform; but fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”
Even with these new statements of support for the gay community, I asked Angelo why gay and lesbian Americans would want to be Republicans when the party has blocked so much of their agenda. “I view things through a prism of LGBT issues,” he says. “Its not just marriage and non-discrimination protections. It’s health care–we’re opposed to Obamacare. It’s tax reform and repealing the death tax. We’re for that. It’s Second Amendment protections–the right to protect yourself and your family is an LGBT issue.”
He also says that Trump’s so-called populist agenda is something that’s resonating with gay Americans. “A strong swath of our membership does not reside in metropolitan parts of the country or come from white-collar backgrounds so issues of the working man are also LGBT issues.”
Angelo says his next steps are going to be meeting with Donald Trump to discuss gay and lesbian issues. If that goes well, Angelo says the Log Cabin Republicans will endorse him. The organization will then deploy its members to support congressional races where Republican officeholders who are favorable to gays and lesbians are in jeopardy of losing their seats.
Could have made it easier to sell his candidacy to other gays and lesbians if he’d taken a sunnier approach in his acceptance speech rather than casting the country as under siege?
Angelo believes Trump’s view is something that the LGBT community gets. “He was painting a picture of this country using the watercolors that were given to him by President Obama,” Angelo says. “I mean, there’s an ennui that people are feeling despite what any economic numbers say. They’ve been seeing jobs and manufacturing leave this country. They’ve seen their wages stagnating,” he says. “This isn’t Donald Trump conjuring nightmares. He’s giving you the truth.”