Breaking the Lock:
How Can We Win Over LGBT Americans
By Alex Behzade
Close your eyes and imagine a couple — a married couple living in the ruby red suburbs of a major city… let’s say in the ever mentioned battleground state of Wisconsin (if shaded with a small hue of blue). Both are employed, but one only part time in order to stay home with their three children. Both hold graduate degrees, and are quite religious even if they don’t attend church as often as they should. Many a night is spent together without sleep over concerns over rising expenses and the threat of health care plan cancellations due to the Affordable Care Act. We can safely assume they are strong Republican voters based on the demographic profile right?
Well, that assumption would be faulty, for the couple are most likely card carrying members of the Democratic Party. Why? The couple is a same-sex couple, married following the nationwide legalization of gay and lesbian marriage in 2015. Based on the 2012 exit polling, LGBT Americans are overwhelmingly Democrat — voting 76%-22% for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney. The only other demographic more overwhelmingly and consistently in support of the party of Clinton and Obama are African-Americans.
By the numbers, LGBT Americans are more educated, earn more money, and are generally more well off than the average for an American citizen or couple. Additionally, with the introduction of same-sex marriage (and before that the gradual increase in the number of states and localities that allowed same-sex marriage), rates of marriage among LGBTers has increased dramatically in recent years. However, the same exit polling of this well off subset of Americans still skews so heavily Democratic compared to educated, high earning households as a whole. What should be and could be a natural Republican constituency has basically been co-opted by the Democratic Party.
The answer to why can be found in both the leftward trend of the Democratic Party in the 1970s and the rise of the Christian right movement during the 1980s. Each of those shaped what became the dominating narrative of the political sphere of the gay rights movement: Republicans against and Democrats for (despite nearly all Democrat political figures being against many issues such as gay marriage for the longest time, including President Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton).
However accurate this perception of conventional wisdom is — this article is not a rehashing of the history of the gay rights movement — what can influential conservatives do to change it? Aside from some fringe voices, the vast majority of conservatives (even evangelical ones) find it tragic that our gay and lesbian friends and colleagues think us bigots simply because of our position on the political spectrum. I for one am sick of this, and have thought long and hard of how to rectify this problem.
In the past, most of the culturally conservative social issue warriors belonged in the Democratic Party (Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Trent Lott to name three were all Democrats initially, and Pat Robertson’s father was a prominent Democratic Senator). However, the victory of the McGovern wing of the Democratic party began its slow descent into social liberalism, forcing most to migrate to the Republican Party at least on a national level. While issues on abortion and pro-family policies line up for the most part with the old fiscal/national security conservative factions and can be widely popular with even the current electorate, the opposition to gay rights had gone from a major wedge issue to an albatross around the moral majority’s neck in less than ten years with shifts in public opinion.
Unlike other right/center-right parties such as the British Conservatives, the current GOP — as a whole — has resisted attempts to moderate their tone regarding LGBT rights even on issues that wouldn’t affect policy. The RNC platform committee refused to take a neutral stance on gay marriage or add in language condemning ISIS murder of gays and lesbians in the Middle East, despite a heartfelt pleading from an openly lesbian committee member. Prominent conservatives lambasted Peter Thiel’s convention speech in which he declared himself a gay American.
From the way I see it, there is no reason that LGBT Americans (especially married families) would naturally adopt a liberal attitude toward issues. Like other minority groups such as African-Americans and Jews, it seems that their latent liberalism is more a byproduct of adopting the opposing views of the political party that is hostile to its interests. As a Republican, it is obscene to me that anyone could consider me or the party as a whole as homophobic, but I have to concede that many conservative voices in recent years have adopted a very anti-gay tone. Examples include Senators, Congressmen, party officials, media figures, and the plethora of toxic garbage spewed by Trump supporters.
Looking back at this, it is both self-evident and tragic that gay and lesbian Americans come to think that conservatism is intrinsically against their interests. When you are against their right to have a family or a relationship, they won’t listen to you on tax rates (an extension of the ‘caring’ rule). Gay Americans may only make up around 3% of the US population, but an appearance of bigotry against them causes a much larger electoral backlash against conservatives, especially among the quickly growing millennial voting block.
I cannot fathom why an LGBT American wouldn’t be receptive to conservative ideals, but as long as gay and lesbian Americans feel that the Republican party and the conservative movement is bigoted towards them, it will be a fact of modern politics. Candidates must be run that, even if they don’t hold more liberal positions, can articulate their sincerely held beliefs without condemning those that choose to act differently. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida made such a statement to Univision’s Jorge Ramos that should be a model to all Republicans, as did Ohio Governor John Kasich on the debate stage in August 2015. Words matter, and keeping someone at the forefront that speaks of respect rather than someone comparing homosexuality to bestiality is vital if the movement is to shake off the accusations of homophobia.
With the decision of the Supreme Court in 2015, Gay Marriage is now the law of the land in all states and territories of America. Now, before I go on I must make a disclosure. Regardless of my opinion on gay marriage (I am in support of it), I believe that Obergefall vs. Hodges was an erroneous decision by the Supreme Court. One shouldn’t be able to invent a whole constitutional right out of whole cloth. To legalize same-sex marriage as I believe should be done, a legislative act such as in New York or a national plebiscite as Ireland did it would be most satisfying, and reflect the will of the people more than nine robed justices. As the late Justice Antonin Scalia said, the debate over gay marriage was democracy at its finest. Regardless, much as I dislike the means, I am glad in the outcome. If that means I’ll be condemned as a “faggot lover” by the alt-right or have my name google bombed to refer to an obscure sex act only practiced in basement nightclubs in San Francisco or Amsterdam, so be it.
Anyway, with gay marriage being the law of the land, Republicans must face facts and at least adopt a neutral position officially on the subject. To reach out to the growing demographic — many clustered in important swing areas — every effort must be made to explain to same-sex couples how conservative, pro-family policies will help them.
With the threat of ISIS (the Orlando Attack specifically), tough on terrorism policies would resonate greatly. To the family I described earlier, the burden on their pocketbook will be lessened by pro-growth tax policies and cheap energy the same as a heterosexual couple would. Simply placing a lesbian family with children in ads would be a good start in markets such as NOVA or Miami. To write them off simply because the couple is either two men or two women would be obscene.
There needs to be a concentrated effort to discipline members of the party who make disparaging remarks regarding gay people. In 2003 Trent Lott (the then Senate Majority Leader) was forced to resign his leadership position after a comment many regarded as voicing support for segregation. While that may have been excessive, many within the Republican Party have made derogatory comments so blatant in attacking LGBTers that there is no room for doubt. To see them retain positions of influence only hurt our image, and will continue the flock to the Democrats despite their general antipathy to gays and lesbians individually (in any case more should be done to highlight these examples).
Most of all, this battle will be fought on the individual level. With the massive shift between older Republicans and the millennial generation in attitudes regarding gay rights issues (it extends across faction lines to even the most surprising of places), a lot can be done to alleviate these perceptions. To those conservatives that have gay friends or hold accepting views on gay rights, put yourselves out there. Join local LGBT groups, discuss how inclusive conservatism is the answer. Prove to them that their perceptions are wrong.
If this is done, then perhaps the left’s hold on LGBT Americans can be overcome and reversed.