In July of 2016 the Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT Republican organization, criticized the Republican party for putting forward what they called “the most anti-LGBT platform in the party’s 162-year history.” Gregory T. Angelo, the president at the time mentioned how, included within the Republican platform, you will find “opposition to marriage equality, nonsense about bathrooms, an endorsement of the debunked psychological practice of ‘pray the gay away’ — it’s all in there.” During this time, the organization declined to support then Republican candidate Donald Trump, finding his candidacy unpredictable and therefore unsupportable. Yes, to the amazement of a small bunch of conservative LGBT folks and the bewilderment of the rest of us who have known this for quite some time, the Log Cabin Republicans learned that the Republican party was anti-LGBT. Surprise!
Then something happened. On August 16th, 2019, the Log Cabin Republicans, to the shock and awe of no one really, reversed course and endorsed Donald Trump for reelection in 2020. While the organization has never really been a staple of the Republican party, it has gained a stronger footing in recent years. This can be attributed to several factors, including an increasing number of US Americans supporting LGBT rights, and the public bluster of President Trump, whom Angelo described as “perhaps the most pro-LGBT presidential nominee in the history of the Republican Party.” This supposed pro-LGBT stance can be attributed to Trump’s 2016 Republican National Convention acceptance speech, where he stated that he would do “everything in my power to protect our L.G.B.T.Q. citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology.” As such, the Log Cabin Republicans felt like Trump kept his promise and here we are, at their surprising (but not so surprising) support for President Trump.
Ironically, in the same month that Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump, CBS News reported that his administration moved to eliminate “nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people by adding religious exemptions to an Obama-era 2014 executive order which “prohibited discrimination in hiring on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity.” You read that correctly. The same organization that declined to support Trump previously and found the Republican platform to be the most anti-LGBT, now endorses Trump right as his administration works to remove LGBT protections. This, on top of the fact that Trump has nominated several anti-LGBT judges to courts across the US, initiated a ban on transgender soldiers in the military, and whose Vice President is one of the most extreme anti-LGBT Vice Presidents on record. So what gives? What made the Log Cabin Republicans reverse course? One way to make sense of this is to use the concept of “interest convergence.” According to the late great Law Professor Dr. Derrick Bell, when white people, in general, only support racial justice because there is something in it for them, this becomes interest convergence. For example, in the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education that found “separate but equal” unconstitutional, Bell argued that United States had an interest in presenting itself to the world and the Soviet Union as pro-civil and human rights and that this was the real reason behind it finding the law unconstitutional and not because all of a sudden the US become enlightened and found black people as equal to whites. Now let’s take the same rational behind the concept and apply it to the Log Cabin Republicans and Donald Trump but instead of the interests being in racial justice, lets imagine that it is racism.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, the current chairman and woman of the Log Cabin Republicans, argued that while they don’t agree with everything the Trump administration is doing, they support Trump’s push to end HIV in 10 years and his protections of LGBT families. While on the surface these policies seem to protect all LGBT people, they are really aimed to attract white gay men.
For instance, while new advances in science and technology have decreased HIV infection rates in the US, these medicines are more likely to be in the hands of white gay men than men and woman of color, the group most likely to be infected by HIV. It also doesn’t help that in March of 2019 the Trump administration proposed huge cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, which provide health coverage to many poor people, and people of color. The result of which Jen Kates, from the Kaiser Family Foundation, predicts will work against the Ending the HIV Epidemic program. As she said for NBC news, “With infectious disease, pulling back resources historically has led to increase in infectious disease.” Surprise! Who would have thought that stripping health care from the most vulnerable people will result in higher infection rates? Being that more and more LGBT people are young, of color and from a lower income group, they will be most likely harmed by such cuts, resulting in less access to prevention medications. Still, by making the call to end HIV and making sure that white gay men have access to such resources while gay people of color don’t, the anti-LGBT Trump administration and the pro-LGBT Log Cabin Republicans found a converging point for their interests.
Similarly, their interests converged for the call to end the criminalization of homosexuality globally. NBC reported that a young, gay Iranian man was hung to death as a result of the country’s anti-homosexuality laws. The Trump Administration took the opportunity to claim that their random push to decriminalize homosexuality globally was because of this incident. In reality though, the Trump administration wants to end the Iran Nuclear Deal and wants other countries to join suit and to impose economic sanctions on the country. European nations have been hesitant to do so and so the administration is using human rights, in the form of a global push to decriminalize homosexuality, as a point of agreement with these countries on Iran. Thus, once again, interest convergence explains this scenario better than the Log Cabin’s claim that Trump has kept his promise to the LGBT community.
It makes little sense for the Trump administration to claim a moral superiority over countries that outright kill homosexuals when their policies are anything but friendly to LGBT folks. Research shows that when “transgender youths are allowed to use their chosen name in places such as work, school and at home, their risk of depression and suicide drops.” That is, being able to use the name that matches their gender identity literally saves their lives. Still, in November of 2018, the Trump administration pressured the international 4-H youth organization to remove a policy that asked the local programs to “treat all students consistent with their gender identity and allow them ‘equal access.’” This disparity between claiming to be for LGBT people and doing things that harm LGBT people can be concealed under the guise that Trump is fighting to protect queer lives by pushing for the decriminalization of homosexuality.
The Log Cabin Republicans interests converged with the Trump administrations once again over families. According to Robert Kabel and Jill Homan, Trump has supposedly done much to protect LGBT families. One just has to wonder though, which LGBT families are they talking about? The Muslim ban proposed by Trump tore apart families. The concentration camps that currently house immigrants are similarly harmful to families. And the Trump family separation policy that takes children from their parents at the border clear rips families apart. In case the Log Cabin Republicans forgot, many LGBT people are Muslim, Latino, and immigrants. It seems like these families were forgotten. Or, surprise! They weren’t even considered in their endorsement because they are not the sort of LGBT families Trump or the Log Cabin Republicans care about.
Using interest convergence, we can now see why the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Trump. Even though many would see Trump’s words, policies, and actions, as harmful to LGBT people, in reality, they are particularly harmful to LGBT racial and gender minorities and not so much gay white men, whom make up the majority of the organization. In fact, it is in their shared whiteness that the Trump Administration and the Log Cabin Republicans have a joint interest. So, of course they would endorse Trump. His racist actions and policies hurt people the Log Cabin Republicans could care less about. At least, it’s not a surprise anymore.
Jesús Gregorio Smith is an assistant professor of Ethnic Studies at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. His research centers on the intersections of race, gender and sexuality and how they impact health.