With his penchant for name-calling and plans to deport every undocumented immigrant living in the United States, Donald Trump hasn’t exactly established a reputation for tolerance. Yet the real estate mogul and reality TV host might nevertheless be the most LGBT-friendly Republican running for president.
Asked whether private companies should be able to fire employees simply because they’re gay, Trump told “Meet The Press” host Chuck Todd on Sunday that he didn’t think sexual orientation “should be a reason” for letting workers go.
The question is a significant one for any White House hopeful – currently, 31 states lack employment protections for LGBT Americans, by the Human Rights Campaign’s count, and there are no federal barriers to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Trump’s response, however, marked a significant departure from the rest of the crowded GOP presidential pack, many of whom have pledged to expand protections for those wishing to turn away LGBT people on religious grounds.
It’s not the first time Trump has taken a pro-LGBT stance. As far back as 2000, Trump was advocating the idea of amending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation – something the currently-pending Equality Act would basically do if lawmakers on Capitol Hill ever decided to pass it.
“[A]mending the Civil Rights Act would grant the same protection to gay people that we give to other Americans – it’s only fair,” Trump told The Advocate in February, 2000. In the same interview, Trump said he favored “a very strong domestic-partnership law” that guaranteed same-sex couples equal legal rights as married, heterosexual couples. Trump also said he believed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – the military’s then-ban on openly gay service members – had “clearly failed.”
Trump’s spokesperson, Hope Hicks, did not immediately respond to msnbc’s request for comment on where the presidential candidate stood on the Equality Act. But his longstanding support for ending discrimination against gay people has been well documented.
In his 2000 book, “The America That We Deserve,” Trump outlined his dream of a nation “unencumbered by bureaucratic ineptitude, government regulation, confiscatory tax policies, racism, discrimination against women, or discrimination against people based on sexual orientation.” Eleven years later, Trump told CBN’s “The Brody File” that gay people were “tremendous” and that “there can be no discrimination against gays.”
Human Rights Campaign told msnbc it has sent The Trump Organization surveys about its employment policies since 2007, but has never received a reply as to whether the company bars discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, when the LGBT rights group filled out an online application for a position at the (randomly chosen) Trump National Doral Miami, it received a disclaimer saying: “All persons shall have the opportunity to be considered for employment without regard to their race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, alienage or citizenship status, age, disability, sex, marital status, veteran status, sexual orientation, arrest record, or any other characteristic protected by applicable federal, state or local laws.”
Despite that record of supporting nondiscrimination protections for gay people, however, Trump has angered many LGBT advocates with his consistent opposition to marriage equality and relative silence on transgender rights.
“I think that might be going a little overboard,” said Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of the pro-LGBT Log Cabin Republicans, when asked if it was safe to call Trump 2016’s most LGBT-friendly Republican. Angelo added: “It’s important to point out that Trump is not the first GOP Republican candidate to say he supports nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals.”
For example, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whom Buzzfeed’s Mckay Coppins recently dubbed “2016’s Gay-Friendly Republican,” said during a Q&A last month that he didn’t think people should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. “Peroid. Over and out,” Bush said.
In a 2013 interview with Bloomberg, meanwhile, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker expressed measured support for the failed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA,) which would have implemented nationwide protections for LGBT employees.
On the lower end of the polling spectrum, former New York Gov. George Pataki also has a relatively strong record on LGBT equality, having signed into law a bill extending civil right protections to thousands of gays and lesbians in 2002.
Yet none of those candidates could ever be described as “pro-LGBT” – certainly not, at least, more so than Trump. Pataki believes same-sex marriage should be left up to the states; Bush has a prominent anti-gay advocate working for his Right to Rise political action committee; and Walker recently said he didn’t know if being gay was a choice.
When it comes to being 2016’s most LGBT-friendly Republican, in other words, the current crop of candidates has set the bar pretty low.
Though many have accused Trump of not being an authentic Republican, Angelo doesn’t believe his moderate support for LGBT employment protections will cost him many votes – even in more conservative states like Iowa, where later this week Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will host a rally for religious liberty. Cruz, who came in second to Trump in the latest NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, signed on as a co-sponsor earlier this year to the First Amendment Defense Act, a bill that would prevent the federal government from taking any action against for-profit organizations whose owners believe marriage should be limited to one man and one woman.
“Evangelical Christians can have varying views on marriage equality, but when it comes to doing your job and living your life, there’s a pretty great opportunity for people of goodwill on all sides to come to the table and strike a balance,” Angelo said. “It’s a complicated relationship that Trump has with the LGBT community, but if ever there was a group that can be said to have had a warm relationship with Trump, it’s LGBT individuals.”