Gay, Proud and Conservative
‘There’s a stereotype that if you’re gay, you’re liberal – and if you are a conservative, you’re a bigot. Well, there are people like me who are gay and conservative, and we think it’s important that we have a voice.”
The speaker is Jimmy LaSalvia. Tomorrow morning in Washington, Mr. LaSalvia and his allies will launch a new tax-exempt 527 political organization they hope will be that voice for gay conservatives. Called GOProud, it will certainly make for a more interesting Republican Party — and a richer internal debate.
Mr. LaSalvia, the new group’s executive director, points to the arithmetic. In the 2008 presidential election, between 4% and 5% of voters self-identified as gay. Of these, 27% went for John McCain. That works out to 1.4 to 1.8 million gay Republican votes.
“If you pulled the lever for John McCain in 2008, then passing hate-crimes legislation or ENDA [Employment Non-Discrimination Act] is probably not your priority,” says Mr. LaSalvia. “Most issues that are defined as ‘gay’ issues have been defined by the left. We take a different approach.”
Health care is one example. Mr. LaSalvia points out that many gays do not believe their best interests are served by government-run health care. To the contrary, he says, they believe they would be better served by private-run individual accounts that are portable, that put them in charge of their own health care, and that would allow them to designate their own beneficiaries.
Some of these issues are explored at GayPatriot.org, whose founder, Bruce Carroll, is also on the board of GOProud. From the disastrous economic policies of Massachusetts Democrat Rep. Barney Frank to the outing of gay Republicans to the importance of male sexual monogamy, this conservative site offers a perspective you just won’t see anywhere else. Even on hot-button social issues, it can make for some strange bedfellows.
Take abortion. Christopher Barron, GOProud’s chairman of the board, points to an example from a few years back, when a Maine state legislator introduced a bill that would have outlawed abortion for a child thought to be gay, in the event genetic testing ever reached that point. That politician, Mr. Barron says, received virtually no support from gay groups. Though he himself is pro-choice, he says, “I want pro-life gays to know they have a home here.”
There may even be some common ground on the issue that most divides GOProud from long-standing Republican orthodoxy: gay marriage. Like most conservative organizations, GOProud is skeptical about using courts to advance social change. They also tend to believe that social issues like this one are best left to the American people acting through their state legislatures.
“I opposed the federal marriage amendment because I do not believe we should federalize marriage,” says Mr. Barron. “Marriage is and always has been a state issue. The last thing I want is for some federal court to impose a tortured Roe v. Wade law on gay marriage that will make sure that this issue is never resolved.”
That’s not likely to be satisfying to those who oppose gay marriage on the merits. But the approach is consistent with a conservative respect for process. Even more important today, this approach also helps make possible a real conversation between people who share the same principles but operate from strong, opposing beliefs.
As Mr. LaSalvia puts it, “Demonstrating common ground is just as important as saying it exists, and that’s where we’re different.”
Whatever else it is, these are not your father’s gay Republicans. To the contrary, GOProud springs from a growing dissatisfaction among some gay Republicans that the Log Cabin Republicans, the traditional gay advocacy group within the party, has drifted to the point where its positions are indistinguishable from those of the left. It didn’t help when the Washington Blade chimed in with a report that Log Cabin’s biggest contributor, Tim Gill, is a Democrat.
Messrs. LaSalvia and Barron are themselves former officers for the Log Cabin Republicans. They know they belong to a defeated party that has no clear leaders but is now making decisions that will determine that party’s future in the years to come. They say they have formed GOProud in part to participate in that conversation — as conservatives who want to contribute to the team.
The ironies are legion. Since the loss of Congress and Mr. McCain’s defeat in November, any number of people have come forward to suggest that if the party ever wants to win again, it has to abandon its conservative principles. What does it say about the Beltway’s established ideological boxes that it is the gay wing of the Republican Party which is now advocating for a return to the party’s Reaganite roots?
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