PHILADELPHIA - Please indulge a quick residual note from last week, as this has continued to really annoy me: On Thursday night in Cleveland, billionaire innovator Peter Thiel announced from the RNC rostrum that he is proud to be gay, Republican, and American. He was applauded warmly. Minutes later, Donald Trump made history by invoking "the LGBTQ community" in his acceptance speech, specifically within the context of the Orlando attack. After vowing to protect gay Americans from the terrorism of a "hateful foreign ideology," Trump added a spontaneous observation, going out of his way to acknowledge how his conservative audience had responded to that line. Watch:
"And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. [Applause]."
Between Thiel and Trump, Thursday marked the post pro-gay primetime program...ever at a Republican National Convention, hands down. I also think it's safe to say that Trump is the most overtly LGBT-friendly nominee in GOP history -- or at least the most notably ambivalent one on these issues. He's even adopted a "relax" posture on the so-called bathroom wars, which Thiel also blasted as a distraction from more pressing concerns. One might think that gay rights activists would consider all of this to be meaningful progress. Yet how was Trump rewarded? The influential Human Rights Campaign, which has endorsed Hillary Clinton, accused him of self-interested "pandering:"
The nation's largest gay rights group is accusing Donald Trump of "pandering" to gay voters in his convention speech by denouncing violence and oppression against the LGBT community. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin says it's "bizarre" that Trump is being praised. He says Trump referenced gays and lesbians "for his own selfish, political advancement." Griffin's group has endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. In his speech, Trump noted the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Florida and pledged to do everything possible to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Before Trump spoke, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel became the first person to say he's gay in a GOP convention speech. The Human Rights Campaign says it's disappointed Thiel didn't push Republicans toward LGBT equality. The group is criticizing Thiel for being "dismissive" of concerns about bathroom choice for transgender people.
What a myopic, hacktastic response from the partisans at HRC. They criticized Thiel for standing in front of tens of thousands of Republicans and announcing that he's proud to be gay. Not good enough, they huffed, seemingly ignoring the fact that he made a point of distancing himself from the party's platform, and missing his message on the restroom battles. He was jabbing at both sides for elevating such a minuscule issue as the latest hot-button front in the culture wars; a clear subtext being to chide some Republican state legislators for pushing for a government solution to what effectively amounts to an imaginary problem. And HRC leaders actually attacked Trump for going out of his way to correctly note that 49 "wonderful" Americans from "our" LGBT community were deliberately targeted because of their identity in the Orlando terrorist attack, and promising to protect them from future Islamist slaughter. The prolonged applause Trump elicited underscored the important reality that although many conservative-leaning Americans are not supportive of same-sex marriage and other related legislation, Americans of varying ideological stripes can come together to value and defend the humanity of all of our citizens. (This point was also lost on Anderson Cooper several weeks ago). Selfish, HRC's president sniffed, backhanding Trump's gesture, and casting it in the least generous light possible.
Of course policy differences matter, but symbolism, tone and tolerance do too. But advancements on those fronts were met with scorn and cynicism. It's almost as if these are partisan operatives who are more interested in scoring political points and playing to a specific constituency and donor base than celebrating tangible progress across the political spectrum. Very disappointing. Last night here in Philadelphia, several speakers tried to paint Trump -- of whom I'm no fan -- as a run-of-the-mill homophobe, which is ridiculous. They also pretended that Mike Pence is a bigot because he signed a bill that was nearly identical to the one Bill Clinton signed at the federal level in the mid-1990's. They curiously omitted the part of the Indiana saga where Pence reversed himself under pressure, insisting on "fixes" to the legislation. No context, then no credit. Marks of bad-faith actors. I'll leave you with a reminder of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's obviously politically-calibrated "evolution" on gay rights policy questions, as well as my instant reaction to Thiel's remarks with Megyn Kelly (via Right Sightings):