Newsweek Op-Ed – Former Republican Congresswoman: The GOP Needs the LGBTQ

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Served in the House of Representatives from 1989 to 2019, and served as Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee

As originally published in Newsweek

August 22, 2023

In recent years, the landscape of American politics has been undergoing a gradual transformation, with traditional party lines blurring and new perspectives emerging. One noteworthy evolution has been the growing support for LGBTQ equality within the Republican Party. Look no further than the more than 50 Republican members of Congress who voted for the Respect for Marriage Act (RMA) in 2022.

The Grand Old Party has long been associated with conservative values, and a closer look reveals how a nuanced and evolving stance on LGBTQ freedoms closely aligns with the longstanding principles of individual liberty, limited government intervention, and the pursuit of happiness. These principles, which resonate with core conservative values, have naturally led many Republicans to reassess their stance on policies that have an impact on LGBTQ Americans. As a Republican and former member of Congress, I’ve long said that embracing LGBTQ equality is, in fact, an extension of these principles. Allowing our friends, family members, and neighbors to live their lives authentically and pursue happiness without fear of discrimination aligns seamlessly with the party’s commitment to personal liberty.

Moreover, many Republicans recognize that supporting LGBTQ equality is also a keen acknowledgment of a changing political landscape. As public opinion shifts toward greater acceptance of LGBTQ individuals and their freedoms, the party’s adaptability is crucial for its relevance and future success. By welcoming this evolution—along with my own personal hope that fellow Republicans can learn to accept the LGBTQ community in the way I see my transgender son Rodrigo—we broaden the reach and appeal of our policy agenda.

That’s one reason why as co-chair of Conservatives Against Discrimination, I teamed up with Centerline Action to conduct research and mobilize Republican members of Congress last year to support the passage of the RMA. Recent research from Centerline has found that nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of registered voters agree that same-sex marriage should remain legal, with a majority (56 percent) of Republicans saying the same. More than half (55 percent) of self-described Trump Republicans believe the same. Further, two-thirds (66 percent) of voters say the government should be doing more “to combat discrimination against gay and transgender Americans.”

Heading into the highly competitive 2024 election, heightened Republican support for LGBTQ nondiscrimination measures at the state and federal level is just common sense. Centerline has also found that nearly two-thirds of voters (64 percent) favor this anti-discrimination legislation. At its core, nondiscrimination policies are about treating others as we want to be treated. It also allows the party to move beyond outdated wedge issues and instead pursue a solutions-oriented approach to more pressing challenges confronting the American people, including inflation, immigration reform and enhanced geopolitical competition with China and other rising powers.

It’s important to acknowledge that the path to full LGBTQ equality within the Republican Party has not been without challenges. While progress has been made, there are still differing opinions within the party, reflecting the broader spectrum of conservative thought. However, these differing perspectives are a testament to the party’s commitment to open dialogue and healthy debate, ultimately leading to a more robust, forward-looking, and inclusive platform.

By recognizing the importance of equal rights for LGBTQ Americans, Republicans are not only aligning with shifting societal norms but also securing a place for themselves in an increasingly diverse and competitive political landscape. By embracing this evolution, Republicans are not abandoning their principles, but rather demonstrating their commitment to a more just and equitable society. Further, as the party continues on this path, it demonstrates that support for LGBTQ equality is not a departure from conservative values, but a natural extension of them.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen served for almost 30 years in Congress representing South Florida.