Can Libertarian Gary Johnson Attract Conservative LGBT Voters?

Gary Johnson

ORLANDO, FLA. — Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won the Libertarian presidential nomination on second ballot at the Libertarian National Convention today, and while he expects socially liberal voters will gravitate toward his candidacy, particular constituencies like LGBT activists will need to come to him rather than the other way around. 

“It’s never been my tactic to reach out to anybody,” Johnson told The Advocate after securing his party’s nomination. “The message that I have is the same message no matter whom I’m addressing, and the most effective reach-out is just saying the things that should be said. In that context, the LBGT [sic] community should embrace what it is that we’re saying.”

Late in the afternoon, the party also nominated former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, Johnson’s hand-picked running mate, as the vice presidential nominee. That came a day after Weld made a direct appeal to LGBT voters, noting his history of nominating the first state Supreme Court justice to hold marriage equality as a constitutional right.

In addition to finalizing the Libertarian ticket that will appear on ballots nationwide in November, the convention, which winds down in Orlando on Monday, did offer a showcase for a number of candidates with ties to the LGBT community. 

John Buckley Libertarian

John Buckley (pictured above), a gay man running for West Virginia Secretary of State as a Libertarian, came to his current party because the GOP wasn’t standing up for individual rights the way he expected. He served in the Virginia House of Delegates as a Republican or two years starting in 1980, but in 2014 he made history as the first out candidate to seek statewide office in West Virginia, when he launched an unsuccessful bid to represent that state in the U.S. Senate. 

Buckley, who identified himself as “pro-life,” believes Libertarians offer a platform for an array of issues, and hopes that other conservatives who have grown disgusted with Donald Trump will consider leaving the GOP fold and voting third party this year. “Welcome home to where you can speak for your principles with no shame or embarrassment,” Buckley says by way of welcoming new members.

Other candidates around the country see an opening where more accepting Libertarians could unseat staunch Republicans who have recently been mired in controversy over anti-LBGT laws. John Gregg, a Libertarian running for Indiana governor, called out incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Pence as a “homophobe,” alluding to Pence’s 2015 signing — and subsequent amending under great economic and political pressure — a sweeping so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which opponents said amounted to a license to discriminate against LGBT Hoosiers. The fallout from that high-profile controversy and the subsequent hit Pence’s approval ratings took leads Gregg to believe the Libertarian party has a chance to win this year in a typically red state. 

Fellow Indianan Drew Thompson, a congressional candidate in the Indianapolis area, noted that his sister is a trans woman, and stressed that he would be a stalwart supporter of LGBT rights while still offering a low-tax, pro-gun platform that Indiana voters might embrace. “I feel sympathy with the cause of any community faced with the palpable discrimination she has felt and experienced,” he said of his sister and the trans community more broadly. “I want to make this a freer society in multiple ways.”

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