Written By: Nadine Smith, CEO of Equality Florida
A quick thanks to everyone who helped draw attention to Rubio, and subsequently Trump, for headlining a gathering of some of the most notorious anti-LGBT religious/political leaders in the country.
Rubio went from attacking us and denying our assessment of the conference leaders' bigoted records, to devoting his speech to chastising them for the very things we were denouncing. Of course, he neglected to include his own record and actions but, undeniably, the pressure we applied became the primary force shaping his comments.
To be clear, I would have applauded Rubio had he shown true contrition and sought amends. Even if he had ended his sentences with something concrete:
"But my religious beliefs guide my life and should not be imposed by law on others. Therefore I oppose any effort to repeal equal marriage protections."
"Because of the state-sanctioned discrimination I've just described, I intend to support, co-sponsor and vote for legal protections for LGBT people nationwide."
I believe in redemption. The whole premise of organizing is that people can and do change, and we should encourage them along that path. But Rubio's speech was not about an epiphany or new direction on LGBT issues. He got hit in the media repeatedly for sharing the stage with bigots whose rhetoric was and is appalling and indefensible. Failing to deflect the criticism, Rubio's last ditch strategy was to lecture his homophobic hosts on manners while keeping his promise to embrace their hateful agenda.
There were too many headlines giving him too much credit, as though this marked some breakthrough. What I heard was shameless hypocrisy by a man insisting on special, "elevated" rights for heterosexuals because he believes they are superior and the law should reflect that. Appalling and not worthy of praise.
So we should take pride in having compelled him to rhetorically scamper away from his associates, but we should make clear this is not a new day, a breakthrough, a softened heart or an opened mind. Just a politician whose numbers are tanking trying to straddle the ground between his base and the shifting electorate that isn't buying his hate like they used to.
Listening to Rubio at this conference was like listening to someone preach against violence while they are punching you in the face and shushing you for crying out too loudly.