Gay rights — and the Republican Party’s complicated relationship with the issue — is likely play a prominent role at this week’s Democratic National Convention, with Donald Trump’s stated embrace of the “LGBTQ community” still lingering in the air.
“I expect Democratic leaders to directly denounce his veiled attempt to suggest he’s anything but an enemy of LGBT rights,” said Eric Stern, the director of LGBT outreach for the Democratic National Committee during the 2004 presidential campaign. “It’s firing people up, both people who are members of the community, and allies of the community. It’s engaging us like never before.”
Trump’s comments during the closing night of the Republican National Convention, and the responding applause from the Cleveland audience, was considered a watershed moment for the GOP.
It was the first time a Republican presidential nominee has mentioned gay rights during a convention address, and it capped a series of GOP speakers who did the same in spite of a party platform that rejected many core principles of the LGBT movement.
But rather than disarm Democrats on the issue, as Fox news moderator Megyn Kelly suggested, Trump instead provided an opening for the party to present a more inclusive alternative, strategists said.
Democrats are expected to call attention to their historic support for gay marriage. The Co-Chair of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, and LGBT rights activist Sarah McBride have prime speaking spots Thursday night, the Clinton campaign announced Sunday. The 2012 Democratic convention featured three openly gay members of Congress as speakers and a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender delegates hailing from all 50 states.
The party is also expected to call for more action on LGBT issues, including the passage of a civil rights bill and a rejection of laws that allow discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
David Mixner, a longtime Democratic strategist and an LGBT rights advocate who has worked on several presidential campaigns, acknowledged the historic nature of Trump’s comments, but said it would take more than that to match the Democrats’ record on gay rights.
“Look, we’re not fools,” he said. “We know who’s our friend and who’s not. This has been one of the toughest years we have had with the religious freedom laws and outright unbelievable expression of homophobia by the Trump campaign.”
The GOP platform adopted during last week’s convention preserved opposition to gay marriage and to bathroom choice for transgender people. It also adopted language considered an admonishment to gay parents, saying kids raised by a mother and father tend to be “physically and emotionally healthier.”
Trump’s running mate Mike Pence is a conservative evangelical who as Indiana’s governor opposed gay marriage and signed a law — later revised — that allowed business owners to refuse service to gay customers.
“Just saying the word gay or mentioning our existence doesn’t erase the reality of the political histories of many of the speakers — or their attempts to undermine equality at every turn,” said Jay Brown, communications director of the Human Rights Campaign, a leading LGBT-advocacy group.