Opinion: LGBT conservatives have political clout. It’s time they stop using it to enable GOP bigotry

It’s a dangerous time to be LGBT in America.

The White House announced this week that it will be repealing an Obama executive order designed to enforce workplace protections for LGBT federal contractors. Just days after the Trump administration removed LGBT seniors from two federal surveys, the Census Bureau announced that queer and transgender people will not be included in its 2020 survey, contrary to previous reports. A leaked draft earlier this January suggested that LGBT Americans will be counted for the first time, but the department claimed that was a mistake.

Meanwhile, a recent report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino found that anti-LGBT hate crimes have spiked in the months since Trump’s election.

In the face of an unprecedented assault on the LGBT community’s rights and safety, gay Republican groups have claimed that advocates must “compromise” with the new occupants of the Oval Office. “You’re going to have to meet Republicans where they are, and understand the political reality of today,” Log Cabin Republican president Gregory T. Angelo told The Huffington Post. That’s precisely what gay conservative groups have been trying to do for years: to push for greater understanding and cooperation between the GOP and the LGBT community.


Advocating for inclusion and compassion from Republican leaders is a noble goal. But it clearly isn’t working.

Despite public pressure from influential queer and transgender Republicans, the party has continued to force America to the far right. Even while openly advocating for LGBT equality, Trump has pursued a platform that could set the community back decades. If gay conservatives want to make the right less hostile to LGBT people, they shouldn’t continue fighting a losing battle. The only way to change the Republican Party is to leave it.

The only way to change the Republican Party is to leave it.

LGBT conservatives might seem like a niche demographic, but there are a lot more of them than you think. In 2008, 27 percent of LGBT people cast a ballot for John McCain over Barack Obama. Two years later, that number was even higher. During the 2010 midterms, a historic 31 percent of LGBT voters went red. That protest vote, largely in response to Obama’s perceived lukewarm stance on LGBT rights, had critical consequences. It was the election in which the Tea Party took control of the House, pushing the right-wing toward the extremist populism that now dominates the GOP.

Exit polling showed that 5.7 million LGBT people voted in the 2012 election. If we consider the 2010 result a ceiling for how high the gay Republican vote can go, that’s a max of 1.8 million votes — enough to tip the scales in a close race.

Caitlyn Jenner, the nation’s most famous LGBT conservative, believes that it’s possible to use these massive numbers to transform the Republican party from the inside. Jenner was one of the few high-profile celebrities to attend Trump’s inauguration. In a New York Times op-ed, the Olympic gold medalist told her close friend, Jennifer Finney Boylan, that she was there “working.”

“I had an objective when I went there to meet as many people and open as many doors as I possibly could,” Jenner said, “and I was able to accomplish that.”

But how far did opening those doors get her? Not very.

In February, the Trump administration announced that it would be rolling back federal protections for transgender students. Although reports suggested that Trump has tabled an executive order that would have permitted broad-based discrimination against the LGBT community, that order is still very much under consideration — and may be introduced at a later date.

This is precisely the bind that organizations like the Log Cabin Republicans have found themselves in since 1977, when the group formed in order to get California conservatives to help kill a 1978 ballot initiative that would have allowed schools to fire openly gay teachers. That effort was successful. In the decades since, advocates have had moderate success in getting Republicans to back pro-LGBT legislation, including a 2015 bill in Utah preventing workers from being fired on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Meanwhile, gay conservatives in Florida report that support for nondiscrimination legislation has been growing among GOP legislators in recent years. In 2017, 15 Republicans have signed onto a bill that would prevent bias in housing and employment.

These gains are admirable, but there’s little evidence that incremental shifts within the Republican party are due to change from the inside. The Utah nondiscrimination bill, for instance, was carried over the finish line by LGBT organizations like Equality Utah. And even that so-called “compromise” left open a wide exemption for religious groups to discriminate in the name of faith, permitting the very bigotry it was purported to abolish.

At the 2016 Republican National Convention, the GOP introduced the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s history, one in which its members openly endorsed conversion therapy. The American Civil Liberties Union has predicted that a record number of discriminatory bills targeting the LGBT community will be introduced at the state level this year. Arkansas and Texas are both considering bills that would prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, similar to North Carolina’s infamous House Bill 2.

In 2018, the LGBT community will be called upon in yet another crucial midterm, one that will act as a referendum on policies that have already negatively impacted queer people. If LGBT conservatives want to influence the Republican politicians who keep chipping away at their basic dignity, they needn’t keep pounding on the doors of political extremists who aren’t interested in true cooperation. They should stop giving them their votes.

Nico Lang is co-editor of the Boys anthology series. You can read his work in Rolling Stone, Salon and the Onion A.V. Club. Find him on Twitter @nico_lang.

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