This year, the Republican National Convention provided unprecedented recognition of LGBT people. The RNC's primetime lineup included a speech by openly gay Pay Pal Co-Founder Peter Thiel, and in Donald Trump's nomination acceptance speech, he stated, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens.” Is Trump going after this historically left-leaning demographic? If so, he is unlikely to succeed unless he alters the Party’s position on several key issues this fall.
A survey of 13,558 self-identified LGBT people between the ages of 18 and 74 conducted in May and June by Community Marketing & Insights found that 90 percent of LGBT Americans are very concerned with LGBT equality, followed by affordable health care (82 percent) and racial inequality (77 percent). LGBT equality appears nowhere in the 2016 Republican Party Platform. In fact, the platform calls for reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision on same-sex marriage, and sexual orientation and gender identity are omitted from the list of forms of discrimination the party opposes. The word race appears only twice and the word racism appears only once in the 66-page platform, suggesting this is not a top priority. Health care receives a good deal of attention in the platform, principally arguing for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. More research would have to be done to understand perceptions in the LGBT community about the efficacy of this legislation to know if the GOP’s message will resonate.
By contrast, the issue of “illegal immigration”—a foundational element of the 2016 Republican Party Platform and a consistent message across the RNC speakers—was the lowest ranked issue for LGBT Americans, with 39 percent of those surveyed saying it was not a concern.
Looking only at priorities of individuals who identify as trans, non-binary, gender queer and gender fluid, the survey's participants reported transgender rights is the most important issue facing the community, followed by youth issues such as bullying and suicide and stopping religious freedom laws. Bullying and suicide of gender non-conforming youth does not appear in the GOP's platform. Regarding trans rights and religious freedom, what does appear is support of businesses that refuse services to LGBT people on the basis of religious objection. In light of the poll, Mike Pence’s record in Indiana of advocating for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is certain to matter to LGBT voters, as is the Republican-led House Bill 2 (“bathroom bill”) in North Carolina.
What about the economy? Despite systemic employment discrimination, the economic outlook of LGBT people is positive, with the majority viewing their economic situation favorably. Thus, the platform’s pessimistic picture of the economy, painted with statements describing the economy as “weak” and wages “stagnant” may not appeal to LGBT voters.
Does it matter if Trump loses LGBT votes to Clinton? The LGBT population does not constitute a large voting demographic per se, but other polling data suggests that all Americans are more sympathetic to LGBT issues, particularly young voters and Latinos, both of which constitute very important demographics looking forward to November. Therefore, state-level Republican support of bills like North Carolina's HB2 may not only fail to be the cultural wedge issue some Republicans were hoping for, they may also demonstrate the GOP is out of step with the average voter. This bodes poorly for down ballot elections this November.
Julie Moreau is a Post Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. She tweets at @JEMoreau.