Gay Republican activists plan a full slate of events for the party’s national convention next week in Cleveland as they celebrate presumptive nominee Donald Trump as the most pro-gay nominee in GOP history.
These Republicans have struggled for years to fit into their party, and see a rare opportunity for inclusion and maybe expanding their numbers with Mr. Trump, who has explicitly reached out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) voters and made defending their rights part of his “America first” agenda.
The excitement about Mr. Trump was tempered by a party platform drafted this week that gay activists view as a retreat, including affirming the GOP’s opposition to same-sex marriage, gay adoption and transgender public bathroom use.
Among the receptions, concerts and soirees hosted by gay Republicans during the convention will be a late-night party Tuesday thrown by LGBTrump, a pro-Trump group formed by gay conservative activist Christopher Barron.
The party is dubbed “#ShootBack The Party” after the group’s motto and Twitter hashtag. Special guests for the party include conservative commentators Ann Coulter and Jedediah Bila.
Mr. Barron, who co-founded the now-defunct GOProud and worked with the Republican nominees at the last two conventions, said that dealing with the Trump campaign has been a “breath of fresh air.”
“Donald Trump is the most pro-LGBT nominee that the party has ever had,” he said. “He just comes from a very different place on these issues. He has a stellar record when it comes to LGBT community issues.”
Some gay Republicans are less generous in assessing Mr. Trump’s record on their issues. The billionaire businessman has expressed varying degrees of opposition to same-sex marriage and waffled on the transgender bathroom issue.
Still, Mr. Trump impressed gay conservatives when he spoke forcefully about defending the gay community in the wake of the June 12 Islamist terror attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where 49 people were killed in the worst terror attack in the U.S. since 9/11.
“I refuse to allow America to become a place where gay people, Christian people, Jewish people are targets of persecution and intimation by radical Islamic preachers of hate and violence,” Mr. Trump said in the speech.
Mr. Barron said the message should resonate with gay voters and others who care about such issues.
“This campaign is not going to be about bathrooms or about who is going to bake our wedding cake. This election is literally a matter of life and death for LGBT people. And folks need to wake up and recognize that,” he said.
“The fact is the penalty for being gay in much of the Muslim world, not just ISIS but in places like Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, is death,” said Mr. Barron, using an acronymn for the Islamic State. “Donald Trump is absolutely right for standing up and speaking out about this. And frankly, it is humiliating that people on the left can’t do the same thing.”
Gregory T. Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans, the country’s oldest and largest gay conservative organization, also called Mr. Trump the most pro-LGBT presidential candidate in the party’s history.
Mr. Angelo has been saying that since shortly after Mr. Trump announced his run last year, well before the Orlando speech.
Although he was skeptical of Mr. Trump’s support on such issues as same-sex marriage, he still hopes Mr. Trump will help pull the party away from what he called the “most anti-LGBT platform” in GOP history.
“There is very much a disconnect between the platform and its stated positions on LGBT issues and our presumptive nominee,” he said. “It’s my hope that next week during the convention proper, we will be showing there is a lot more diversity, a lot more inclusivity and a lot more support for the LGBT community among the general Republican electorate than there has been during the platform debate here in Cleveland.”
The Log Cabin Republicans have not made an endorsement in the presidential race. The group usually waits until the fall to make an endorsement.
The group withheld an endorsement from President George W. Bush in 2004, citing his opposing hate crime legislation and gays in the military. But it endorsed GOP nominees John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012, who both had positions viewed as more anti-gay than Mr. Bush.
The Log Cabin Republicans will host four events in Cleveland, including a “Big Tent Brunch” Wednesday at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame co-hosted by TV personality Montel Williams and with special guest Caitlyn Jenner.
The events will “show just how big the Republican Party’s big tent is,” said Mr. Angelo.