Since the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Donald Trump has repeatedly touted himself in stump speeches as a better ally and protector of LGBT Americans than rival Hillary Clinton.
His vocal support of sexual minorities is new territory for a presumptive Republican presidential nominee, winning praise from pro-gay GOP members.
But liberal LGBT advocates call it opportunistic, and evangelical groups that traditionally align themselves with conservative candidates are treading carefully on the issue.
Trump has not backed same-sex marriage, but he celebrated Elton John’s wedding to another man in a 2005 blog post. The Manhattan-based businessman also has said people should be able to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.
He has gone further recently, portraying himself as a defender of LGBT lives.
“An assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want and express their identity,” was the way Trump framed the June 12 attack in Orlando, Florida, in a speech one day later in New Hampshire. He said he would be a “better friend” than presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton to LGBT community members, able to protect them from the Islamic extremists who hate them.
Trump then carried the message to Texas, imploring supporters to “ask the gays” who would better represent their interests. He made his case again most recently on Wednesday in Manhattan.
Gregory T. Angelo, president of the pro-LGBT Log Cabin Republicans, was heartened by Trump’s remarks and said the candidate has done more than any GOP presidential hopeful to rally LGBT Americans to the party.
But Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights group, tweeted of Trump, “Your pandering is as transparent as your bigotry. You stand against all we’ve fought for & are still fighting for.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, a co-founder of the now-defunct GOProud political action group and a former Republican consultant who is supporting Clinton, shared the sentiment.
“He does what’s political expedient in the moment, so engaging on this issue and rightfully acknowledging that the tragedy happened to LGBT people is the politically smart thing to do,” LaSalvia said. “But who knows what’s in his heart?”
The gay and lesbian community has in elections past leaned Democratic by large swathes. A Gallup poll in late May found 18 percent of respondents who identify as LGBT support Trump, versus 54 percent for Clinton.
Clinton has called the Orlando violence a hate crime. In the days afterward, her campaign shared a 2011 video from Geneva in which the then-secretary of state declared, “Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”
Paul Weber, president of the Family Policy Alliance, which advocates for Christian and “pro-family” values, would not criticize Trump and said after a meeting Tuesday in Manhattan between the real estate mogul and hundreds of evangelical leaders that he is taking a wait-and-see approach.
Weber said his group will look beyond the race for the White House for candidates to amplify a message that includes the affirmation that “marriage is between one man and one woman.”
“We are asking our constituents to focus on downticket races,” he said. “We will rally Christians all over the country to get to the polls and vote downticket.”