Both Democrat and Republican politicians have tripped over their own words and revealed a poor understanding of diversity issues or demonstrated concerning bias on major issues of race, gender, and sexuality. Generally though, the GOP tends to have a worse reputation when it comes to groups outside the party’s most common member — white males. A recent GOP stance in Texas brings this failing back up as a major problem for the party platform, an alienating problem for potential voters and contributors. So let’s take a glance back at major diversity mistakes in the past and present, starting with the recent events in Texas.
1. Reparative therapy
The Texas Republican Party has taken a major step back from LGBTQ friendliness with its recent decision to stand in favor of “reparative therapy” for homosexuality. The support is an oppositional stance to laws in California and New Jersey that outlawed what they call “gay-conversion therapy.” California‘s law went to the federal appeals court last year after Governor Jerry Brown signed the law prohibiting such therapy methods for individuals under the age of 18. “California has authority to prohibit licensed mental health providers from administering therapies that the legislature has deemed harmful,” read the judge’s opinion. “A licensed mental health provider’s use of SOCE (therapies seeking to change sexual orientation) on a patient under 18 years of age is ‘considered unprofessional conduct,’ which will subject that provider to ‘discipline by the licensing entity for that mental health provider.”
The court found that the practice brought about safety concerns due to “anecdotal reports of harm,” that it did not infringe on freedom of speech, and that positive reports on the therapy were insufficient. “[Gay-conversion therapy] could have some minor effects to perhaps tell someone they’re not alone, but those effects are not unique. They are what happens if you go to any therapy,” said Dr. Judith Glassgold to MSNBC. Glassgold is part of the task force that published the Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation Report.
The GOP party in Texas is making it clear its members disagree. A final vote will take place Saturday, but the key vote took place Thursday at Fort Worth, where the group’s platform was proposed and it was agreed to state that the Texas GOP would “recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle,” according to The Associated Press. Texas, while not unilaterally unfriendly to the gay community — in fact Austin was voted one of the top gay cities in the U.S. by The Advocate at one point — has a Republican faction that cannot say the same. According to The AP, the Republican Convention in Texas has disallowed gay Republican groups from renting booths in their hall, and a second vote coming Saturday will decide whether or not to remove the platform language saying that “Homosexuality tears at the fabric of society,” or change the wording from “homosexuality” to “sexual sins.”
Not all Republicans in the state feel the same way of course. Rudy Oeftering of Dallas, vice president of Metroplex Republicans, said, “I really beg my social conservative colleagues to let this issue go. It’s your opinion. It’s your belief — but it’s my life,” according to The AP.
In a post 2012 election report, the Republican National Convention released a Growth & Opportunity Project report in which it noted the growing need for inclusion if it is to appeal to the younger generation. “We do need to make sure young people do not see the Party as totally intolerant of alternative points of view. Already, there is a generational difference within the conservative movement about the issues involving the treatment and rights of gays — and for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the Party is a place they want to be,” read the report. Texas Republicans do not seem to share the same concerns as the rest of the GOP. Elizabeth Hunter, for example, is 20 and saw no reason to change language in how Texas views homosexuality. “I don’t see anybody leaving the Republican Party because of that language,” she told The AP. “I think it would actually encourage someone to join when they see that the Republican Party takes a strong stand rather than standing in the middle.”
2. Rape and binders
With the “War on Women” taking up so much of politicians pre-election rhetoric, it’s worthwhile to examine the GOP’s general PR history with women. Let me tell you, it’s not great — something even Republicans recognize. “You look around the congress, there are a lot more females in the Democrat congress than there are in the Republican congress, and some of our members just aren’t as sensitive as they ought to be,” said Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) last year, according to Politico.
Or perhaps Stephen Colbert said it better. “According to an ABC/Washington Post … poll, 63 percent of women have an unfavorable view of the Republican Party. I don’t get it. Over 90 percent of the congressional Republicans are dudes — ladies, it’s a sausage fest!” Perhaps it’s the nature of this “sausage fest” that’s led to so many publicity nightmares within the party. And there was Mitt Romney’s classic “binders full of women” fiasco. When asked what he would do if elected to the presidency to help correct the pay disparity between the genders, Mitt Romney went off on a side story about how his cabinet had the most women on it. He said that when he was given only male candidates to fill the positions, he’d asked for female candidates and was given “binders full of women” in return — an answer that has at times been unfortunately representative of the ineffectual GOP responses to women’s issues.
Rape, an issue requiring particular sensitivity and education, is a topic that Republicans have particularly failed at discussing in sensitive and educated ways. The examples that come to mind most strongly is former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.). “It seems to be, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, it’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down,” Akin said. A long list of Republicans have made comments to a similar effect. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) is a particularly disturbing, yet perhaps hopeful example. He defended Akin’s statement and the science behind it, particularly disturbing as he is himself a doctor. Later, he apologized, saying that after a review of recent research, he sees that Akin’s claims are incorrect. “I felt so badly about it, because my profession is treating women,” said Gingrey, according to The Hill.
Then there’s state Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-N.M.) who presented a bill to the New Mexico state legislature that would make it a criminal offense to receive an abortion for a pregnancy resulting from rape, as it could be seen as a destruction of state evidence. “Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime,” said the bill.
3. Cliven Bundy and Rick Santorum
In 2012, according to FiveThirtyEight, the General Social Survey showed Republicans with 27 percent negative racial attitudes, and Democrats at 19 percent, a gap that it points out isn’t as high as you might expect. It’s also worth noting that many of the survey’s questions are poorly phrased. Asking whether or not “‘too much’ money is spent on improving conditions for blacks,” could be more reflective of welfare stances. That said, a number of the questions are quite clearly about race — on whether or not they’d oppose a relative marrying someone black, whether or not they believed African Americans to be “more ‘lazy’ than ‘hard working,’” and so on. Gallup reports that Republicans have considerably smaller percentages of non-white party members. It reports that in a 2013 poll, 89 percent of Republicans were Non-Hispanic white, 2 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic, 1 percent Asian, and 2 percent other or undesignated. Democrats, on the other hand, showed 60 percent non-Hispanic white, 22 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian, and 3 percent other or undesignated.
Appearances go along with the numbers, a detriment to a party with an increasingly immigrant-built electorate in many southern states. Cliven Bundy, a rancher in Nevada who was considered initially a major pro-cattle-rancher land rights hero was quickly backed up by Republicans, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.). The two quickly back peddled away, however, when his conservatism took a turn for the racist, and he was quoted saying, according to The New York Times, “They [African Americans] abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
Of course, Republican support of Bundy had nothing to do with the racial statements, and more to do with his stance on federal land politics. However Bundy’s connection to the Republican party and conservatives hardly did wonders for the party’s public image.
Former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) infamously added to the racially charged welfare discussion with his own statement. “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Welfare and the economy may be fair game, but add racial targeting into the mix and you’re in dangerous territory.
More from Wall St. Cheat Sheet:
- Accusations of Racism Aren’t Helping GOP Expand Voter Base
- 3 Ways Religion Has Played a Role in LGBTQ Rights
- Democrats Prepare to Wage War for Women Governors in 2014
Follow Anthea Mitchell on Twitter @AntheaWSCS