Revelers mark passage of gay marriage bill in New York
During Tuesday night's vice presidential debate, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine spent much of his time slamming Indiana Gov. Mike Pence for his ticket's treatment of marginalized groups, all while forgetting one crucial demographic: LGBTQ folks.
For many, Kaine's seeming unwillingness to address these issues came as a shock. Pence's national recognition grew after he signed a religious freedom law in Indiana that permitted LGBTQ discrimination, and only after criticism did he sign an amendment to tighten up that part of the law. His running mate Donald Trump was nominated on one of the most pointedly anti-trans and anti-queer platforms in GOP history, according to the Log Cabin Republicans. Pundits, media outlets, and Twitter junkies were ready to watch Kaine pounce on Pence over this — only to discover a disappointingly familiar silence.
After the Supreme Court voted in favor of same-sex marriage in June 2015, some declared that the fight was "finally over" for lesbian and gay Americans. But the past year has been dominated by emotional, predictably uninformed, conversations about the rights of the larger LGBTQ community, and whether people who, on the basis of their religion, have a legal right to discriminate against them. Americans banded together to prevent transgender students from using the school bathroom of their choice, and progressive trolls worked together to (unsuccessfully) shut down a small town anti-gay Indiana pizza joint.
A gender neutral bathroom sign posted in Durham, North Carolina after the state passed HB2.
Image: sara davis/Getty Images
Given the heat, it's surprising to see how little attention has been paid to queer and trans issues on the national stage. In the past two presidential debates, only one reference was made to the LGBTQ community (after Kaine argued that Putin "persecutes LGBT folks"). Clinton's advertising has primarily centered on Trump's anti-women, anti-immigrant language and agenda.
So Mike Pence makes an entire career out of demonizing LGBT people and it's not worth mentioning even once during the debate? #VPDebate
— 🌰🍁JuanPa🍂🎃 (@jpbrammer) October 5, 2016
Is Pence really going to get out of this debate without having to address his ridiculously anti-abortion, anti-LGBT record? #VPDebate
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) October 5, 2016
But just because Trump's campaign hasn't advertised his anti-LGBTQ views doesn't mean they don't exist. Trump, for one, has said he would consider appointing Supreme Court judges who would overturn the same-sex marriage decision and leave it to the states. One of his potential picks, William Pryor, filed a 2003 legal brief on behalf of Texas' anti-sodomy laws, comparing the practice to "polygamy, incest, pedophilia, prostitution, and adultery," and argued that states should be legally able to prosecute gay people as criminals.
Recently, the Trump campaign released a statement announcing that the candidate would sign the notorious First Amendment Defense Act, which allows employers and businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ citizens on the basis of their religious views. After some wavering, Trump now supports HB2, North Carolina's notorious anti-trans bathroom bill law.
Additionally, Pence had previously labelled those who received HIV treatment as "needy" and campaigned for the government to fund gay conversion therapy.
It's a lot to swallow. But part of the Clinton campaign's reticence has to do with the Trump campaign's own competing noise. Next to Trump's plan to set up a deportation police force, or to build a wall against Mexican rapists, or to take down "fat pig Rosie O'Donnell," Trump's anti-LGBTQ rhetoric seemed minuscule in proportion. It gets complicated to try and take down a candidate who has supported anti-LGBTQ policy, and then, at his convention, taken a different tack. In Cleveland, he promised that, "As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens," and then subsequently commended his audience for their unexpected applause. ("I must say, as a Republican it’s so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.)”
Trump's anti-LGBTQ rhetoric can't quite be captured in a Twitter embed, a Facebook video or a viral GIF. The candidate doesn't explicitly advocate vigilante justice against queer and trans Americans the way he has against immigrants. This version of hate is harder to hear.
It's further possible the Clinton campaign doesn't feel compelled to dredge up this material because it's not needed. A recent NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll found that, in a two-way matchup, 72 percent of LGBTQ voters supported Hillary Clinton, as compared to just 20 percent for Trump. Meanwhile, 82 percent of the roughly 1,700 LGBTQ voters polled had an unfavorable view of Trump, even those that were voting for him.
Still, those in the movement wonder if Clinton's campaign is missing an important opportunity. While there's little chance at this point in the election that Trump could attract LGBTQ voters, Clinton could potentially energize millennials in her base by holding the candidate accountable for his views. If there's one thing the 2016 election has taught us, it's that next to the economy, nothing quite motivates voters like identity politics and emotion.
Part of the reason the Clinton campaign has hounded Trump so doggedly on race, for example, isn't just because she hopes to attract and energize more voters of color (or, ahem, do the right thing). It's to appeal those white voters who are considering a vote for Trump, but are afraid that in doing so, they'll be branded a racist.
It's possible Clinton could make a similar association with the LGBTQ community. While Trump has little chance of attracting more LGBTQ voters, Clinton could potentially alienate straight voters from his campaign who are scared of being labeled homophobic or transphobic. A 2016 Pew Research poll found that 55% of Americans support same sex marriage, as compared to just 37% who oppose it. A plurality of Americans now believe that transgender people should be able to use the bathroom of their choice.
The GIFS and gaffes may be hard to find. Clinton may have to explain, yet again, why she was so late to supporting same-sex marriage, even after it had moved into the mainstream. The campaign will have to dig deeper to find Trump's anti-gay rhetoric, policies and allies, especially since the candidate was once known for his moderation.
On this issue, the party is keeping its hate where it traditionally hides it: in neatly layered text on its campaign page.
Election day is just over a month away, and there are two presidential debates left, leaving Clinton just enough time to set the trap. Whether Trump steps into it is one question, how effective it'll be is another.
Still, Democrats cheered as Kaine made his last minute pro-choice pitch at the end of a whiney 90-minute debate. And leaders in the LGBTQ community grieved on Twitter that Kaine and Pence failed to reach out to them. Emotion sells and identity, matters.
During the debate, @mike_pence said he sees "dignity, value & worth in every human life." What about LGBT's? Why does he marginalize us?
— Chip Coffey (@chipcoffey) October 5, 2016
Americans need a candidate who doesn't just promise LGBTQ support on their campaign page, but says it out loud, over and over and over again, until it no longer needs to be said.
Revelers mark passage of gay marriage bill in New York