Recently, Caitlyn Jenner’s personal politics came to light and caused an enormous uproar on the internet and within queer circles. People were bewildered at how she could support Ted Cruz, or even be a Republican at all. There were accusations she was out of touch, exploiting her privilege, and that she wasn’t concerned about the real issues that face the entire LGBT community. Social media commenters blew off her concerns as merely the experiences of living much of her life as a rich white male and just assumed that she was completely clueless.
It would be very easy to treat this as just another Caitlyn Jenner criticism article or an article jumping to her defense, but that would ignore the broader problem about queer politics. Somehow we have put up some qualifiers on which political party you’re supposed to be a member or supporter of as an LGBT person. It’s somehow become the accepted norm that when a person comes out of the closet, they come out carrying old WPA posters, a yellowed newspaper saying “Dewey Defeats Truman,” and a Mondale-Ferraro button. I’m alluding to the Democratic Party, of course. To be fair, we tend to get weird about Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, who complicate the narratives. Still, we seem to have become wedded to the idea that we are at least supposed to be Democrats as LGBT people, and to some you’re not truly “woke” on LGBT issues unless you’re slightly to the left of Trotsky. It’s odd that we think that way — that for some reason who we love or how we identify determines our attitudes about taxes, foreign policy, Wall Street oversight, and the Second Amendment.
Let me lay it out straight for you — pun intended — your sexual orientation and/or gender identity has nothing to do with what you should believe politically. It may shock you, but 20 percent of LGBT people self-identify as conservative. It goes up to 30 percent if you’re polling people over 50, but of course we all know gay people quit mattering after 40.
Right now some of you are probably foaming at the mouth and yelling, “How can they work against their own interests like that?!” It’s actually quite easy. They don’t think that being gay has anything to do with Wall Street regulation or carbon emissions. You may argue that Republicans hate LGBT people, and I would ask you to prove that. Not all of them do, you know. The current Republican mayor of Oklahoma City recently approved a housing nondiscrimination ordinance. In South Dakota the GOP governor vetoed an anti-trans "bathroom bill." George H.W. Bush supports gay marriage and, in fact, 61 percent of Republicans under 30 do. Hell, even Dick Cheney does. The war-starting, torture-endorsing, war-profiteering, power-grabbing, most loathed vice president since Aaron Burr — and Aaron Burr shot a man while in office! Wait, so did Cheney.
But how can gay people be Republicans? Easy. I know that some of you are screaming at the screen about how LGBT people are discriminated against, about how poor they are, about the medical services they need, the job protections they need, and how Republican policies and ideologies make it that way. How that is systemic oppression, and these queer Republicans are working against their own interests or are classists and privileged and telling the rest of the community to screw off because they got theirs and we should pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. How they are Quislings, how they’re not really part of the community.
I mostly agree with you. I’ve voted Democratic since the late 1990s for all those reasons, but not because I’m bisexual and transgender. It’s because of my ideology. I didn’t accept myself as bisexual until 2001, and didn’t fully embrace being trans until 2005. My being a registered Democrat had nothing to do with being gay, but my ideas on economics, foreign policy, and social welfare did. LGBT rights got tagged on at the end when I accepted myself. I say this for two reasons; first, so that you know that I’m not a Republican trying to defend myself (if you don’t believe me, check out my Twitter or blog), and second, to make it clear that being a Democrat came before my acceptance of my sexuality and gender.
Still, I don’t believe LGBT Republicans and specifically the Log Cabin Republicans are self-loathing homosexuals. During the Supreme Court battle for marriage equality, the group worked to get antigay justices on our side by submitting an amicus brief before the court. They filed a lawsuit that helped fell "don't ask, don't tell." They protested the Iran nuclear deal for not addressing homophobic human rights abuses. They cite Pat Buchanan’s homophobia as the catalyst for their motivation to organize and fight back for gay rights; something many older LGBT people can relate to. They also fought tooth and nail against the Federal Marriage Amendment, which sought to ban same-sex marriage through a constitutional amendment — a major issue in the 2004 presidential campaign, and a measure that failed in the House by less than 50 votes. Log Cabin's board of directors includes people who have fought against “don’t ask, don’t tell” in court and helped create LGBT programs at universities, plus former legislators who fought against LGBT discrimination and helped pass New York State’s marriage equality law.
“But how can they work with people they know hate them?” you may ask. Again, their being LGBT has nothing to do with how they feel about the role of government in our democracy. They aren’t Democrats or progressives, so they work their efforts on the conservative side. They don’t like those evangelicals who want to put us in reeducation camps any more than we do, and they don’t work with them either. They do work with many politicians who fight against us, attempting to remove their influence from the party — because political parties can change. Those Republicans are right when they say that Democrats were the party of the Confederacy and segregation, but they are talking about an era that is decades old. The Republicans became the party associated with discrimination only about 50 to 60 years ago. Efforts by people working within the Democratic Party moved them to the right side of history on racial issues and forced the segregationists out. That’s why many conservative gays still register Republican; they’re fighting for the change they want to see within their party.
Just as you believe in the correctness of your political ideology, so do they. I know that many of you believe that conservative beliefs in economic policy and social welfare are inherently discriminatory, which means that they as individuals must be discriminatory because they believe those things. Before you think I’m blowing off your deeply held conviction that wanting less social services is inherently racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-trans, just know that I agree that those policies do affect marginalized people more. However, many people believe wanting fewer social services is inherently bigoted. Your take on welfare is just part of an absolutely enormous spectrum of political ideologies and beliefs, all of which can be accused of having some heinous flaws and terrible performance in execution. Republicans typically believe that the rising tide of free markets lifts all boats, while Democrats believe that targeted support helps elevate the most marginalized. Both parties hopefully want people to prosper, it’s just a very different belief in how to go about it. But barring an outright statement of bigotry, it’s hard to convince me and many others that the idea of corporate tax breaks is inherently evil.
I disagree on many things conservatives and Republicans believe in. However, I know that there are things I do agree with them on, and socially liberal conservatives want equal rights for all just as much as I do, but we have different notions on how to achieve it. Not everyone who falls into the conservative camp is a vile hatemonger corporate stooge, while not everyone on the progressive side is ready to cut off rich people’s heads and quote from Das Kapital. Additionally, being gay, straight, trans, or cis is just one of a dozen factors in determining how you view and process the world. No two of us will believe the same thing, and it should never be a reason to mock, belittle, ostracize, and outright bully and hate another LGBT person. If there’s one thing all LGBT people should be able to agree on, it’s that it’s patently hypocritical for a marginalized minority to pass the hostility we experience as a group on to others — especially over a simple difference in belief.
AMANDA KERRI is a comedian and writer based in Oklahoma City.