The LGBT Democratic National Convention

One party really embraces diversity.

One party really embraces diversity.

Since the Democratic National Convention ended on July 28 with Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, Donald Trump has been reinforcing every day why he’s not fit to lead America. For days he’s attacked Ghazala and Khizr Kahn, the parents of Capt. Humayan Kahn, a soldier killed in Iraq. Then at a night-time rally in Pennsylvania – a key swing state – on August 1, Trump said of Hillary Clinton, “She’s the devil.”

Yes, Trump literally called the first female nominee and former Secretary of State “the devil.” Like thousands of women haven’t been burned at the stake and tortured to death as witches for being the devil on earth in the past. Like we are back in an era where women speaking truth to power means they are “the devil.” (At the Republican National Convention, former presidential candidate and former neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson also linked Clinton to Satan, referencing a paper she wrote in college on Saul Alinsky, a community organizer who died in 1972 but who was famous for his book Rules for Radicals.)

These outrageous comments are representative of Trump’s rhetoric and by extension, the Republican Party. It’s difficult to comprehend how in 2016, a major party candidate is calling the other major party candidate “the devil” and it’s considered legitimate.

Trump represents the current GOP, no matter what the handful of Republicans who don’t support him assert. And Trump is no friend to women or LGBTQ people, his halting attempts at drawing us in notwithstanding. On August 1 Trump was once again concern-trolling LGBTQ people from his favorite venue, Twitter, claiming “Hillary Clinton raked in money from regimes that horribly oppress women and gays & refuses to speak out against Radical Islam.”

Doubling down on his Islamophobia and using LGBTQ people to do it – much as he did after the Orlando shootings. Despite Trump’s rhetoric, LGBTQ people have the evidence of the DNC as proof of how big the Democratic tent is and how LGBTQ people are not an afterthought to the Democratic Party, but full participants.

According to a report by NBC at the convention, LGBT delegates made up 11.5 percent of all delegates at the DNC this year – a record number.

NBC reported that “This record number is not a coincidence–it’s by design. In order to increase the number of delegates from underrepresented communities, veteran LGBT delegates established an advisory board to recruit new and qualified LGBT delegates from across the U.S. The newly appointed delegates span the LGBT spectrum and bring a variety of experience and fresh perspectives to the delegation.”

The RNC had one openly gay speaker, billionaire Peter Thiel, whose politics are so extreme, few LGBTQ people would want to claim him as their own and a rabidly anti-LGBTQ platform that is more anti-gay than any in recent years. The juxtaposition of the DNC was amazing.

Throughout the convention, LGBTQ people could be seen – and seeing them was so important.LPAC, whose mission is to “build the political power of lesbians and queer women by electing candidates who champion LGBTQ rights, women’s equality and social justice” was a strong presence. There were not just the hundreds of LGBTQ delegates, but a some impressive and compelling LGBTQ speakers, among whom were many of America’s and the DNC’s “firsts.”

On Day 1 speakers included Tina Kotek, the first ever lesbian speaker of Oregon House of Representatives. Kotek told the thousands in attendance, “The fact is I’m with Hillary because she’s with me. We [Democrats] have been leading the country by advancing progressive policies that level the playing field.

We need leaders like Hillary Clinton who will stand up to the bullies who threaten fairness and equality. Hillary Clinton is our answer to intolerance and fear,” said Kotek. “And I have her back because I know she stands with all of us.”

In 2013, NBA player Jason Collins became the first gay male athlete actively playing in professional sports to come out as gay. He also spoke on the first day of the DNC and his speech drew huge applause. He was introduced by his twin brother, Jarron, also an NBA player.

Jason Collins spoke to an issue all LGBTQ Americans have faced at some point: Coming out. “My dream was to play in the NBA and live my authentic life as a proud gay man at the same time,” Collins said. “I was able to accomplish both of those goals because of the people who have supported me throughout my life.”

Among those people, Collins asserted, was Hillary Clinton, with whom he has been a family friend since he and Chelsea Clinton were classmates at Stanford. He said that he came out privately to Hillary and Bill Clinton before he became a household name by appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Collins said at the time, “I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation.” At the DNC he said, “I knew that they would accept me for who I was, and that they would help pave the path for others to do the same. I am grateful for their words of wisdom back then and for their unconditional support.”

Collins said, “They knew that my sexual orientation made no difference in my ability to play basketball,” he said, “just as someone’s gender makes no difference in his or her ability to lead our nation.”

Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Chad Griffin went there with Trump in his DNC speech, talking about the Pulse nightclub shooting and how Trump manipulated that tragedy. Griffin said, “Yet while the nation mourned, Donald Trump strutted before the cameras, and exploited our national tragedy.

He had the audacity to tell the American public that he was the true champion for LGBTQ people in this race, and that our community would be better off with him in the White House. He even challenged his skeptics to, and I quote – ‘ask the gays.’”

Griffin talked about how Hillary Clinton had been someone he had trusted as a young gay teen. “While Donald Trump has threatened to strip away our rights, the Hillary Clinton I first got to know as a closeted kid growing up in Arkansas has always been willing to stand up for the voiceless, and she’s made fighting for equality a cornerstone of her campaign.”

Griffin went on to define the difference between Clinton and Trump for LGBTQ people:

“While Donald Trump has promised to legalize Kim Davis-style discrimination in all 50 states… Hillary Clinton has promised to sign the Equality Act into law.”

