Donald Trump surprised the Republican National Convention when he broke from party tradition on Thursday to give a historic shout-out to the LGBT community.
“Only weeks ago in Orlando, Florida, 49 wonderful Americans were savagely murdered by terrorists,” Trump said during his acceptance speech, which also made history by being 76 minutes long.
“As your president I will do everything in my power to protect LGBTQ citizens.”
The line was as unexpected as the reaction it got from the thousands of conservative delegates who are more accustomed to hearing their representatives oppose marriage equality than embrace the gay community.
After the crowd roared in approval, Trump added: “I must say, as a Republican it’s so nice to hear you cheering for what I just said.”
It was a far cry from last week, when the GOP committee delivered one of the most anti-LGBT platforms ever written by the Republican party, a move that had even gay Republicans — who view Donald Trump as “the most pro-LGBT candidate” to ever be nominated by conservatives — to hold off on their endorsement.
But in the past couple of days, the GOP seems to have made a strategic change when it comes to LGBT issues, perhaps an acknowledgement of the party’s need to open its arms to marginalized voting groups.
On Wednesday, three different RNC speakers spoke about LGBT equality in their speeches. Lynne Patton, the vice president of the Eric Trump Foundation, shocked delegates with three short words: “LGBTQ lives matter.”
Ted Cruz, who disappointed delegates when he failed to endorse Trump during his speech, raised more than a few eyebrows when he gave LGBT rights a shout out, telling the audience, “Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian or Jew, Muslim or atheist, gay or straight.”
And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was on Trump’s short list for VP, made an unusual appeal to LGBT people, saying: “If our enemies had their way, gays, lesbians and transgender citizens would be put to death, as they are today in the Islamic State and Iran.”
And on Thursday night, openly gay billionaire and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel became the first openly gay man to speak at the Republican National Convention in 16 years, and the only gay speaker at the Cleveland gathering.
“I’m proud to be gay, I’m proud to be a Republican. But most of all I’m proud to be an American,” Thiel said.
But while these recent speeches at the RNC are giving gay conservatives a reason to smile. Others in the LGBT community are more hesitant to see this as a turning point for the community as a whole.
“Gingrich and Cruz have built their careers on opposing LGBT equality,” Jay Brown spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the country, told TheWrap. “We’ve moved past the point where merely acknowledging LGBT should be a moment of pride.”