By Chris Moody and Alexander Rosen
WASHINGTON (CNN) — A prominent gay Republican is coordinating an effort to mobilize a coalition of conservative lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) voters in support of Donald Trump, CNN has learned, a project that has intensified in the wake of a terrorist attack at a gay club in Orlando, Florida.
Chris Barron, the former president of the now-defunct gay conservative group GOProud, was recently a vocal Trump critic, but now is circulating a letter among like-minded members of the LGBT community, arguing that Republican Trump will better-suited to protect them from acts of extremism as president than Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“I have no doubt that Donald Trump would be better for LGBT Americans,” Barron said in an interview with CNN. “Hillary Clinton wants to continue a reckless foreign policy that has made the world less safe for all Americans, including LGBT Americans. She can find plenty of time to crucify Christians in the U.S. for perceived anti-gay bias, but when we’ve got ISIS throwing gay people off of buildings, when we have Muslim states that are prescribing the death penalty for people who are gay, I would think this would be something that a friend of the LGBT community would be able to speak out on, and Hillary Clinton finds it unable to do so.”
Barron’s campaign on Trump’s behalf will be an uphill battle, as polling shows that most LGBT voters remain skeptical of Republicans, whose officials party platform opposes same-sex marriage. Gay voters overwhelmingly supported President Obama in 2012, according to CNN’s national exit poll.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest interest group representing LGBT Americans, has formally condemned Trump’s rhetoric on a range of issues. Trump earlier this year told the Christian Broadcasting Network that they can “trust” him to defend “traditional marriage.” He has said that he believes marriage policy should be determined state-by-state, but he also said acknowledged that little could be done to change it in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court case, which effectively tore down state bans on same-sex marriage nationwide.
Before entering politics, Trump celebrated same-sex unions, including a civil partnership of singer Elton John. “I’m very happy for them,” Trump wrote in a congratulatory note in 2005. “If two people dig each other, they dig each other.”
On Monday, both Clinton and Trump expressed support for LGBT Americans when they addressed the terror attack at Pulse, an Orlando night club, that left 49 dead and 53 wounded. Clinton invoked the phrase “radical jihadists,” when referring to the fight against ISIS, and called for unity in fighting terrorism. Trump reiterated his call for banning Muslims from entering the United States, but also made a direct appeal to the LGBT community.
“Our nation stands together in solidarity with the members of Orlando’s LGBT community,” Trump said. “They have been through something that nobody could ever experience. A radical Islamic terrorist targeted the nightclub, not only because he wanted to kill Americans, but because he wanted to execute gay and lesbian citizens because of their sexual orientation. It’s a strike at the heart and soul of who we are as nation. It’s an assault on the ability of free people to live their lives, love who they want, and express their identity.”
While Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin condemned Trump’s remarks for what he said about Muslims, Barron said that Trump’s remarks in defense of LGBT Americans was “game-changer” for his effort to rally gay Republicans around the presumptive nominee.
Barron declined to share a list of potential signatories to his coalition letter in support of Trump, although other gay Republicans confirmed there was a draft letter circulating.
Barron, however, is an unlikely leader of a pro-Trump movement, and he has a mixed history with the mogul. In 2011, as president of GOProud, Barron coordinated a successful campaign to secure Trump a speaking slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation’s largest annual gathering of right-wing activists. The address was Trump’s first major speech to the conservative movement, and in many ways launched his political career.
But four years later, when Trump launched his campaign for president, Barron said he regretted ever inviting Trump to speak and giving him such a prominent platform. He staunchly opposed to Trump’s candidacy throughout the Republican primaries. Over a period of several months, Barron posted anti-Trump messages on Twitter, calling his supporters “idiots” and “morons.” He called Trump a “sociopath,” and in one post, Barron compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, writing, “The giant police state Trump supports would make Hitler blush.”
And now, full circle, Barron is back on the Trump Train.
“Frankly, there were issues where I disagreed with Donald Trump and still do. But elections are always about choices, and the choice this election is that either Hillary Clinton is going to be the next president of the United States or Donald Trump is, and for me, that’s a no-brainer, that’s an easy one. It should be Donald Trump,” Barron said. “Lots of people said lots of things during the primary process on all sides of it. Certainly what I said, yeah, it got incredibly heated. Was I alone in that? No, hell no. Was I the only Republican who said things about the Trump during the primaries that is now supporting him? Absolutely not.”
Not all gay Republicans in leadership positions are as convinced. The Log Cabin Republicans, the nation’s oldest and largest group of gay Republicans, has yet to endorse the presumptive nominee.
“There are reservations some members of our national board of directors have,” said Log Cabin Republican President Gregory T. Angelo. “I would want assurances that Mr. Trump wouldn’t work to roll back advances we’ve made in LGBT equality, specifically on the marriage equality issue.”
Angelo, who last year called Trump “the most gay-friendly Republican nominee for president ever,” sent Trump a letter on behalf of the Log Cabin Republicans requesting a meeting in November, but his staff has yet to respond. The organization won’t make a decision about a formal endorsement until a meeting is held.
Robert Kabel, a gay Republican National Committee delegate from Washington, D.C., said he was still withholding judgment on whether to vote for Trump in November, citing the candidate’s recent remarks that a judge overseeing a case involving Trump University would not be capable of doing his job because of his “Mexican heritage.”
“I think it’s still shaking out. I’m with a lot of Republicans who are very troubled by his attack on the judge and the racist nature of that. It’s very troubling,” Kabel said. “I’m really hoping that he takes advice from people who know how to run presidential campaigns and get on message and stop all this name calling and fighting Republicans. If he can get on message and start talking about issues that I care about, then we’ll be fine. We’ll just have to see.”
Bruce Carroll, a popular conservative blogger who uses the alias @GayPatriot on Twitter, said he still won’t support Trump even though the primaries are over.
“I won’t vote for Trump even if he winds up being the only name on the ballot,” Carroll told CNN. “I am not going to be an enabler of a racist, anti-Constitutional, authoritarian Trump regime.”
Still, Angelo was encouraged by what he heard in Trump’s speech Monday.
“That was historic. Have we ever had a Republican nominee for president who used the phrase, ‘LGBT community,’ let alone used a major policy address as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with the country’s LGBT community? I don’t think so,” Angelo said. “Everything Trump has done and said in regard to the LGBT community, even before he ran for president, has indicated that he would do no harm if not be an ally.”
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks did not directly address emailed questions about whether the campaign was coordinating or meeting with groups of LGBT conservatives, but provided a statement, saying, “Mr. Trump continues his outreach to coalitions and communities all over the country.”