Many gay Republicans recoiled when Donald Trump brought on Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his vice-presidential running mate. Pence’s long track record of advocating for religious businesses to have the liberty to discriminate against customers, his crusade against same-sex marriage and his staunch anti-abortion politics have made him a polarizing figure in the culture wars. It was no surprise, then, that the national Log Cabin Republicans, the GOP's LGBT group, chose not to endorse Trump (or any presidential candidate). The group gave local chapters the opportunity to endorse whomever they wanted.
The Colorado Log Cabin Republicans, who made headlines in 2015 when they were uninvited from the Western Conservative Summit, swerved from the national organization's refusal to back a candidate and endorsed Trump and Pence at the beginning of November.
Westword spoke to the group’s president, George Gramer, vice president Joe Klein and treasurer Kenneth Wilkison about the endorsement.
Westword: How did the Colorado Log Cabin Republicans come to a decision to endorse Trump?
Kenneth Wilkison: We came to the decision as a group basically because of Trump's history and his friendliness toward the gay community. He has a vast empire of companies, all of which offer same-sex benefits. His history with the gay community has been one of inclusion and acceptance, and his campaign has definitely demonstrated that as well. He was the first Republican presidential candidate to mention the LGBTQ community in a presidential acceptance speech. That impressed us and we felt it was worth our efforts to endorse him.
Talk about where the national Log Cabin Republicans are on this and some of the differences between the Colorado chapter and that organization?
Joe Klein: National took the position that Trump is wonderful or close to wonderful on gay issues. The problems with him were the people that he surrounded himself with, like Mike Pence and the guy from Breitbart (Stephen Bannon), who's helping him run the campaign. They had not been the most gay-friendly people around.
Pence has a controversial track record on LGBTQ issues. How did you reconcile that, considering he'd be second in command?
Klein: Reconciling it is not that hard of a problem because we are not one-issue voters. We look at a whole variety of issues, and sure, we disagree with him on certain issues — gay marriage, that kind of thing. But we agree with him on a whole lot of things, also: fiscal restraint, a strong military, strong national defense and other national-security issues. When you balance out all the different things, the scales tipped in their favor.
Talk about your criticisms of Hillary Clinton when it comes to LGBT politics. You said her policies "endanger the LGBT community" in a press release. What's that referring to?
George Gramer: Obviously both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have both evolved in the last eight years. I think that's subterfuge. I think that's lies. I seriously doubt that they were as opposed [to LGBT issues] as they claimed to be eight years ago, because they were running for the center. Hillary does have a history with the LGBT community, as does the Democratic Party. But the Democratic Party cannot take the LGBT community for granted as an automatic vote. There are thinking people with more than one issue on their plate. I'm about a twenty-issue voter.
So it's Clinton's history? Can you elaborate more?
Gramer: As I said, eight years ago, she was in favor of marriage as defined by one man and one woman. That has changed. Joe Biden kind of broke the flood tide in his speech maybe five years ago now, followed by Obama, followed by Hillary. She is not as pro-gay, I believe, as she is purported to be.
What's your organization's relationship with the state Republican Party and with the Western Conservative Summit? How is that going? How is that evolving?
Klein: We are very well accepted across the Republican Party in Colorado. We proudly have our name tags on today, and we're proudly accepted by most of the mainstream Republicans. Our flare-up with the Western Conservative Summit concerned primarily Colorado Christian University's president, former Senator Bill Armstrong, who is now deceased. We are friends with John Andrews, who was at the time the chairman of the Western Conservative Summit, and we have a wonderful relationship with him.
If you look at the Republican Party over the last ten years, there have been seismic shifts in terms of policy and the role of the evangelical movement in the party. Can you speak to that and how you see those shifts happening regarding LGBT politics in the party as a whole?
Klein: Well, I think there is a definite trend that you see, as George was speaking about, of more acceptance being in the party. I think you've seen the party increasing in acceptance for various reasons. Attrition. We're also being more vocal. We're also being more out there. We have a great slate of people at the national and state levels who are very eloquent at expounding about why we're Republicans and how we can be gay and be Republicans. I think nationally, it's almost an evangelistic type thing. The more we're out there, the more people know us, the more people realize that these guys are not weirdos. These are not fringe outliers. These are normal people who get up and pay taxes and go to work and do all the normal stuff everybody else does.
Granger: As I said, I have about twenty issues that are important to me. I was a Republican long before I realized I was a gay man. Being gay has nothing to do with my political preference. I grew up in a conservative family in the Midwest. I grew up in a Republican family. I've been registered as a Republican for 46 years, since I could first vote. You know, the Democrats do believe they are authorized to have 90 percent of the black vote, 90 percent of the Hispanic vote and 95 percent of the GLBT vote. That is no longer the case.
Various contacts in the state party have talked about Hillary Clinton and their own anxieties around Trump. One of the things they've expressed is that Hillary Clinton is sort of a Republican in the Democratic Party herself. Can you speak to that?
Klein: I think that stems back to her husband, when they had that Democratic Leadership Council, I believe. It was purported back in the '90s, he had that middle-ground Democratic policy group. That got people thinking, "Maybe he's sort of halfway Republican." I think that just bled over on her.
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Wilkison: Let me just add to that point about Hillary Clinton being perceived as a Republican. In so much as she is a part of the D.C. establishment that has been occupied pretty evenly between Republicans and Democrats, the same Republican establishment that has not been keen on Donald Trump, Hillary now is the representation of this establishment. In so much as she is connected with that, she is perceived as a Republican, especially in her foreign-policy approaches, which are more interventionist and which may put her more in line with that establishment that occupies both parties. The perception, among a lot of Democrats and maybe even Republicans, is that somehow she is more Republican.
Where do you all situate yourselves in terms of that question about the establishment?
Wilkison: The establishment is what it is, okay? There is an established order that's occupied by Democrats and Republicans. Donald Trump came along and represented the threat to that power establishment, and that's why they have been opposing him. There is a lot of opposition, even in the Republican Party, from the establishment types. Of course, Hillary is the D.C. establishment in the sense that she is the titular head now. The majority of the Republican Party is occupied by people who aren't in that class, and that's why Trump got the nomination, because we want some changes. That includes gay Republicans who are for Trump.