Well, that Republican National Convention was one for the record books. It all began on Monday night with reality show personalities, yesteryear’s sitcom stars, underwear models, and a nominee’s spouse reading paragraphs verbatim from a speech the opposing party’s nominee’s spouse gave eight years ago – and that was just the beginning of the drama.
For queer people, it actually started a few days before. Donald Trump, then still the “presumptive” Republican nominee, had chosen an outspoken advocate of anti-gay “religious freedom” bills and conversion therapy to be his running mate, and the Republican platform committee had just written the most homophobic and transphobic platform in the party’s history, according to the Log Cabin Republicans.
In short, things weren’t looking good for the queer community, at least not where the GOP was concerned.
However, if you had missed all of that unpleasantness, and waited until the final night of the 2016 Republican National Convention to start paying attention to the campaign of Donald J. Trump, you might have believed that the GOP had turned a corner, that the sun had broken through the dark clouds of ignorance and prejudice, resulting in a beautiful rainbow of love and acceptance.
You’d have been wrong.
An openly gay man had spoken at a Republican National Convention before (that was Jim Kolbe back in 2000), but Peter Thiel was to be the first that would actually discuss his sexual orientation from the stage. It came about halfway through his brief address, when he stated, “I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all I am proud to be an American.” He received some applause for those lines, and he broke into a smile. He seemed to be aware that in his own small way, he was standing in the middle of a historic moment. I’ll admit it; I was moved.
Unfortunately, for me and my private reverie, his very next statement was, “I don’t pretend to agree with every plank in our party’s platform. But fake culture wars only distract us from our economic decline, and nobody in this race is being honest about it except Donald Trump.”
And in that moment, I knew that nothing would change. I knew that it was one thing for a billionaire from Silicon Valley to declare that the very real hostility visited upon queer Americans by conservatives as “fake culture wars,” but quite another for those of us breathing less rarified air. So while Thiel could have used his power and privilege to stand up for those less fortunate than himself, instead he would talk about the fact that apparently, a billion dollars doesn’t go as far as it once did.
Of course, perhaps Peter Thiel, a man who exited the closet very much against his will (and has spent millions destroying the website that first broke the story) and believes that democracy and freedom are incompatible, was never going to be the man who made peace between the queer community and the Republican party.
But things got even gayer during the night’s finale, an 80-minute speech by no-longer-presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
Again, it was about halfway through his speech, when Trump referenced the recent mass murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Unlike Gov. Rick Scott, who spoke the previous day about the Orlando massacre without ever referencing the fact that Pulse was a gay club and the majority of the 49 victims were queer, Trump said – in his usual blunt fashion – “This time, the terrorist targeted [the] LGBT community. No good, and we’re gonna stop it.”
But he wasn’t done. After a smattering of applause, he then stated, “As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me.”
This line received immediate applause, causing Mr. Trump to veer off-script for just a moment, adding, “And I have to say, as a Republican: It is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”
Wait, wait, wait.
What universe is this, again? The platform, I thought, what about that? The virulently anti-gay running mate, the awkward photo ops with evangelical leaders who obviously hate us? It was if the archetypal schoolyard bully had undergone a strange and mysterious transformation and humbly offered me a beautiful piece of candy, out of nowhere.
But upon closer inspection, that piece of candy has a bitter, poisoned center. Think about it, I thought. Is Trump interested in helping us keep our jobs in the 28 states where we can still be legally fired because of who we are? Is he invested in allowing us to live with a modicum of dignity by fighting hateful “religious freedom” laws that allow business owners to discriminate or “bathroom bills” that force transgender Americans to use public restrooms that don’t align with their gender? Is he interested in keeping us safe from violent hate crimes? The answer is no, unless the hate that fuels them happens to be of a “foreign” persuasion.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that I was being used. By covering his familiar Islamophobia in rainbow-colored wrapping, he was cleverly attempting to appear warm and inclusive while still stoking the xenophobia of his fans in that arena. The one thing he wants to “protect” queer people from is an even more marginalized group – Muslims.
The vast majority of Muslims, both in America and around the world, are just as kind and peaceful as anyone else. Globally, about 1.6 billion people practice Islam, or 22 percent of the world’s population. Only a tiny fraction of this number supports terror, and those who do kill far more Muslims than any other group. ISIS equates to Islam about as well as the Westboro Baptist Church equates to Christianity. But to hear Republicans – especially Trump – tell it, every Muslim is either a potential jihadist or already a crazed terrorist.
If you listened closely, Trump actually mentioned our community once more in his speech. Just a few paragraphs later, he said, “We must immediately suspend immigration from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism until such time as proven vetting mechanisms have been put in place. We don't want them in our country.”
He didn’t awkwardly stumble through the acronym this time, so it was easy to miss, but of course he was referring here to refugees from Syria and elsewhere, mostly Muslim, and many who are LGBTQ themselves. He doesn’t want them in our country, he says: these escapees of the very terror he vilifies. (In contrast, President Obama has made an effort to ensure the passage of those refugees deemed the most vulnerable, a group that explicitly includes LGBT people.)
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Donald J. Trump is no friend to the queer community, and this is especially true if you view the community through a global lens. But even here at home, he doesn’t have our best interests in his mind; we’re simply a tool that he can use to divide us from one another while appearing to bring us together.
He’s offering you a piece of candy. It looks delicious. But our mothers taught us better than that.
Don’t take candy from the bad man.
Eric Peterson has been an educator and consultant on diversity and inclusion issues for 17 years. He lives in Washington, DC.