Commentary

Why are some LGBTQ people Republicans? Why do they vote against their own community?

Gays For Trump
Peter BoykinPhoto: Facebook

One of the enduring mysteries in politics is why the existence of  LGBTQ Republicans. The party caters to the religious right, which is working to roll back LGBTQ rights.

The Trump administration made attacking LGBTQ progress a hallmark of its politics. Trump himself seemed personally apathetic about the community, but he was happy to appoint people with a long track record of hateful acts and follow their lead to get votes. He even joked about Vice President Mike Pence wanting to hang gay people.

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Nor has the party had a change of heart since Trump’s re-election loss. Glenn Youngkin, the governor-elect of Virginia, thinks that marriage equality is wrong. 

So given those circumstances, why would an LGBTQ person want to vote Republican?

According to FiveThirtyEight, which recently examined the phenomenon, there are multiple, often connecting answers. One of the major ones is that gay and lesbian Republicans don’t feel that their sexuality is that big a deal. As FiveThirtyEight put it, “most LGB Republicans see their sexuality as separate from — or secondary to — their political identity.”

A 2020 study from the Williams Institute bears this out. A little more than half of 54 percent of LGB Republicans said their sexual orientation was an “insignificant” part of their identity. They were also much less likely than LGB Democrats to say that their sexual identity was “a very important aspect” of themselves.

FiveThirtyEight talked to a number of self-identified LGB (no T or Q) Republicans, who bore those findings out.

“My sexual orientation being gay is just a tiny part of me and doesn’t really affect where I stand politically,” one told the site. “I think the Democratic Party tends to pander too much to various groups, and I think we should look at people more as individuals than as part of a group.”

Indeed, many LGB Republicans don’t feel society as a whole is homophobic. Several cited the party’s relative silence now over marriage equality as a sign of how much things have changed for the better. (They apparently aren’t aware of two Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices who would like to overturn that right.)

That may have to do with LGB Republicans having more tenuous connections to the community at large. Only 45 percent of LGB Republicans in the Williams Institute survey felt that they had a bond with the community, compared to 70 percent of LGB Democrats.

The Republicans’ appeal to business and economic issues also has a pull. But as the party moves away from having any platform at all to simply become a venue for Donald Trump and his grievances, it’s harder to justify support on policy grounds. Indeed, Trump threw out many of the basic principles that have animated Republicans for decades.

Finally, many of the LGB Republicans that FiveThirtyEight talked to said that they felt personally welcomed as gay or lesbian in Republican circles, while they often felt ostracized as Republicans in LGBTQ circles.

The number of LGB Republicans is pretty small, so they constitute a fraction of a fraction of the electorate. Their impact on election results will be minimal, especially since the GOP seems intent on driving many LGBTQ voters away. But it’s always worth remembering that there’s a long line of gay former Republicans who simply got fed up with the party. Jimmy LaSalvia, a founder of the LGBTQ Republican group GOProud, resigned from the GOP in 2014 because of its “tolerance of bigotry.”

Confronted with the prospect of a Trump presidency, he endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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