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Donald Trump makes overtures to LGBT community after Orlando, but their response is mixed

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Richmond Coliseum in Virginia on June 10. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Donald Trump has made a point in recent days of talking about the LGBT community, arguing that he is the only presidential candidate that can protect gays and lesbians from hate crimes like the mass slayings in Orlando at a gay nightclub.

“We want to live in a country where gay and lesbian Americans and all Americans are safe from radical Islam, which, by the way, wants to murder and has murdered gays and they enslave women,” he said at a rallyin Greensboro, N.C., on June 14.

Many LGBT activists scoffed at his words, but some gay conservatives said Trump has a point.

“Donald Trump is telling us now that he’s gonna protect LGBT Americans from the war on terror, and that is so much more important than any issue facing the LGBT community today, especially because marriage equality is won,” said Joseph R. Murray II, an openly gay lawyer and conservative commentator who runs the Facebook group LGBTrump. He said the group has received hundreds of new followers in the wake of the Orlando shooting.

It’s no secret that abroad men who are gay — and merely suspected of being gay — are targeted for execution; today, that threat has reached the United States,” president of the Log Cabin Republicans Gregory T. Angelo said in a statement.

Nestor Moto Jr., who is gay and the president of the Long Beach Young Republicans, said he supports Trump.

Security was on his mind when he spoke to The Washington Post after the Orlando shooting, as he had just attended Los Angeles Pride with his friends. Police had apprehended a man with a cache of weapons who was apparently heading to the event. “That could have been us,” Moto said, recalling the victims at Pulse.

“I think [Trump] did a good job in outlining what he wants to do to protect this community,” he said.

The mere fact that Trump spoke about LGBT issues so openly also impressed Angelo.

“For the first time ever, a presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States directly and explicitly addressed the LGBT community and expressed a sympathy for the violence that LGBT people were subjected to,” he said.

But gay Republicans are squarely in the minority when it comes to LGBT voters.

A Gallup poll conducted from June 1 to 16 found that 78 percent of Americans who identified as LGBT had an unfavorable opinion of Trump, versus 14 percent who had a favorable view, according to Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor in chief. The poll has surveyed a total of 8,121 people, 266 of whom identified as LGBT.

LGBT voters are overwhelmingly Democratic too, Newport said. In that same poll, about 70 percent of LGBT respondents surveyed were Democrats or leaned Democratic, and about 20 percent identified as Republican or leaning Republican. A 2014 survey from Gallup yielded similar results: Of the LGBT Americans surveyed, 63 percent identified as Democrats or leaning Democrat, and 21 percent Republican or leaning Republican.

And not everyone interpreted Trump’s words as progress.

GLAAD issued a statement after the Orlando attack calling for unity and seeming to counter Trump’s views on Islam and terror.

“We as an intersectional movement cannot allow anti-Muslim sentiment to be the focal point as it distracts from the larger issue, which is the epidemic of violence that LGBTQ people, including those in the Muslim community, are facing in this country,” the statement said.

Angelo also said in a video that “Log Cabin Republicans does not support something like an outright ban on all Muslims. … it is definitely wrong to conflate all Muslims with the actions of this individual,” referring to Omar Mateen. Trump has proposed a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the United States.

At an Atlanta rally on Wednesday, Trump said, “Ask the gays what they think and what they do in, not only in Saudi Arabia, but many these other countries with the gay community.”

Users on social media were quick to deride his comments. Soon after that speech, #AskTheGays became a viral meme, with users posting skeptical gifs in response to Trump’s claim.

The Human Rights Campaign also protested Trump in Washington on Thursday, chanting and holding signs that read, "Love Conquers Hate."

Trump’s relationship with LGBT issues is complicated. He has stated support for the LGBT community in the past. When asked why gay and lesbian voters should be interested in him as a presidential candidate in an interview with the Advocate from 2000, Trump replied:

I grew up in New York City, a town with different races, religions, and peoples. It breeds tolerance. In all truth, I don’t care whether or not a person is gay. I judge people based on their capability, honesty, and merit. Being in the entertainment business — that is, owning casinos and … several large beauty pageants — I’ve worked with many gay people. I have met some tough, talented, capable, terrific people. Their lifestyle is of no interest to me.

More recently, his invitation for Caitlyn Jenner to use any bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower — which she took him up on — was also seen as accepting of transgender Americans.

However, the Log Cabin Republicans has not yet endorsed Trump. Angelo cited concerns over his ambiguous stance on same-sex marriage and statements implying that he would consider appointing Supreme Court justices who would overturn the historic ruling that legalized same-sex marriage across the nation.

A handful of pro-Trump LGBT Facebook groups, including Murray’s, have been abuzz with activity this week. But many posts appeared to be from straight individuals expressing their solidarity with the LGBT community or people decrying the notion of gay Americans voting for Trump.

Murray urged LGBT voters to look beyond “identity politics” in this election.

“My goal is to say look, at least open your mind, [now] that we live in a post-marriage equality world, it’s now okay for LGBT folks to look at the candidate and not be obsessed with their identity,” he said.

That might be easier said than done. Asked whether Trump’s overtures would bring more LGBT Americans to his side, Newport was skeptical.

“Based on history, he has made a similar entreaties to the Latino and Hispanic community, ‘Hispanics love me,’ and those things. We’ve seen no change in the data. Hispanics have an overwhelmingly negative opinion [of Trump],” Newport said. “We don’t have any evidence in the past that when he makes an entreaty towards a sub-segment of the population that’s very negative towards him that that seems to change at all.”