While homophobia and transphobia seem to be fueling GOP policy, it doesn’t have to be that way: Below, we’ve spotlighted Republican politicians who broke rank to support the LGBT community. The intention isn’t to pat gay-friendly Republicans on the back, but to remind their colleagues that fighting for equality and being in the Grand Old Party are not mutually exclusive.
Scott TaylorScott Taylor
In May 2017, Virginia Representative Scott Taylor became the first Republican to cosponsor the Equality Act, which would finally protect LGBT Americans under existing civil rights laws.
“Discrimination anywhere is an injustice,” said Taylor, a former Navy SEAL. “I’m proud to support the Equality Act and will work to ensure that all are treated the same under the law.”
If passed, the Equality Act would bar discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in areas including housing, employment, and education in all 50 states.
A former Navy S.E.A.L. Taylor was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2016. Previously, as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, he was a lead sponsor of legislation to protect LGBT people from housing discrimination. And in the House, the first bill he introduced was a measure to add sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the Fair Housing Act.
Ileana Ros-LehtinenGetty Images
One of the biggest complaints levied against Republicans is that they don’t come around on an issue until it affects them directly. Ros-Lehtinen has stood up for LGBT rights ever since her son Rodrigo came out as transgender—in fact she spoke out against Trump rescinding Obama-era protections for trans students.
“This lamentable decision can lead to hostile treatment of transgender students and studies have shown that bullying and harassment can be detrimental to the emotional and physical well-being of teenagers.”
In 2015 Ros-Lehtinen teamed up with with out Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) on the Student Non-Discrimination Act (SNDA), which would have prohibited schools from discriminating against children based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“Evidence has shown that acceptance of transgender students lowers their risk of suicide,” she explained. “Jared and I introduced our SNDA bill to prevent discrimination of transgender young people and we will re-introduce it because our country benefits when everyone is accepted and we live up to our nation’s promise of inclusiveness.”
Ros-Lehtinen has disagreed with the GOP before, including coming out in support of same-sex marriage. She also appeared with Rodrigo and her husband in a PSA for the Florida gay rights group SAVE. “Family is about acceptance and love,” she says in the video below. “All of our children should have the opportunity to work hard, earn a living and take responsibility for their lives on the same terms as everyone else.”
The longest-serving Republican woman in Congress, she decided to retire at the end of the 2018 term.
Cindy KirchhoferIndiana House Republicans
Indiana State Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer didn’t want to see her state become the next North Carolina so, in January 2017, she blocked an an anti-transgender bill from moving through the Indiana House of Representatives. HB 1361 would have prevented transgender Hoosiers from updating their birth certificates to reflect their lived identities.
“The intent of this bill is to strip transgender people of the most basic and fundamental dignity,” explained Freedom Indiana. “HB 1361 seeks to deny the very existence of transgender people—with the cruel mandate that a transgender person’s birth certificate can never match the identity they live as and the person they have always known themselves to be.”
Kirchhofer, the Republican chair of Indiana’s Public Health Committee, confirmed she wouldn’t be hearing the bill. Instead, she encouraged her committee to focus on combating opioid and heroin addiction throughout the state.
“We’re so thankful to Rep. Kirchhofer and members of the General Assembly who saw this dangerous bill for what it is: A harmful, discriminatory distraction from the real issues facing Hoosier families,” said Freedom Indiana’s Chris Paulsen.
Carlos CurbeloCarlos Curbelos
Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida also came out against the Trump administration’s rollback on transgender students.
“This is a disappointing choice for the Administration to make,” he said in a statement. “We should be working toward ensuring all American children feel safe and accepted in their schools, regardless of where they live, their race, creed, gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Curbelo, the only Republican member of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, has cosponsored the Student Nondiscrimination Act (SNDA) and supports the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which requires districts to enact anti-bullying policies that protect LGBT students from harassment.
After the Pulse attack, Curbelo issued a statement calling the tragedy “particularly painful because it takes place during LGBT Pride Month.” He extended his condolences to “family members of the victims and with many of my constituents who are celebrating Pride Weekend in the Florida Keys.”
He’s been ranked the 11th most bipartisan member of Congress, breaking ranks from the GOP on issues like abortion, climate change, and immigration. In March 2016, Curbelo said he would not vote for Trump for president, calling it “a moral decision.”
Rob PortmanTom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
This Ohio Senator is another Republican who came around after his child came out: Though Portman voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, he did a 180 on LGBT rights when his son Will told him he was gay in 2011.
“I’m announcing today a change of heart [for] gay marriage,” he told CNN in 2013, making him the first Republican in the Senate to endorse the freedom to marry.
Later that same year, Portman voted in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.
Mark KirkThe office of Mark Kirk
Illinois Senator Mark Kirk explained his support for marriage equality on his website: “Same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage. Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most. Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back—government has no place in the middle.”
He voted against overturning Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in May 2010 but, just five months later, joined seven other Senate Republicans in voting in favor of its repeal.
In January 2016, he became the first Republican senator to co-sponsor the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the groups protected from discrimination under the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Before leaving office in January, he also cosponsored the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA).
Kirk, who lost his re-election bid in November to Democrat Tammy Duckworth, also voted against Republican Party efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Charlie DentOffice of Rep. Charlie Dent
After the Supreme Court ruling on Obergefel v. Hodges, Dent, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania, endorsed marriage equality.
“As a Republican, I value equality, personal freedom and a more limited role for government in our lives,” he said in a statement. “I believe this philosophy should apply to the issue of marriage as well.”
He crossed party lines before, including voting to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in December 2010. And in 2013, he co-sponsored the Safe Schools Improvement Act (SSIA), which would require schools to adopt policies prohibiting bullying against LGBT students.
He also backed the Uniting American Families Act, which allows U.S. citizens and permanent residents to sponsor same-sex partners for family-based immigration.
After Donald Trump announced a ban on transgender service members, Dent, the chair of the House Subcommittee on Veterans Affairs said, “Americans who are willing & able should be allowed to serve U.S. regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Lisa MurkowskiBill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Another Republican whose support for the LGBT community “evolved,” the Alaska senator voted in favor federal constitutional amendments to block same-sex marriage in 2004 and 2006. By 2013, though, Murkowski announced her support of marriage equality.
“With the notion of marriage—an exclusive, emotional, binding ‘til death do you part’ tie—becoming more and more an exception to the rule… why should the federal government be telling adults who love one another that they annot get married, simply because they happen to be gay?” she said in a statement. “I believe when there are so many forces pulling our society apart, we need more commitment to marriage, not less.”
Murkowski also supported the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, saying, “I’ve heard from Alaskans across the state who believe it’s time to end this discriminatory policy, and I agree with them.”
In February 2017, she was one of just two Republicans who voted against the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary. And in July, she was one of only three Republican senators, along with John McCain and Susan Collins, who voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, which would have had devastating consequences for LGBT Americans.
In 2018, she joined numerous Democrats in signing a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis, opposing the Trump administration’s ban on transgender military service.
In May 2018, Vermont’s Republican governor signed a law mandating all single-person public bathrooms be gender-neutral.
“This is especially important for kids in school who face anxiety and bullying over something as simple as using the restroom,” Scott said at the signing ceremony. “Treating others in this way is not who we are as Vermonters, and I hope the signing of this bill will send a powerful message that that’s not the way we act.”