The Republican National Convention, which just wrapped up its week-long nomination of Donald Trump in Cleveland, had a surprising alternate delegate from Georgia – gay teen Avery Anderson.
The 19-year-old from Rabun County in northeast Georgia was picked to attend the convention by Georgia Republicans in early June. By the time the convention rolled around this week, the GOP had passed the most anti-LGBT platform in decades, much to the chagrin of the Log Cabin Republicans, the LGBT contingent of the GOP.
The Republican platform reiterates support for “traditional marriage,” condemns the U.S. Supreme ruling legalizing gay marriage and touches on the potty wars that erupted in May after federal education officials issued guidelines calling for transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their identity, and otherwise be treated with respect. The GOP platform decries it as imposing “a social and cultural revolution upon the American people.”
Out of nearly 400 applicants, Anderson was selected as an alternate delegate, one of 76 alternates and 76 delegates selected from Georgia. His time in Cleveland resulted in handshakes with Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and former presidential candidate Ben Carson, along with plenty of excitement.
Anderson said that members of the Georgia delegation know he is gay and have been “very supportive.”
“The Georgia delegation is a very shining example of the diversity that the Grand Old Party can have,” Anderson said.
Anderson, a one-time supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders, said that he only supported Democrats because he was gay but that his politics have always aligned more with conservatives.
“The only reason I was a Democrat was because I am openly gay,” Anderson said. “I never agreed with any of their politics, never agreed with anything they stood for. Whereas the Republicans I agreed on almost everything they stand for – almost everything – and the only reason I didn’t join them was because they didn’t like gay people.”
Anderson became interested in Trump after reading his tax policy recommendations. But it was the gay Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando that cemented his support for Trump.
“I feel, and I know for a fact [Trump] is the only conservative Republican candidate who has voiced an opinion not only about the Orlando shooting, but stood by the LGBT community. And to me that was inspirational,” Anderson said.
Of course by the time the Orlando shooting happened, there weren’t any other Republican candidates left. John Kasich and Ted Cruz had withdrawn their candidacies in early May, over a month before the shooting occurred. And with the Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Sanders issued statements condemning the Orlando attack.
The Orlando shooting came up during Trump’s acceptance speech on Thursday. Trump struggled to spit out the term “LGBTQ community” as he blamed “a hateful foreign ideology” for the violence, while ignoring all the homegrown violence LGBTQ people experience in the U.S.
Anderson said he also views Trump as a gay-friendly candidate for his anti-ISIS stance and related strong-arm military policy. Republicans argue that opposing ISIS, which condemns LGBT people to death, makes them gay-friendly.
“And whenever I hear Trump talk about his strong military policy and how he’ll take the fight directly to ISIS and make sure that they are put down for good. It brings me a lot of hope to know that eventually we’ll be able to get places like that fixed up, to where people like myself can be safe,” Anderson said.
'The platform it's written by a generation older than me'
Organizations including the Human Rights Campaign have condemned Trump’s anti-LGBT stances, a group that Anderson, unprompted, spoke out against.
“I feel like they should be a neutral organization. To be honest, we all know the Human Rights Campaign is led by the liberal, left media. It’s led completely by the Democratic party,” Anderson said.
But Anderson does disagree with the “religious freedom” push by Georgia Republicans, an effort that embroiled that state in a national controversy earlier this year before Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a sweeping anti-gay bill. The national GOP platform cheered on state lawmakers and governors “who have defied intimidation from corporations and the media in defending religious liberty.”
“When you think about it, it’s causing nothing but hurt,” Anderson said. “We were going to defend religion, however it was going to be defended in the sense that if someone knows that I am openly gay they’re able to tell me no you cannot live in this apartment with your partner, no you cannot use this business.”
Overall, Anderson said that anti-LGBT views in the Republican platform represent the views of an older generation, and that tweaks are ultimately necessary to the GOP's policy stances. Certainly this is the sort of millennial-friendly approach the Georgia group Republicans for the Future took in opposing “religious freedom” legislation earlier this year.
“The platform it's written by a generation that’s a few years older than me,” he said. “[As] a millennial who is about to take over the GOP, I personally feel like we need to take – not a huge progressive step – but we need to be able to make adjustments.”
Delegates have to pay their own way during the national convention, so Anderson defrayed some of the cost with a Go Fund Me campaign. That effort raised $610.
Anderson, who graduated from Rabun County High School in 2015, was a co-founder of the Rabun County Teenage Republicans, volunteered with the campaign of Georgia House candidate Matt Gurtler and played football in high school.
Anderson was recently accepted into the University of West Georgia, where he plans to pursue a degree in political science.