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How Queer Equality Became Wrapped In Faith And Patriotism At The Democratic National Convention

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 26:  Over 1,000 people gather outside of a LGBT center in downtown Philadelphia to protect it from  W
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 26: Over 1,000 people gather outside of a LGBT center in downtown Philadelphia to protect it from Westboro Baptist Church members during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on July 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The church members, known for their hatred of the gay community and others, abandoned their plan to demonstrate.The convention officially began on Monday and is expected to attract thousands of protesters, members of the media and Democratic delegates to the City of Brotherly Love. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There's been much said about the sea of American flags, the chants of "USA!" and the overt references to God and family values at the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Spending four days inside the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia I agree with those who viewed the inspiration for all of this as far different from the nationalist, jingoistic, religiously bigoted fervor that has inspired the typical Republican National Convention (RNC) of the past, much of which was often pandering and staged -- even as Republicans were apparently jealous while watching the DNC this year.

For all the production that goes into conventions, the patriotism at the DNC was real and it was inspired by mortal fear. It was truly about love of country -- the country we've transformed in the past eight years in powerful ways -- and the trepidation at the possibility a madman who'd already taken control of the Republican Party could snatch it away from us.

A major part of that transformation over the past eight years has been the rise of LGBT rights, a struggle that now occupies a place within the mainstream of American life, brought to that place during the Obama years.

It was hard to fathom, listening to the speakers on the stage this year standing up for LGBT equality, and walking the floor of the convention and seeing so many out and proud delegates -- a record 600 delegates of the 4765 at convention were LGBT, with 28 transgender delegates alone -- that only eight years ago, the presidential candidate at the DNC, like that at the RNC, was opposed to marriage equality.

Barack Obama, like most Democrats -- and just about every prominent Republican -- had defined marriage as between a man and woman in 2008. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender soldiers could not serve openly in the military then, booted out unless they lived closeted and in terror. Gay and transgender people were often dismissed and disregarded in politics and popular culture.

The LGBT civil rights movement was, to Democrats at that time, a pain in the ass -- another constituency that made noise but which had to be paid attention to because it energized voters and contributed money. That was certainly how LGBT people were treated at past Democratic conventions, as one or two gay people would be given a speaking slot in the afternoon, and maybe there was a visit by a minor political figure to the LGBT (Gay and Lesbian) Caucus. In 2012, the year President Obama backed marriage equality -- after the enormous achievement of getting "don't ask, don't tell" repealed and becoming a leader on LGBT rights like no other president -- we saw the beginning of a true embrace, but it was still a cautious one, with speakers on the stage talking about the right to "to love" who one wants, keepings things a bit in code.

Not in 2016. Queerness was flaunted, and very in-your-face, omnipresent at a convention that had the most pro-LGBT platform in history (contrasting with the RNC's most anti-LGBT platform in history, which includes promotion of so-called transgender "bathroom bills" and "ex-gay" therapy.) LGBT rights, like women's rights, racial justice, immigration reform and a slew of other issues, were integrated smoothly into the program rather than seeming forced and stilted, as it was at RNC, where billionaire Peter Thiel popped up on stage as the only openly gay speaker (and only the second one in RNC history), aware that it was jarring in the room to just state that he was "proudly gay," and asking "Who cares?" with regard to bathroom bills rather than simply saying the GOP platform was vile and repulsive. He received a rather silent response from the audience to that question -- and an "I do!" from the first delegate I asked on the floor, Judy Nichols of Nederland, Texas.

At the DNC this year, prominent governors, attorneys general, members of Congress and Democratic officials visited the LGBT Caucus, and the first transgender speaker ever to speak on the stage at a DNC, Sarah McBride, was broadly welcomed by the delegates. The same was true of speaker after speaker, many but not all of them gay, lesbian or bisexual -- or, in the case of Christine Leinonen, a mother of one of the Pulse nightclub victims in Orlando, the families of LGBT people -- who touted LGBT equality as an American value, a family value and an issue of faith.

When Rev. William Barber of North Carolina delivered his powerful sermon of a speech on the final night of the convention, he spoke out for "LGBTQ" rights, having himself been a force against North Carolina's anti-LGBT HB2, organizing sit-ins to protest the heinous law. And he lambasted those clearly aligned with the GOP who use religion to condemn people: "I am worried by the way that faith is cynically used by some to serve hate, fear, racism and greed."

The faith on display at the DNC, as Jamelle Bouie noted at Slate, reflecting the social justice movement of the black church, was indeed that of inclusion, unity and equality, and one reason why it didn't creep many of us out the way bromides to God and faith do at GOP conventions. The same was true of the shows of patriotism, as Khazr Kahn displayed in his now legendary speech about his son, a fallen soldier, that has sent Donald Trump into a tailspin. Lifting up his copy of the Constitution -- something, again, we'd expect to see at a GOP convention -- he stole the issue of religious liberty from the GOP as well, defining it as issue that respects full equality and inclusion.

At the DNC this year LGBT people were an integral part of the new American majority on display -- a majority that includes many minorities banding together to fight off an angry, often bigoted minority in the GOP who'd found a messiah in Donald Trump. He's promised to take them back to a time when diversity wasn't revered, when African-Americans were second class citizens, when immigration wasn't the threat they now perceive it to be (because most of the immigrants now are brown) and when women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people weren't afforded the place in society they now have -- a time before "political correctness," as Trump often says derogatorily.

Though LGBT rights and the march toward full equality helped form this majority, we're right to be fearful that the angry, aggrieved minority that Trump encourages can bring along other Republicans who know better but who are loyal to the party and will vote for Trump. We also must be aware that Trump's message plays to those who are rightly aggrieved -- some of them Democrats -- because they've been left behind in the slow economic recovery, something Bernie Sanders tapped into and which Hillary Clinton must speak to, as the American Prospect's Robert Kuttner strongly urges, rather than run away from.

We also know that with third party candidates in the mix anything can happen, and the equality majority isn't guaranteed a win by any means. The Democrats got that this year, and realized that showcasing diversity, including folding in queer equality, was smarter than keeping it segmented or hidden. Again, fear is a great motivator. Let's hope it motivates us to a win in November.