GOP Wrestles With Change on LGBT Positions Before Convention

6 minute read

On Tuesday morning, the first openly gay member of the Republican Party’s platform committee said she was offering amendments to see “just how far this committee is willing to go to avoid a single positive reference to the LGBT community.”

The 56-member group that is finalizing the party’s platform in advance of the GOP convention had rejected Rachel Hoff’s passionate appeal to acknowledge Republicans’ “diversity of opinion” on marriage the day before. And the same committee voted down her suggestions on Tuesday to acknowledge the murders of LGBT people in the Middle East and in Orlando, where the deadliest shooting in U.S. history occurred at a gay club exactly one month before.

Some in the GOP view the existence of any organized opposition within the party, such as Hoff’s, as a sign of significant change: While votes about what the word “marriage” means may have been unanimous at previous conventions, they are divided now. Members also debated topics such as religious freedom laws, gay parental rights and conversion therapy.

“LGBT issues were being discussed in almost every platform subcommittee,” says Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay conservative group. “Even if the votes didn’t necessarily go our way, every Republican on the platform committee is at least now aware that LGBT issues go far beyond marriage.” Transgender icon Caitlyn Jenner, who plans to appear at a brunch in Cleveland during the convention, expressed optimism about the party too, saying in a statement that, “As a proud Republican and transgender woman, I want to support courageous Republicans who advocate for LGBT freedom.”

Still, the GOP platform remains socially conservative, and Democrats are itching to draw contrasts as they prepare to release a final draft of a platform that Bernie Sanders extolled on Tuesday as “by far the most progressive … in the history of the Democratic Party.” As Republicans struggled in committees with just how overtly to condemn policies that allow transgender women to use public women’s restrooms, Democratic insiders touted the fact that nearly two dozen of their delegates this year are openly transgender.

Republicans are “attempting to roll back advances we’ve made,” says Lou Weaver, a Democratic delegate from Texas who identifies as a queer transgender man. “People in the Democratic Party understand we’re being targeted.”

Though many Republican leaders would like to avoid headlines about bathrooms in convention coverage—with one committee member calling it a “can of worms”—language alluding to fights between states and the federal government over that issue remained in the platform Tuesday evening. In reaction to the Obama Administration advising schools that students must be able to use the facilities that align with their gender identity, the platform states that the “edict regarding restrooms, locker rooms and other facilities is at once illegal, ominous and ignores privacy issues.”

The platform committee did, however, reject more explicit language that passed muster in a subcommittee, which encouraged “the common sense practice of protecting public safety and personal privacy by limiting access to restrooms … based on biological gender.” Senior RNC officials were involved in excising the language, according to the delegate who offered the amendment to cut it.

“We have a bathroom or restroom obsession in this platform,” said Annie Dickerson, a platform committee member and advisor to Paul E. Singer, a Republican who has funded an effort to get the GOP platform to adjust its position on marriage.

The final draft of the Republican platform also includes language, justified with research that has been disputed, asserting that children raised in a “traditional two-parent household” are likelier to have healthier outcomes. The word “traditional” was inserted after fierce debate in which one platform committee member called it a “slap in the face” to children growing up in homes with same-sex parents, and also drew criticism from single parents.

Multiple amendments to soften or eliminate language that rejects the validity of same-sex marriage failed, and the platform committee voted against including the word “gender” in a list of types of discrimination that should be opposed. On Tuesday, one member described the attempt to add that word to a list including qualities like race, sex and creed as a “sneak attack.”

Shortly after, an amendment to condemn the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage was passed. Another measure attempting to undermine that ruling came soon after, with at least one member speaking out against it. “We know that we’re not gay happy or gay supportive here, but the dead horse has been beaten again and again and again,” said Dickerson.

By comparison, the final draft of the Democratic platform, which is expected to be finished by Wednesday but still must be approved at the convention in Philadelphia, will contain paragraphs of LGBT-supportive language. Four years ago, the party made news by expressing support for same-sex marriage. This year, the platform will also use the word “transgender” for the first time, express the notion that LGBT rights are “human rights,” condemn the bullying of LGBT kids, criticize legislation that restricts bathroom access for transgender people and detail support for a list of non-discrimination protections laid out in the Equality Act, according to delegates and committee members.

Democratic platform committee member Mara Keisling says that “it was not a hard sell” to get any LGBT-inclusive amendment added during their meetings over the past weekend. In an election year when Democrats are criticizing their opponents as divisive, it’s likely that they’ll keep emphasizing how wide their arms are open to voters who care about LGBT rights.

The Log Cabin Republicans’ Angelo says that while there are GOP members “hell bent on doubling down on anti-gay language in the platform,” that document “is just not representative of the LGBT community or Republicans in general.” And members of both parties share skepticism of how much one should read into manifestos crafted by a few.

“Most of the extreme positions come from people that are very extreme,” says Kimi Cole, a Democratic delegate from Nevada and a transgender woman. “Does everyone who belongs to the Republican Party believe that? No. And same thing with the Democrats.”

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