why donald trump is good for the lgbt vote
Daniel Reynolds of The Advocate explains how Trump’s bigotry can be a galvanizing force for the very people most alienated by his message.
As a freshman in college, I had the privilege of hearing Judy Shepard give a moving speech on the legacy of her late son, Matthew, who was murdered because of his sexual orientation. Judy said many inspirational things that night to a packed auditorium in Pennsylvania. But for an 18-year-old who had just come out of the closet, there was one phrase in particular that stuck with me: "Thank God for Fred Phelps."
It was surprising to hear Shepard praise the (recently deceased) head of the notoriously homophobic Westboro Baptist Church, whose members picketed her son's funeral with signs like "God Hates Fags." But, as Shepard explained, there is immense value in giving a face to bigotry. It shows the world that prejudice is real. It galvanizes people to act and to fight.
Throughout the past few months, Donald Trump has improbably scaled the walls of the political establishment to become the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. He did so by tapping into the fears and prejudices of voters—not a new strategy, certainly. The George W. Bush campaign, spearheaded by Karl Rove and managed by then-closeted Ken Mehlman, attempted to ride a wave of homophobia into the White House in 2004 — the same year I first heard Shepard speak.
But Trump did something unique from past, more polished candidates: He got his own hands dirty. And he called the demons by name. He called xenophobia by name when he proposed building a wall on the Mexican border. He called transphobia by name when he said states have a right to pass the wave of so-called "bathroom bills," which deny a person the right to use a restroom that corresponds with their gender identity. He called racism by name by saying Black Lives Matter is a movement that encourages police violence, rather than social justice. He called Islamophobia by name when he proposed an immigration ban on Muslims. He called ableism by name when he mocked a disabled reporter. And he also called hypocrisy by name when he declared his support for "L-G-B-T-Q" Americans onstage at the Republican National Convention, in a year when the GOP platform has never been more bigoted in its stand against the LGBT community. In the shadow of the mass shooting of a gay bar in Orlando, this shout-out was no call for equality. It was a divisive stunt that redrew the line of Otherness to incorporate American gay people, while demonizing foreigners and Muslims as terrorists.
In short, Trump became a face of bigotry. And thank God he did. Because with each hateful remark, I have witnessed something remarkable: a wave of outcry from folks I have never known to be political. These demons are not being ignored. Rather, they are being addressed, attacked, and called out for their ignorance like never before.
As the editor of social media at The Advocate, I daily observe outrage from LGBT people and their allies that such a man could be the next president of the United States. For example, when Facebook unrolled its expanded Like button, which allowed for more nuanced responses like shock and love, we asked for reactions to the idea of Donald Trump as president. The results were overwhelmingly negative: over 6,800 faces of anger out of 8,100 reactions.
This disgust, it turns out, is a great opportunity for education. Each week, we publish articles that use Trump as an access point to address a variety of issues that intersect with the LGBT community, including immigration, police brutality, sexism, and HIV. The dialogue continues into the real world. I live in Los Angeles, a town that can feel insular and entertainment-focused — and much less wonky or political than Washington, D.C., where I used to reside. Yet conversations at mixers have moved on from Marvel movies to talk of Trump and his latest screed, allowing for chances to speak with straight allies about issues that might not otherwise have been addressed. This is wonderful news for the LGBT rights movement, because these talks fight against the most challenging threat to its advancement: apathy.
Not too long ago, apathy was a huge concern for activists. Last summer, I reported on a fundraiser for Lambda Legal, one of the most prominent legal organizations that advocates for our community. At the time, marriage equality had just been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. As a result, the event that day was under-attended. The fundraiser's hashtag, #WonButNotDone, needed to reach those who were not there. It spoke to the reality that although the right to marry had been won, there was still a host of other hurdles to clear before equality was achieved, among them employment discrimination and transgender rights. But in the afterglow of Obergefell v. Hodges, it was easy for many to slip into a false complacency. The hard work was over, wasn't it? Perhaps the rest of these issues would fall into place.
Trump has reminded the LGBT community that such promises are not guaranteed. The gains and momentum that our movement have achieved could just as easily be undone without an ally like Obama as commander in chief. So much is on the line. The Equality Act — legislation that would protect members of the LGBT community from marrying on Sunday and being fired on Monday — has yet to be passed. A seat on the U.S. Supreme Court is still vacant.
The prospect of moving backward has been a wake-up call for not only members of our community, but also for our friends and family, who have been likewise called to action. I have seen my own mother, who is in her 60s, engage in activism in new and surprising ways, signing online petitions for trans rights in North Carolina and tweeting her support of me and the LGBT community at large. She has always been my ally, but Trump's vitriol has awakened her to the value of her own voice.
Trump's slogan is "Make America Great Again"— a phrase that speaks to those who fear change, globalization, and socio-cultural progress, and who harbor a deep-seated rancor that the way things were cannot be again. But as Michelle Obama pointed out in her speech at the Democratic National Convention, when has America not been great? It is a dynamic country with shifting demographics and evolving values, aspiring toward a more perfect union.
Trump's cynicism gave the first lady the opportunity to point that out, and it has given many more who would otherwise be apathetic to politics the drive to prove him wrong. Trump has reminded us that the fight for equality is far greater than LGBT; it is one we share with women, with people of color, with immigrants, with the differently abled, and with every group that has been historically marginalized. He has united us together against bigotry and awakened us to intersectionality. It's a lesson — and a passion — that we should never forget.
Text Daniel Reynolds
Photography Tony Webster via Flickr Creative Commons