R. D. Hutchinson always gets the same reaction after telling people he leans Republican: "That's different." On the surface, that fact shouldn't be so surprising. The 24-year-old is a former military forklift operator who was born and raised in Virginia; he speaks with a Southern accent, loves the Second Amendment, and is the kind of small-town American who settled down early. But Hutchinson––who got a job as a turf coordinator for the Republican National Convention in Richmond after falling in love with Donald Trump––is also married to a man.
"He's brought in a lot of Republicans that I call Trump Republicans," Hutchinson told me. "They aren't traditional Republicans. They don't talk about the kind of things that the Religious Right talks about."
Neither does the candidate in question. On June 14, the day after Omar Mateen killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Trump specifically appealed to the LGBTQ community during a rally in North Carolina. "We want to live in a country where gay and lesbian Americans and all Americans are safe from radical Islam, which, by the way, wants to murder and has murdered gays and they enslave women," he told the crowd.
Although many people perceived the comments as distasteful, taking advantage of the worst mass shooting in United States history, it's true that this was probably the first time a major Republican politician directly addressed gay people. The following day, Trump doubled-down by telling people to "ask the gays" if it was he or likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton who had their back most.
Although his appeal quickly backfired and turned into a meme, the question Trump posed is actually complicated. During her husband's presidency, Hillary Clinton supported federally mandated discrimination against gay people in the form of the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. She's since changed her position on gay marriage, but it took her until 2013, the exact year that new opinion stopped being a minority one among Americans.
Meanwhile, Trump, who says he doesn't support same-sex marriage, has nevertheless been saying since as far back as 2000 that the US should amend the Civil Rights Act to provide protections for gay people, that the federal government should beef up anti-hate crime legislation, and that gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. "I grew up in New York City, a town with different races, religions, and peoples," he told the Advocate that year. "It breeds tolerance. In all truth, I don't care whether or not a person is gay."
Hutchinson describes Trump's appeal to him and his community last week as an emotional moment. Meanwhile, Shannon Booker, who is gay and lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, says the appeal didn't affect her opinion of the candidate at all—a longtime Republican, Booker's opinion about the GOP frontrunner seems primarily fueled by her hatred of Hillary Clinton. So much so that she says she would have gladly chosen Trump's virulently anti-gay primary opponent, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, over the likely Democratic nominee. As Booker puts it: "I'm a leader not a follower, so to speak."
But after some extended questioning, Booker, who is 38, said that she does in fact think Trump is the better candidate for gay people because of his comments about banning Muslims from entering the country. "I think that is a great thing," she said. "And it's not showing hate [or] that I don't like any other culture. It's like if I were to walk into a pit of snakes I would probably get bitten. I'm not saying every Muslim is a snake, but I'm just saying that in their fundamental beliefs they do not believe in gay people and they don't believe they have the right to live."
Plus, she added: "I think that if they don't believe the way we believe they shouldn't be here. As far as our culture and our being compassionate to people and understanding of people."
Meanwhile, if Trump has made comments about not caring about whether or not someone is gay, people who are gay say that others within their community care very much if someone among them is voting for Trump. Numerous gay Trump supporters declined to talk about their Trump support for this story, and a tweet sent out by the Log Cabin Republicans in June purported to show evidence that a gay Trump supporter was attacked at a rally in California. As a man named Eric put it to NBC: "It's easy to come out of the closet. It's dangerous to come out as a Trump supporter."
Nestor Moto Jr. comes from what he calls a very religious family but is too young to have been involved with the Republican Party during the heyday of the Religious Right's influence over the party. He's 21 years old and the current president of the Long Beach Young Republicans, as well as vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Orange County. He said he's frustrated with the fact that Clinton has been involved in politics longer than he's been alive, and also said he gets annoyed when older people tell him things like, "You should go to the party that loves you." He described a recent experience at a pride event in LA, in which he was wearing a rainbow elephant temporary tattoo and a woman told him he couldn't take candy from her booth as a result.
"There's a lot of intolerance in minority communities against people who think differently, in my opinion," Moto told me. "Unfortunately, the communities that advocate for acceptance are the first ones to expel people who don't think like they do. So they kind of contradict themselves in a way."
In 2012, exit polls showed that 76 percent of people who identified as gay voted for the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. But Moto says there's been a "ten-fold increase" in people asking him for information about the Log Cabin Republicans since Trump became the presumptive nominee, and that interest continues to pique in the wake of the the Pulse nightclub shooting.
"I think you'll now you'll have more of a split," he told me. "You're having more people in the LGBT community question their allegiance to the Democratic Party and the liberal-leaning organizations. What you're going to see is that more people will start to question that and start to support Trump."
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