In 2020, LGBTQ visibility still matters

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Richard Grenell’s speech at the 2020 Republican National Convention.

The social media reaction to Richard Grenell’s speech at the Republican National Convention (RNC) was, as one would expect, polarizing. Grenell, a gay man who served briefly as the Acting Director of National Intelligence, is the Republican LGBTQ Outreach Coordinator, yet in his prime time convention speech he did not mention being gay, LGBTQ rights or anything the Trump campaign has done to further LGBTQ equality.

Many people on social media denounced Grenell’s complete erasure of anything LGBTQ from his speech. But his defenders said, predictably, that “identity politics” is pointless and that Grenell had spoken up about LGBTQ rights in previous speeches and videos, especially on social media. But there is a problem with touting LGBTQ equality in one venue and not mentioning it in another. 

First, though, it needs to be said that the Trump administration and Trump campaign is an enemy to the LGBTQ community. We’ve detailed all the facts why for years in this newspaper, as have other media organizations including The New York Times and The Washington Post. From Trump threatening to veto the Equality Act, appointing anti-LGBTQ judges, removing healthcare protections for trans people and removing LGBTQ people from foreign affairs policy, his administration does not care about the community beyond their choice at the ballot box. This is where Richard Grenell comes in.

Grenell starred in a video a few weeks ago, where he praised Trump as “the most pro-gay President in American History.” The video was promoted by Log Cabin Republicans and then retweeted by Trump himself. All of this happened on Twitter, which is a social media platform that, by design, allows users to curate exactly what they want to see. So the people who saw Grenell’s video are one of a small group of people, namely LGBTQ Trump supporters.

Most Trump voters likely have no idea who Richard Grenell is. Most people watching the Republican National Convention saw Grenell for the first time when he addressed the nation from the podium there. And for those viewers, they probably had no idea that Grenell is gay, much less that he is the LGBTQ outreach coordinator for the Republican National Committee.

Why was the Trump Campaign willing to tout their (non-existent) pro-LGBTQ credentials on Twitter but not on the widely viewed convention broadcast?

Here’s a guess: the campaign wants to promote its LGBTQ credentials to certain people, like Log Cabin Republicans or LGBTQ people who are still undecided, but wants to avoid mentioning it to conservative voters and older voters who might be turned off. Television is still the choice for news for a majority of older voters, and it’s safe to say the majority of viewers of the Republican Convention are conservative or at the very least leaning conservative.

Unfortunately, it’s those conservative, older voters who probably need to hear the words “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” and “transgender” more than anyone else. There still exists a huge political gap in LGBTQ acceptance. A Pew research poll in the U.S. showed that 86 percent of people who identify as liberal support homosexuality, but only 53 percent of people who identify as conservative feel the same.

Another Pew poll showed that age is a large factor in whether a person is accepting of LGBTQ people. 82 percent of Americans 18-29 say they are accepting of homosexuality compared to 64 percent of Americans above age 50. 

It’s one thing for a candidate to tout their support of LGBTQ rights (factual or not) in front of liberal voters or young voters. But it’s another, more difficult thing to say those same things to conservative voters and older voters who are less likely to be accepting. And on their biggest media stage of all, the Republicans and Richard Grenell, cowardly, decided to ignore mentioning our community altogether. 

But, either way, Trump and Grenell’s records on LGBTQ rights speaks for itself: there is none.