Becca Damante ‘17
Watching the third and final presidential debate on Oct. 19 filled me with so much rage that my roommate and I chucked a banana off the third floor balcony of our dorm into a dumpster when it was over. From Trump’s ridiculous comment that he might not concede the election to Clinton if she won, to his continued insistence that the sexual assault claims being made against him were false, Trump made my blood boil in a way that even the worst villains on ABC’s Scandal cannot. Yet aside from the sorry state of the Republican Party, I was almost as upset over the lack of attention that these debates devoted to LGBT rights. Passing over these issues is not only dangerous for LGBT people, but also reinforces the idea that marriage equality is the end of the LGBT movement.
The closest these debates came to having a real conversation about the future of LGBT issues in this country was during the final presidential debate. When a question was asked about the future of the Supreme Court, Clinton said, “We need a Supreme Court that will stand up on behalf of women’s rights, on behalf of the rights of the LGBT community,” and more specifically she said that she did not want marriage equality or Roe v. Wade to be reversed by the court. While I applaud her for her inclusion of these topics, Trump did not mention LGBT people in his response. Watching the debate, I wished the moderator had pressed Trump on his views on LGBT issues. The conversation only continued with a focus on abortion and gun violence, which are, of course, important issues, but they are not the only ones that would be threatened by a Republican president.
This begs the question: where does the Republican Party stand on LGBT issues? Over the last few years, same-sex marriage has moved from an issue supported largely by the Democratic Party to a platform that even some Republicans could get behind. Indeed, last year far more Republicans than ever backed marriage equality and celebrated the landmark Obergfell decision. Yet apart from marriage equality, there is much more work to be done to ensure LGBT equality, and this has by and large been the focus of the Democratic Party. For example, the Democratic Party has widely supported the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This is extremely important given that it is legal to be fired for being LGBT in 28 states.
Republicans, on the other hand, despite having been supportive of marriage equality in some contexts, have recently ratified what is being called the most homophobic platform in its history. The GOP’s official platform calls for a variety of anti-LGBT measures, including the repeal of marriage equality, and wants to make it legal to discriminate against LGBT people. In addition, the platform seeks to make conversion therapy legal, even though it has been widely disproved by major psychological associations including the American Psychological Association.
With this extremist platform, Trump has been strangely quiet and non-controversial about LGBT issues during this election cycle. For example, when asked about the transgender bathroom laws in July, Trump said that the decision should be left to the states. Similarly, Trump said he wanted to leave the issue of marriage equality to the states instead of creating a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, even though he personally was against Obergefell. While this certainly does not mean that Trump is an LGBT advocate, these statements are striking when paired with his extreme views on other minorities, such as women, Muslims and Mexicans.
Some may say that that Trump’s real views about LGBT people are made evident by his vice presidential nominee, Mike Pence, who is staunchly anti-gay. As the governor of Indiana, Pence signed a bill that would allow business owners to discriminate against LGBT people due to their religious beliefs. In addition, while in Congress, he voted against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and earlier in his career said that gay couples signaled “societal collapse.” With all of that said, I found it hard to believe that neither Trump nor Pence was asked about their views on LGBT rights during the debates, as this would have been the perfect opportunity to challenge their previous statements and question Trump on his VP pick.
Clearly, the organizers of the presidential debates have done a disservice to the candidates, the LGBT community and American voters by leaving out a discussion of LGBT people. While LGBT people only make up a small portion of the American public, the candidates’ views on these issues certainly speak volumes about their values more broadly. If a candidate or party wants to treat one minority unfairly, what is stopping them from extending these biases to other people in our country?