Donald Trump on Thursday planned to meet with hundreds of conservative pastors at a private meeting in Florida sponsored by the American Renewal Project, a group whose founder, David Lane, recently spoke about the perils of “homosexual totalitarianism.”
Among the event’s scheduled speakers is Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver, who represented Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis in her quest last year to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses based on her religious beliefs. Just this week, Staver argued on behalf of Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore, who is facing ethics violations for instructing the state’s probate judges in January to turn away same-sex couples seeking to wed.
To some in the LGBT community and advocacy world, Trump is charting a new course for a party long resistant to equality.
He has, for the most part, refused to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors who consistently made opposition to LGBT rights a central pillar of their campaigns. And while it was noteworthy enough that Trump had omitted LGBT Americans from the sort of broad-brush attacks he’s lobbed at Mexicans and Muslims (among other groups), the candidate more recently appeared to make the jump from neutral to downright supportive.
At the Republican National Convention last month, Trump vowed to “do everything in [his] power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” It was the first time a GOP presidential candidate had referenced LGBT people in a nomination acceptance speech.
Trump's campaign also invited silicon valley billionaire Peter Thiel to speak at the convention, where he declared, "I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican. But most of all, I am proud to be an American."
To others, however, Trump is simply more of the same: a Republican who at the end of the day would use his office to unwind executive nondiscrimination protections, appoint Supreme Court justices committed to weakening same-sex marriage and more.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who is running for re-election, was already under fire for his plans to speak at the event. Like Trump, Rubio opposes same-sex marriage. Still, Trump’s choice to attend is particularly striking, given that the event will take place in Orlando on the two-month anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting -- a massacre that left 49 people, mostly gay men, dead. Following that shooting, which was carried out by a man who pledged allegiance to ISIS, Trump criticized his Democratic opponent’s commitment to protecting the LGBT community.
“I will tell you who the better friend is and some day I believe that will be proven out bigly,” Trump said in June. “[Hillary] Clinton wants to allow radical Islamic terrorists to pour into our country. They enslave women, and they murder gays. I don’t want them in our country.”