PayPal's Peter Thiel's self-identification as a proud gay man during his speech at the Republican National Convention is getting a lot of media attention, as it should. Though the RNC has had openly gay speakers before, this was the first time a speaker made reference to his own non-heterosexual identity.
When accepting the nomination for president, Donald Trump also made reference to the gay and transgender community. He referenced the Orlando attack on a gay bar that killed 49 people, noting that the killer targeted the "LGBTQ community." Trump said that was "no good" and that he "would stop it." This prompted cheers from the audience, and he continued that he would do everything within his power to protect LGBTQ folks from violence and the "hateful oppression" of radical Islam. This prompted another round of cheers, and Trump went off-script for a moment to say "As a Republican, it's so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said."
This has been characterized as a sign of advancement for the Republican Party in some fashion, but is it really something new for the Republican Party to say they don't want gay Americans to be murdered? Certainly the left would love to characterize the party that way, but for those of us who see ourselves independent of party ties, is this an actual shift in the party or something that was simply expected?
It's hard not to feel cynical about the invocations given that they're tied primarily to encourage a focus on a foreign policy on how to fight Islamic terrorism and no indication of any domestic policy shifts at home. The official platform of the party has stubbornly refused reforms, continuing to reject same-sex marriage recognition, attempting to classify it as a state-level issue, yet still calling for federal policies to encourage stable families.
The platform has taken a stand against federal demands that schools accommodate transgender students. Thiel described the transgender bathroom panic behavior as a "distraction," but did so in such a vague way that it's not clear whether he thinks state-level laws like those in North Carolina are bad or whether he thinks people just shouldn't get upset about it. It's easy to be dismissive of lawmaking as a "distraction" when it involves regulations that aren't likely to affect you.
Taken holistically, the message from the GOP seems to be "Hey, at least we don't want to kill you! Radical Islam and Muslim-dominated countries want to kill you, but we don't." Well … thanks?
I acknowledge I may be an outlier in my lack of warm feelings over how gay issues have been referenced at the convention, at least from the perspective as a libertarian gay man who is not a leftist or Democrat. Stephen Miller, over at the Independent Gay Forum's Culture Watch, sees the invocation of the gay community in speeches at the convention as a "dramatic change from the past" (he's nevertheless voting for Gary Johnson). ABC News tracked down a Trump supporter on the convention floor who was moved to tears by Trump's reference because she has a married gay son.
And the lack of actual platform shift is particularly disappointing because next week, when the Democratic Party has its convention, I know full well they're going to be running so far in the other direction I'll end up frustrated for completely different reasons. Hillary Clinton is openly calling for a raft of new federal laws to address any sort of concerns raised by anybody who is gay or transgender. I noted previously that her pursuit of the gay vote calls for six new federal laws, a whole host of regulations that can be used by the government to punish citizens for refusing to make gay wedding cakes or refusing to offer adoption services to gay couples.
I find such expansion of regulation oppressive to a culture that has navigated slowly but surely in the direction of naturally becoming more accommodating to gay and transgender people. I'm even okay with government funding adoption agencies that don't serve gay couples because the goal is to find kids happy homes and as long as there are agencies that do serve gay couples, we should be pushing for more participants, not fewer.
That the Republican Party is still playing catch-up on marriage recognition while the Democratic Party moves even further into the realm of federal government intervention on these issues is frustrating, and the message that the Republican Party doesn't want to see LGBT people killed by ISIS feels more about pushing a particular foreign policy agenda, not about actually becoming more inclusive. Maybe I would feel differently had I ever identified as a Republican, but as a lifelong political independent, it tastes like the weakest of teas.