If the only gay voices you hear are Trump foes and Clinton boosters — think George Takei, Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris — you could easily assume that all LGBT voters are in the Democratic presidential nominee’s camp. Well, think again. A Gallup poll released Wednesday reports that 12 percent of LGBT adults view Republican nominee Donald Trump favorably. Granted, that’s compared with the 55 percent who have a positive view of Clinton, but it’s still a surprising number. Even more eyebrow-raising, the poll found that fully 21 percent of older (55+) LGBT people gave Trump a favorable rating.
Not at all surprisingly, pro-Trump gay Republicans have been pumping up the volume in recent weeks. This has frustrated many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Democrats, leading to some of the most uncivil discourse of this already horrific election season. If the intent is to change the minds of some of the estimated 6.5 million LGBT voters, this is hardly the way to go about it.
To unpack this, let’s start with Cody Moore and Dewey Lainhart. On. Oct. 21, Jason Bellini, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, posted a video interview he conducted with the gay couple at a Trump for President rally in the swing state of Ohio. Recently engaged, the guys said they planned to vote for Trump, primarily on the issues of trade and jobs. Lainhart, 31, a steelworker, said: “I’m tired of the bulls--- government. . . . It’s time for a change. Trump’s the man for it.”
Bellini’s video quickly went viral in the LGBT community. Moore and Lainhart were called out on Facebook as “idiots” and “rednecks”; they were even compared to Jews who supported Hitler. One commenter urged “two bricks directly into their faces,” and the couple told Bellini they’d been getting death threats. Lainhart’s response to those threats: “It doesn’t concern me. I look over my back because I do carry [a gun], because I love the Second Amendment.”
Most visible of all of Trump’s gay supporters has been Republican Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who endorsed Trump at the GOP convention this summer. Two weeks ago, Thiel doubled down on Trump, saying he planned to donate $1.25 million to his campaign. Thiel has also been tarred and feathered online, called everything from “a traitor and a disgusting pig” to “an atrocity” and just plain “pathetic.”
It’s obvious that Thiel’s stratospheric socioeconomic status is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Moore and Lainhart’s working-class wages, but they have this in common: Other issues — jobs and immigration, for example — clearly trump their identity as gay men. And many in the LGBT community don’t seem to know how to respond to that in anything but the most venomous of terms.
“In [our] community, there’s always been a level of vitriol between gay Republicans and gay and lesbian Democrats,” said Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist and a lesbian. “Gay Republicans see their sexual orientation as separate and apart from who they are in many cases.”
Gary Gates, a Gallup senior researcher and author of the poll, said the LGBT community is becoming more politically diverse as more people feel free to come out. “This increased political diversity is also present in party identification,” he said, meaning more gay Republicans and more mystified — and outraged — LGBT Democrats.
The outrage stems in no small part from this year’s GOP platform, which is as anti-gay as any ever embraced by the party of Lincoln. Even the Log Cabin Republicans, the largest LGBT GOP organization in the country, called this year’s platform “the most anti-LGBT Platform in the Party’s 162-year history.”
This is a contrast from the candidate himself, whom the Log Cabin Republicans called “the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” Despite such hyperbole, they still refused to endorse him, pointing out that Trump has selected senior advisers with strong anti-LGBT records, including his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a Christian conservative and LGBT foe.
While I completely understand why LGBT Democrats strongly oppose Trump (as do I), it doesn’t excuse the level of personal disparagement. Take Juan Hernandez, a gay, Hispanic Trump supporter, who told Political Insider, “Coming out as gay was really difficult, but coming out as a Trump Republican supporter was far more difficult.
“I think the threats and nasty comments are inappropriate,” Rosen said. “I don’t think it’s ever called for. . . . It just feels wrong. It feels depressing.”
Depressing, indeed. Name-calling within the LGBT community does nothing to help change the hearts and minds of our gay brothers and sisters of different political stripes. It only makes civility more of a partisan issue than an American value. This is especially important this election year because LGBT voters can make a critical difference in many of the swing states, Gates said. Verbal assaults and physical threats aimed at gay Republicans not only add more fire to this superheated political season but also are counterproductive.
But I see hope for greater civility. The Human Rights Campaign recently launched a new ad campaign based on the life of Christopher “Drew” Leinonen, who was among the 49 victims killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in June. His mother, Christine, speaks from her heart in making her case to gay Republicans. “He had the kind of personality that brought people together — all people,” she says in this heartbreaking example of personal storytelling. If we’ve learned anything from the resounding success of the marriage equality movement, it’s that by telling the stories of our lives and loved ones, we can speak with a civil tongue, change minds and even pick up more votes.
Email questions to Civilities at firstname.lastname@example.org (unfortunately not all questions can be answered). You can reach him on Facebook at facebook.com/stevenpetrow and on Twitter @stevenpetrow. Join him for a chat online at washingtonpost.com on Nov. 8 at 1 p.m.