The Equality Act, like ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), would change the lives of LGBTQ people throughout America and was a focal point for many of the Democratic delegates. The Equality Act of 2015 is a bill in the United States House of Representatives and the Senate that if passed would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

It’s as far-reaching as it is necessary. Griffin said Clinton is committed to the Equality Act.

Also at issue at the DNC was the matter of HIV/AIDS. While not widely known outside the LGBTQ community, Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, caused an outbreak of HIV/AIDS that was, according to an article July 29 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, entirely preventable.

Pence, an ardent anti-abortion foe, closed down Planned Parenthood clinics in the state and made STD testing inaccessible to thousands. Indiana has a high percentage of IV drug users and it was determined that at least 181 cases of HIV were directly linked to the outbreak. That may not seem like a lot, but consider those are the cases about which a clear link can be established.

Pence also is a supporter of conversion therapy – something I was personally subjected to as a teen. I appeared on numerous TV shows in the late 1980s and early 1990s opposite members of various ex-gay groups talking about the dangers of conversion therapy.

I attempted suicide as a teenager in response and spent an extended period in a psychiatric hospital where I was supposed to be de-gayed. It didn’t work but it did leave me with lasting scars – not just the ones from my suicide attempt.

Griffin reminded the DNC that it was Hillary Clinton who was the first member of any administration to speak out against this and other barbarism against LGBTQ people in her famous speech from Geneva in 2011. As Secretary of State, she was the highest ranked political figure in the world to address the way LGBTQ people were being persecuted throughout the world.

“Hillary Clinton stood before the United Nations and boldly declared that gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights,” Griffin said.

There was Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), the first out lesbian in Congress. There was Abby Wambach, the best soccer player in history, with a goal record better than any woman or man. There was Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the county’s first Hispanic, first female and first lesbian sheriff. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, Dallas County has the seventh-largest sheriff’s department in the nation–it’s huge.

One of the most talked about LGBTQ speakers was Sarah McBride, the first out trans person to ever speak at a Democratic convention. McBride talked about coming out as transgender a few years ago, while she was student body president of her college. Her first words were, “My name is Sarah McBride and I am a proud transgender American. But despite our progress, so much work remains.”

It was a dramatic moment that no doubt made trans people across America feel included. McBride said, “Hillary Clinton understands the urgency of our fight. She’ll work with us to pass the Equality Act, to combat violence against transgender women of color, and to end the HIV and AIDS epidemic once and for all.”

After speaking, McBride tweeted from the DNC, “I hope I did my community justice. We are strong and resilient and change is coming.”

Change is coming was a theme among all the LGBTQ speakers at the DNC as well as among LGBTQ delegates. What went unnoticed by mainstream media intent on other issues and bigger-name speakers (with the possible exception of Collins), was how groundbreaking the LGBTQ presence at the DNC was.

At the RNC the legacy of homophobia continued, with many of the speakers well know for their homophobic statements. And the last-minute inclusion of Thiel may have started some kind of conversation among Republicans, but as a white male billionaire, it wasn’t a conversation most of us would be engaged in.

Trump’s choice of Pence and his rabid anti-gay ideology and the reinforcing of the anti-gay laws being passed nationwide by GOP lawmakers exemplify how LGBTQ people are treated by the GOP.

The plethora of personal stories like that of Collins, or Wambach, who has been campaigning for Clinton, or Griffin, who has felt supported by Clinton since his teen years served to underscore at the DNC that as president, Hillary Clinton would, as Kotek said, have our collective back.

At the end of his speech at the DNC, Griffin said, “I want to remind Donald Trump of one more thing. The LGBTQ community is as diverse as the fabric of our nation. We are Muslim. We are Jewish. We are women. We are black, white and Latino. We are immigrants and we are people with disabilities. And when you attack one of us, you are attacking all of us. And that, my friends, is why together we are all with her.”

The publication of nude and erotic photos on July 31 and August 1 of Melania Trump by the Rupert Murdoch newspaper, the New York Post, caused Rush Limbaugh, still the voice of conservative talk radio, to opine that the photos from Mrs. Trump’s days as a model prior to her marrying Donald Trump, would help seal the LGBTQ vote.

“Have you seen The New York Post again with nude photos of Melania Trump?” Limbaugh asked on his broadcast Monday, the second day in a row the newspaper used old pictures of the former model on its cover. “And today these are, what would you call, girl-on-girl I think is the — nude girl-on-girl photos with Melania and other women.”

Limbaugh said, “I think this probably might wrap up the LGBTQ vote for Trump. You never know how these things are seen. You never know.”

This is how the GOP still perceives LGBTQ people – as defined by our sexuality to such a degree that our votes would be swayed by a handful of faux porn pics of the then-25-year-old “Melania K.”

Compare and contrast with what went down at the DNC last week–all those LGBTQ people – famous like Collins, Wambach and director Lee Daniels and not famous like all the delegates. LGBTQ people not just in the hall, but on the stage and being heard by millions. Not an afterthought, but part of the big tent.

State Sen. Pat Spearman from Nevada put it succinctly when she spoke at the DNC. Spearman said Trump “wants to overturn marriage equality” and said Pence “used religion as a weapon to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.”

“As a lesbian that hurts me,” Spearman said. “As a person of faith, that offends me.”

The events of the past few days since the DNC ended have made it more clear than ever that Trump is a loose cannon unfit to be president. That the GOP has a policy of exclusion written into their party platform underscores that Republicans want us back in the 1950s closet.

That’s not an option for any of us.