On Being the First Openly Gay GOP Platform Committee Member

My thoughts from the RNC

In 2016, we are not used to hearing about someone being the “first openly gay” person to do anything anymore. Generations of trailblazers in the LGBT community have bravely been out and proud in nearly every aspect of our society, from sports and entertainment to business and politics. And so I was somewhat surprised to learn that when I was elected to serve on the 2016 Republican Platform Committee, I would be the first openly gay person to do so.

Every four years, two representatives from each state, district, and territory gather the week prior to the Republican National Convention to write a new platform. The document, now typically more than 50 pages long, is meant to outline the principles and policies the Party stands for and give the American people an idea of what Republican candidates would do if elected. Understanding very few voters (let alone elected officials) ever actually read the document, I always thought of the platform as largely symbolic and a way to track the trajectory of the GOP’s stances on a broad range of public policy issues.

While there are a number of issues that I care about (particularly national security) one of my main motivations for serving on the platform committee was to help bend the arc of the history of the GOP toward greater inclusion and a more unifying approach to LGBT issues. I wanted to help my Party start to evolve on these issues for three main reasons.

The first reason was one of principle: supporting LGBT freedom is simply the right thing to do. I’ve been a Republican since I was old enough to vote, when I fell in love with the Party’s principles — freedom, equality, and justice. To align with our own foundational beliefs and core values, we should start to embrace the rights and freedoms of LGBT individuals. On issues from marriage equality to transgender bathrooms, I thought, what could be more conservative than individual liberty and limited government?

The second reason was a political one: continuing to oppose the right of same-sex couples to marry is political suicide for our Party. The Republican platform is becoming woefully out of step with not just the LGBT community but also the growing majority of Americans who support the freedom to marry — now over 60%.

In particular, my Party was alienating itself from my generation, as millennial voters by and large cannot even consider voting for Republican candidates because of its outdated, divisive, and mean-spirited approach to LGBT issues.

Third, and much less significantly, was a personal reason: these issues matter to me as a member of the LGBT community. I’ve been a good Republican for 15 years, volunteering and working for a number of Party organizations and campaigning for GOP candidates in 27 states. I’ve been privately advocating for LGBT rights within my own Republican circles since I came out 10 years ago, but I had never spoken publicly on these issues. When I won a seat on the committee, I felt that it was my turn to step up and be a voice for my community to the group of people shaping the Republican Party platform for the next four years.

I knew that I would not exactly have home court advantage when taking this fight to the platform committee, which has many long-serving and very vocal opponents to LGBT issues. And so I offered an amendment that would strike the language in the platform advocating for denying same-sex couples the right to marry and replace it with inclusive language that I hoped would be acceptable to both people who supported and opposed that right. The amendment I proposed was simply to acknowledge that there is diversity of opinion within the Party on marriage and respect the growing percentage of Republicans who support the freedom to marry for LGBT individuals by calling for a thoughtful conversation on the issue. I thought this would be a reasonable first step that would not ask any committee members to violate their sincerely-held views on marriage but would provide the groundwork for becoming a bigger and more inclusive Republican Party by creating space for the 60% of Americans and counting who do support the freedom to marry.

Unfortunately, that amendment failed. The final version of the platform endorses “natural marriage” defined as the union of one man and one woman and calls for reversing the Supreme Court decision extending the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.

Despite the best efforts of many of my fellow platform committee members who proposed softer language across the board of LGBT issues and spoke in favor of such amendments, the 2016 GOP platform contains other divisive and harmful language as well. There is offensive language on same-sex parenting and gay adoption, strong opposition to the rights of transgender individuals to use bathroom that matches their gender identity, and even a veiled reference to so-called conversion therapy for LGBT people — a discredited and dangerous practice intended to make gay people straight.

In the face of growing public support for LGBT issues, our new party platform moves in the opposite direction. It has already come to be known as the most anti-LGBT platform in Republican Party history.

Still, there were some signs of hope that came out of the platform process. Compared to the document from four years ago, the platform has more limited references to anti-LGBT language, which appears in two of the six sections in 2016 as opposed to five of six in 2012. Additionally, there is broad employment non-discrimination language that was added to two sections of the platform. And the amendment to insert more inclusive language on marriage did receive 23 votes — clearly not the majority needed for passage but still nearly a quarter of the committee. A similar amendment in 2012 received only five votes. These small victories represent some indication of progress, but there is still much work to do.

The Republican Platform Committee is perhaps the last political stronghold of traditional marriage activists. The committee does not reflect the GOP as a whole, which is increasingly supportive of LGBT issues. There are Republican elected officials around the country standing up for LGBT rights and equality. Republican voters themselves are supporting the freedom to marry in growing numbers. Demonstrating the generational aspect of these issues, young Republicans now support the freedom to marry by a 60–40 margin. I predict that within the four-year lifespan of the current platform, a majority of Republican voters as a whole will come to support the freedom to marry. That will make things in 2020 even more interesting for the Platform Committee, which is supposed to be crafting a document to convince not just Republicans but all Americans to vote for our Party.

After publicly saying in Cleveland that I was a lesbian Republican — and proud of it — I personally saw many promising signs of changes within the GOP. Countless delegates approached me with grateful thanks for being their voice in the room. Of course it was particularly moving to hear this from my fellow LGBT Republicans, but most of the supportive comments were from straight delegates and activists who just want our Party to be a more inclusive, welcoming place for all Americans. Even among those delegates on the platform committee who did not vote for my marriage amendment, many approached me with kindness and respect, thanking me for being there and a part of the Party. I only wish our platform sent the same message to the LGBT community around the country.

I was proud to serve as the first openly gay member of the Republican Platform Committee, as astonished as I am that it took until 2016 for one of us to get here. I was proud to serve on the committee with so many allies who may not be gay but boldly spoke out and voted in favor of LGBT rights. I was proud to stand on the shoulders of activists who have been fighting for LGBT rights in communities, states, legislatures, and courts around the country for decades.

Even though my amendments failed, I hope that I played some small role in helping the Republican Party catch up to the rest of the country on LGBT issues. To be in accordance with our own principles and for the sake of our political future, the GOP must evolve.

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