Charles Moran, a gay Trump delegate from California, was standing just feet from the stage at the Republican National Convention when he heard billionaire PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel give his now-famous speech.
“Every American has a unique identity. I am proud to be gay. I am proud to be a Republican,” Thiel told a cheering crowd at the RNC in Cleveland this past July.
Thiel made history that night as the first openly gay RNC speaker, and this week he doubled down on his Donald Trump endorsement, donating $1.25 million to his campaign.
Thiel sits on the board of Facebook, and so when many in the online community lashed out at him for supporting Trump, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg stepped in to defend him, writing in a post, “There are many reasons a person might support Trump that do not involve racism, sexism, xenophobia or accepting sexual assault.”
Moran said listening to Thiel’s speech was an “incredible” moment.
“This is my Republican Party,” Moran said. “This is what I’m here for. This is the candidate I’m here to nominate. The guy who brings somebody like Peter Thiel to the deck and puts him up on stage — that’s my Republican Party.”
As Trump’s chances of winning the election appear to continue to drop in the waning days of his campaign, many gay conservatives, an unexpected segment of the Republican Party, are still backing him.
“Donald Trump is the best candidate that the LGBT community has ever seen come out of the Republican Party,” Moran said. “We see a consistent line from Donald Trump that being pro LGBT and pro inclusion is a good business decision and I believe he’s going to bring that with him in the White House.”
Trump earned a lot of credibility with gay Republicans when he became the first GOP presidential nominee to positively refer to the gay community in a convention acceptance speech, saying, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Believe me.”
When that comment drew applause from the audience, Trump then ad-libbed — “And I have to say, as a Republican, it is so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said. Thank you.”
Moran said he was not expecting Trump to talk about the LGBTQ community in that speech.
“Right after his speech people were starting to text me, ‘What does the ‘Q’ stand for?’” Moran said. “So I said, ‘It’s either queer or questioning’ — an instructional moment. And I like being able to have those with the Republican Party.”
Moran points to Trump’s LGBTQ inclusiveness at Mar-a-Largo — Trump’s Florida country club — where he says Trump broke with tradition by allowing gay members. Moran also notes that Trump publicly supported Elton John’s marriage to David Furnish.
“We see a consistent line from Donald Trump that being pro-LGBT and pro-inclusion is a good business decision and I believe he’s going to bring that with him in the White House,” Moran said.
Despite the fact that Trump’s Christian conservative running mate Mike Pence enacted anti-LGBTQ laws as governor of Indiana, such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Moran said he’s comfortable with Pence because he’s “not running for president.”
Moran notes that Pence later amended the religious freedom law after meeting with LGBTQ groups, which he says shows Pence is willing to listen.
Moran said he does get a lot of flak from his friends for being a Trump supporter.
“The running joke is that it’s so much easier to be gay in the Republican Party than it is to be a Republican in the LGBT community,” he said.
Juan Hernandez is a gay Hispanic Trump supporter who also witnessed Thiel and Trump’s history-making speeches at the RNC this summer. But said he has encountered violence for being pro-Trump, adding that an anti-Trump protester attacked him at a Trump rally in San Jose.
“I saw a fist come in and hit my nose and my nose just instantly started pouring blood,” Hernandez said.
He said the incident left him with a broken nose and the realization that supporting his candidate in the mostly liberal San Francisco Bay Area can be dangerous.
“I do know a lot of Trump supporters that are in the closet in the Bay area and we all have the same fear that we don’t know what can happen to us,” he said.
Hernandez said he’s so afraid of more retaliation that he won’t even put Trump signs in his front yard.
“I do not want to put a Trump sign out there. And that sucks,” he said. “It shouldn’t be like that in that I should feel fear of putting out a Trump sign and the person who I want to support, of the person that I want to be in office.”
Hernandez says he’s also criticized for being Mexican and still supporting Trump.
“They need to listen to the whole thing that he believes,” he said. “He’s not against the Mexican culture or the Mexican community — he’s against illegal immigration.”
But he hopes that being a gay Mexican Trump supporter and sharing his story will give hope to others in the gay community.
“Some of the youngsters that have reached out to me, contacted me, and said that they come from an ultra-conservative family and they don’t know anyone else who else is gay and that they see me on the media and for them that’s huge because they can see someone else that they’re a Republican and that they’re gay,” Hernandez said.
Trump’s support for the gay community hasn’t been that clear on the campaign trail. Since the massacre in June at an Orlando gay nightclub, Trump has positioned his support of the gay community within the context of the Islamic extremism.
“Hillary took $25 million from Saudi Arabia and much more from others, where being gay is also punishable by death,” Trump told supporters at a Florida rally in June.
The Log Cabin Republicans, the party’s pro-LGBTQ group of which Moran and Hernandez are members, declined to endorse Donald Trump for president. While acknowledging Trump’s positive references to the community, the Log Cabin Republicans said their “trust would be misplaced” in endorsing a candidate who has “concurrently surrounded himself with senior advisors with a record of opposing LGBT equality.”
Six months ago, Trump seemed to avoid having to state his position on marriage equality, only telling reporters at a news conference in March, “I’ve made it very strong, we have policy on it.”
Regardless of what happens this November, Hernandez says in some ways gay conservatives have already won.
“This has been the most inclusive president[ial candidate] that we’ve had in the Republican Party and it is so exciting that the movement is here,” he said.