Democrats in Philadelphia: A guide to watching the “gayest ever” convention

Both the Republican and Democratic national conventions are marked this year by something tantalizingly new. For the GOP, it’s a nominee essentially untethered from the party yet carried along to the top of the ticket by voters who are said to be “angry.” For the Democrats, it’s a candidate for the history books –the first woman to win a major party’s nomination and, perhaps, to win the presidency.

For Republicans, this “new” phenomenon is Donald Trump, whose barker-like and volatile ramblings have promised something “huge” and something “great,” but something that, to many, sounds more ominous than it is specific.

For the Democrats, the historic candidate is Hillary Clinton, whose calculated climb to the top has overcome decades of push-back from Republicans and even a dynamic challenge from the progressive wing of her own party.

Trump is hobbled by his extremist solutions, pugilistic temperament, and self-contradictory remarks. Clinton is hobbled by feuds that erupted between Republicans and the administration of her husband, President Bill Clinton, and by a recent FBI report that said she was “extremely careless” in the handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information” during her tenure as Secretary of State.

But for most LGBT viewers, much in convention watching will be familiar.

At the Republican convention, which got underway Monday afternoon, the GOP will once again approve a platform that is hostile to equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. Its convention podium will host a parade of speakers who either share that hostility or, like Trump, show no sense of responsibility to confront it in the party. And the emerging ticket – Trump and Indiana Governor Mike Pence—will promise nothing specific to LGBT voters.

At the Democratic convention, which opens next Monday, the party will approve a platform that is, once again, deemed more LGBT friendly than the one previous. Its numerous speakers will include openly LGBT people and will commit the party to seeking equality and respect for LGBT citizens. And a large contingent of LGBT delegates will be visible on the convention floor.

In fact, Earl Fowlkes Jr., chairman of the LGBT Caucus of the Democratic National Committee, predicts the Democratic convention in Philadelphia will be the “gayest ever.”

“I am certain there will be a number of speakers talking about the differences between the homophobic and transphobic GOP and the LGBTQ welcoming and supportive Democratic party,” said Fowlkes. And it will likely include the largest number of openly LGBT delegates and alternates –more than the 500-plus who attended the 2012 convention.

So what should LGBT viewers watch for at the July 25-28 convention in Philadelphia?

What to watch for

Party Platform: The proposed Democratic party platform this year commits Democrats to fighting for “comprehensive federal non-discrimination protections” for LGBT citizens. It promises to “combat LGBT youth homelessness,” “improve school climates” protect transgender individuals from violence,” “promote LGBT human rights and ensure America’s foreign policy is inclusive of LGBT people around the world.” LGBT Caucus Chair Fowlkes said the platform is the result of collaboration between the campaigns of Clinton and her biggest challenger, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, along with input from “hundreds of Democrats.”

“I am satisfied with the platform,” said Fowlkes, “because I know that [Clinton] will be a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights as president and her administration will continue to build on the pro-LGBTQ foundation that was laid by the Obama Administration.”

The Nomination: Since the beginning of the primaries, the bulk of visible LGBT support in the Democratic primaries has been behind Clinton. Fowlkes said he doesn’t have any breakdown of how many LGBT Caucus members supported Clinton and how many supported Sanders. He’s hopeful that Clinton, in accepting the nomination Thursday night, “speaks to the continued violence towards LGBTQ Americans and the need for full equality protections for our community.”

The Vice President: Fowlkes said, “I think Senator Tim Kaine would be an excellent VP choice and would be a great vice president.” Kaine has a strong record of supporting equal rights for LGBT people. As governor of Virginia, he signed an executive order to prohibit discrimination against state employees based on sexual orientation. He earned a 90 rating from the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Scorecard. Other possibilities, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, also have pro-LGBT records. Clinton is expected to announce her choice soon after the Republican convention ends, perhaps as early as Friday.

LGBT community visibility: A number of LGBT groups will be hosting events around the Democratic convention, including the Equality Forum, which will hold its annual LGBT civil rights conference in Philadelphia.

There will two LGBT caucus meetings open to the delegates and the general public, said Caucus Chair Fowlkes.

And on Thursday night, a coalition of LGBT groups will again air a political ad that ran during the Republican convention and explains the injury that is done by laws banning transgender people from using bathrooms that correspond to their sexual identity. The ad was funded by the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Movement Advancement Project, and others.

Convention Speeches: Fowlkes said he is “very hopeful” of seeing an openly LGBT speaker during a prime-time slot. Although a brief preliminary list of high-profile speakers does not include any LGBT speakers, likely possibilities include U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, one of 11 states that have been pegged as not clearly Democratic or Republican.

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