Driving into New Hope, the notably-LGBT-friendly suburb in the heart of the swingy Bucks County congressional seat, voters were greeted by a large banner that might have been the only one of its kind in the country: a bright rainbow message announcing the endorsement of a Republican incumbent by a national LGBT group.
As the saying goes, victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan. That Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick earned the support of LGBT organizations, such as the American Unity Fund and the Log Cabin Republicans, was not the only reason he squeaked by in a blue wave that washed away GOP office-holders from affluent inner suburbs, such as Bucks County. But it helped.
Working on behalf of American Unity PAC, I was in Bucks County, along with 30 gay and transgender conservatives and straight allies, deployed to the district in the run-up to the election. Many of the voters I met at their doors were pleasantly surprised to hear about Fitzpatrick's advocacy for gay and transgender Americans, which includes, in the last Congress, his cosponsorship of the Fair and Equal Housing Act (to prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in housing) and efforts to defeat the Hartzler Amendment, which would have denied medical care to transgender members of the Armed Forces.
These voters may give the edge to the GOP in terms of economics and foreign policy, but they find it increasingly hard to hold their nose and vote for a party that they view to be (fairly or unfairly) aligned with "hate," bigotry, and xenophobia. Enough suburban voters agreed that Fitzpatrick was "one of the good ones" that he outpaced the Republican ticket for governor and Senate by double-digits in his district.
Would other Republicans, such as nearby Rep. Tom MacArthur, who is on track to lose narrowly his Central Jersey seat, or northern Virginia's Barbara Comstock, have benefited from such rainbow support? My gut, as well as my conversations with voters, says yes. Republicans looking to hold the suburban seats that determine control of the U.S. House will have to do much more to mitigate the feeling, prevalent among suburban women in particular, that the GOP is too closely aligned with distasteful, retrograde opinions on sexual orientation, racial issues, and more.
Support of LGBT people and endorsements from LGBT organizations serve as a shibboleth for such moderate voters that designates a reasonable and pragmatic approach to other issues as well; it identifies representatives who have put enough daylight between themselves and the national GOP that they can earn the votes of moderates – and influence policy from inside the Republican caucus – moving forward.
Other congressional Republicans who eked out victories in suburban districts from Southern California to Kansas City, as well as incoming members with their finger on the pulse of younger and more diverse voters, would do well to engage with LGBT groups nationally and in their districts. It's not just the right thing to do – it's good politics.
Does this mean that the Republican Party has no more room for social conservatives? Not at all – we must allow people to share their opinions on LGBT issues honestly, and foster a robust debate on everything from gay and lesbian adoption to the use of hormones in transgender children. These topics are important, they are reflective of people's core values, and they may prompt very different reactions depending on the location and makeup of a given district. That is why we have geographic representation in our government.
But to better reflect the sentiment of diversifying suburban and millennial voters, the GOP and our representatives would do well to engage with and embrace LGBT constituents, hear what we have to say, and come to our side on many of these issues.
In an election with so many plotlines and lessons to be learned, it was a rainbow flag – not a blue wave – that contributed to Fitzpatrick's reelection in the Philly 'burbs. And if more of the GOP can get onboard, we will reap the electoral success as well as goodwill from a new community of voters.