The deadly Orlando shooting of 12th June 2016 left 49 people dead in the popular gay nightclub, Pulse. This, just 5 months before one of the strangest, most unorthodox and at times unpredictable of US Presidential Elections reaches its conclusion on November 8th. With the stakes so high, and the balance of political power in play within the Senate, Presidency and Supreme Court, is all as well with Gay Rights in America as it may seem?
Rewind almost 12 months to 26th June 2015 and you would be forgiven for thinking that real and lasting change had taken place in America, at a pace not often associated with US Politics. The Supreme Court had ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were legally unconstitutional and unequal in the eyes of the law, in the now famous Obergefell vs Hodges case.
Indeed, regular polls (including the Huffington Post’s) show support for same-sex – the cornerstone equality issue for LGBT rights in the States – is consistently above 60% and trending in an upward direction. But that of course does not mitigate against so-called “lone wolf” attacks such as that carried out by Omar Mateen in the name of, but not necessarily motivated by, Radical Islam. This was as much a hate crime carried out by a deeply disturbed individual as it was one inspired by a radicalised individual
So does this single terrifying instance (the worst shooting in US history) act as a symptom of a wider problem? Is this an issue that will be raised at the Ballot Box and how are the Two Campaigns addressing Gay Rights?
It’s fair to say (and encouraging) that the evidence for the first question leads to a pretty unequivocal ‘no’. But the second question has to be answered in the affirmative.
Clinton has been a high profile advocate for LGBT rights now for many years, long before it was fashionable. And although not always the first to do so, she has backed recent guidance from the Obama Administration on transgender students’ access to restrooms matching their gender identity; the 2015 Equality Act preventing discrimination through the sale of every day Goods and Services as well as the high profile Equal Marriage fight through the US Courts system.
Trump on the other hand has a much more chequered, some might say genuinely confusing, record. He has typically been in favour of ‘Traditional Marriage’ between a man and a woman, but has made comments in support of individual same-sex couples (including Elton John and David Furnish), suggesting that there is no clear, consistent animosity there. On the very current issue of ‘Transgender Bathrooms’ he believes it should be down to “States’ Rights” to decide this and issues like it, but strongly criticised North Carolina’s recent restrictive legislation on this issue. He also uses a complex, confusing and somewhat cryptic, New York Times profile piece analogy with Golf’s ‘Long Putter’ to describe further his position on Gay Marriage. Yet, surely the triviality with which he compares a human right to a peculiarity of the Game of Golf speaks to a wider concern about his temperament and judgement to be President of the United States. Certainly he showed no leadership of any kind in backing away from the ‘Platform Fight’ when the Republicans met in Cleveland for the quadrennial Convention in July, where a set of clearly conservative values were espoused, once more, by the Republican Party.
So where are we now with the Election itself only a little more than 2 months away? Well there has been scant polling on LGBT voters, with evidence showing that they make up perhaps around 5% of the US electorate. What polling has been conducted (the well-cited May Whitman Insights Strategies poll) suggests Clinton is far ahead, by 84% to 16%, and further so that even Obama, at 77% to 23% vs Romney in the campaign of 2012. However this polling did not include so-called ‘Third Party’ candidates – Stein and Johnson, who have since shaken up the race and are worthy of an article of their own at this juncture.
Overall however, it’s fair to say that Clinton remains the clear favourite with LGBT voters and this particularly active and vociferous portion of the US electorate will stand behind her slogan of ‘I’m With Her’ with quite some conviction in November.
Peter Ptashko is a Young Fabian member attending the USA delegation