By Jeremy Diamond
MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) — Donald Trump sought to portray himself Monday as an ally of the LGBT community in the wake of the terrorist attack on an Orlando gay nightclub.
“This is a very dark moment in America’s history,” the presumptive Republican nominee said. “A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but in order to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation.”
Trump went on to label the attack a “strike at the heart and soul of who we are as a nation” and an “assault” on people’s ability to “love who they want and express their identity.”
The comments may do little to help Trump appeal to LGBT voters — the leader of a top gay rights group told CNN the speech was “shameful and disgusting.” But the rhetoric stood in stark contrast to the response of many other top Republicans who expressed sorrow and promised prayer, but rarely noted that the LGBT community had clearly been targeted.
Trump, who won over the support of many socially conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians during the GOP primary, has advocated for “traditional marriage” between a man and woman and the Republican Party’s official platform calls for “preserving and protecting traditional marriage.” But on Monday, he sought to draw a contrast with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, portraying himself as the “real friend” of the gay community.
“Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists into our country and who suppress women, gays and anyone else who doesn’t share their views or values,” Trump said, criticizing Clinton’s call for the U.S. to accept more Syrian refugees.
“She can’t have it both ways. She can’t claim to be supportive of these communities while trying to increase the number of people coming in who want to oppress these same communities,” he added.
Clinton is widely supported by the LGBT community and supports policies that would expand civil rights protections. She expressed solidarity with the community during a speech Monday in Cleveland.
“I want to say this to all the LGBT people grieving today in Florida and across our country,” she said. “You have millions of allies who will always have your back. And I am one of them.”
HRC blasts Trump
Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, blasted Trump’s speech and said he did little to provide solace to the victims and their families.
“I bet there is not a single family member or friend or brother or sister or girlfriend or boyfriend that is suffering from this great loss that found any comfort in what Donald Trump had to say today,” Griffin told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room. “Instead he was up there bragging about the fact that he claims he predicted this.”
Griffin continued: “LGBTQ people, we are Muslims, we are women, we are Latinos. We are as diverse as the fabric of this nation and any attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. And it’s shameful and disgusting what Donald Trump did today and what he said today and I hope he says not another word about it.”
Gregory Angelo, the president of the Log Cabin Republicans, which represents LGBT Republicans, praised Trump’s comments as “historic” and said his outreach showed true leadership.
“Donald Trump here is showing leadership on LGBT issues and we haven’t seen that from Republican presidential nominees in decades. Certainly we’ve never seen a nominee so directly engage with and seek the support from LGBT voters,” Angelo said in an interview. “There’s certainly reasons to be skeptical about Trump and LGBT issues, but given his statements…and his actions, there is every indication to believe that Mr. Trump would do no harm on LGBT equality and might actually advance LGBT equality under his presidency.”
Angelo added that Trump’s self-characterization as a “friend” of the LGBT community is a “sharp departure from the type of rhetoric that most of our recent Republican presidential nominees have adopted.”
But ultimately, Angelo suggested Trump’s appeal to LGBT Americans might just boil down to Trump’s core message on national security.
‘Wake up call’
“If you are LGBT and national security issues were not among your chief concerns on June 11, certainly on June 12, the LGBT community was given a wake up call in that regard. It seems Trump is trying to position himself as someone who would be an ally and a friend to the LGBT community, specifically as someone who would keep the LGBT community safe,” Angelo said.
Trump’s criticism of Clinton mirrored that of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump’s former GOP presidential primary rival, who underscored in a statement Sunday that radical Islamist groups like ISIS “target the gay and lesbian community” and accused Democrats of insufficiently speaking out against radical Islam.
“For all the Democrats who are loud champions of the gay and lesbian community whenever there is a culture battle waging, now is the opportunity to speak out against an ideology that calls for the murder of gays and lesbians,” Cruz said in the statement. “If you’re a Democratic politician and you really want to stand for LGBT, show real courage and stand up against the vicious ideology that has targeted our fellow Americans for murder.”
Despite his numerous appeals to social conservatives who staunchly oppose gay marriage, Trump has rarely harped on his opposition to gay marriage on the campaign trail — instead boiling down his views to his stated support for “traditional marriage.”
When North Carolina passed a controversial law effectively banning transgender individuals from using the bathrooms corresponding to the gender they identify with, Trump said individuals should be able to “use the bathroom they feel is appropriate.”
“There has been so little trouble. And the problem with what happened in North Carolina is the strife and the economic — I mean the economic punishment that they’re taking,” Trump said on NBC’s “Today” show, though he would later backtrack on Fox News and say “local communities and states should make the decision.”