What strange bedfellows politics makes; take the curious case of gay conservatives. Both the gay left and the professional anti-gay industry in this country would have you believe that the gay community is homogenous. Both the gay left and the anti-gay-for-pay right want Americans to believe that the gay community is uniformly liberal, slavishly loyal to the Democratic Party, and unquestioning in their allegiance to the “progressive” agenda. Both treat the idea of gay conservatives as a novelty, political unicorns. The reality, of course, is nothing near what this political odd couple would have you believe — indeed 27% of self-identified gay and lesbian voters chose John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008. That’s a figure that translates to roughly 1.7 million gay votes for McCain/Palin. If gay conservatives are unicorns, our herd is huge.
Not only is our herd a large one, it is also one that finally has a voice in Washington. GOProud, the organization of which I am honored to serve as Chairman of the Board, was founded in April of last year as the only national organization representing gay conservatives and their allies. Despite our name, GOProud is not a partisan organization; we do not hold ourselves out as an auxiliary of the Republican Party. We are not an organization seeking to “change” the Republican Party into the party of Dede Scozzafava or Chris Shays. We are conservatives, committed to the conservative movement. We believe strongly that what matters are principles not partisanship.
Our agenda is unlike the agenda of any other gay organization. Instead of fighting to expand the federal government through hate crimes laws or federal employment non-discrimination legislation, legislation that only impacts a sliver of gay people, we instead focus on issues like taxes, healthcare, retirement security, and the economy — we offer gay Americans pragmatic, common-sense conservative approaches to these issues that will improve their lives, as well as the lives of all Americans.
We believe strongly that the federal government doesn’t have all the answers to the challenges facing gay and lesbian families. Indeed, we believe that often the federal government is the problem — not the solution.
I am incredibly proud of the work GOProud has done over the last 18 months. Not only have we staked out a truly conservative legislative agenda for gay Americans and our straight allies, we have also shown that we will refuse to take our marching orders from the self-appointed leadership of Gay, Inc. In the same way that the Tea Party movement has bucked the failed Republican Party establishment, GOProud has bucked the failed approach of the gay political establishment.
Despite decades in Washington, and tens of millions of dollars, the gay political establishment on the left and the right has accomplished little more than learning how to throw “fabulous” black tie dinners. National gay groups, infatuated with the idea of being players in Washington, have become more and more disconnected from the priorities of average gay people.
GOProud has refused to abide by the “gentleman’s agreement” among many of the national gay groups to refrain from criticizing each other or questioning the wisdom of the gay left’s leadership. This policy, a byproduct of the influence of a handful of large, left-wing donors like Tim Gill who pull the strings of Gay, Inc., protects the gay leadership at the expense of average gay and lesbian Americans. For far too long, the leadership of the national gay organizations has enjoyed immunity from criticism and we have been expected to treat their missives on the priorities of the gay community as though they had been brought down the mountain by Moses himself.
Next Page: How GOProud Plans to Win the Hearts and Minds of Straight Conservatives
While other gay organizations spend their time and resources playing the role of self-important Washington insider or criss-crossing the country preaching to the choir, GOProud instead is engaged in the most important battle facing the gay community today — a battle for hearts and minds. The reality is that sadly much of gay left has completely abandoned any effort to win hearts and minds. Instead of talking to people about our lives, our families, our beliefs, and our values, the gay left has taken the easy way out — preferring to attack, criticize, and demonize those who may disagree with us on issues like marriage. Instead of working to win new friends, the gay left seems hell bent on creating new enemies.
We do not believe that disagreeing with us on same-sex marriage or openly gay service makes someone a homophobe or a bigot. Many of the people who don’t understand our lives don’t know us, or at least don’t think they do. Poll after poll shows that people’s opinions on homosexuality, gay marriage, and openly gay military service are all inextricably linked to whether or not they know someone who is gay or lesbian.
We recognize that simply being in the room is not enough, but you have to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run. The truth is that we simply cannot win the hearts and minds of serious conservatives — hearts and minds we need to win — without the work of gay conservatives.
GOProud isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and we recognize that. We aren’t trying to win the approval of the gay left, we aren’t looking for a group hug from the federal government, and we aren’t asking for a seat at the table from the Washington establishment. We are unabashedly conservative and unapologetically committed to the conservative movement. We don’t play by the rules of Gay, Inc., and we aren’t afraid to take a stand, no matter how unpopular it may make us with the gay establishment. Fortunately for us, there are millions of Americans — both gay and straight — who share our commitment. With all due deference and respect to Governor Palin, 2010 may be the year of the political unicorns not just the mama grizzlies.
Christopher R. Barron is Chairman of the Board of GOProud and one of the organizers of Saturday’s “Homocon.”