One of the founders of GOProud, a group for gay Republicans, quit the party on Tuesday. And in our discussion about why, Jimmy LaSalvia had some parting shots for Speaker John Boehner and party chairman Reince Priebus over their "tolerance of bigotry."
"Reince Priebus, he talks a good game," LaSalvia says, "but he doesn't have the balls to do what it takes to actually change things."
After the election, the Republican National Committee that Priebus leads issued what's often called an "autopsy report" examining why the party lost the White House, didn't reclaim the Senate and bled seats in the House. The RNC seemed to recommend a return to "big tent" party ideals that LaSalvia and others hoped would include gays and lesbians. That hasn't happened, and it's partly Priebus to blame.
LaSalvia says the RNC hired specialists focusing on outreach to numerous demographics but openly admits why it can't do the same for LGBT voters. "In my conversations, they acknowledge they can't do it," LaSalvia said, "and they can't do it because of the backlash from the antigay forces in their party."
Herein lies the creeping demise of the Republican Party's prospects in the next election cycle, and perhaps in several cycles to come. Everyone acknowledges the party can see where it needs to go, where younger voters stand on LGBT issues. But they've got the timing all wrong.
A shift isn't vital only to keep pace with younger voters who see same-sex marriage as a civil rights issue. LGBT equality is becoming a litmus test issue for enough voters, whose family or friends are gay, that the math makes it impossible to win in some places, while pandering to bigotry elsewhere. Risking its own peril at the ballot box, the Republican Party underestimates how important I am to my loved ones.
Since that "autopsy," really nothing's changed. RNC member Dave Agema keeps his post representing Michigan, for example, despite saying in December that gay people want Obamacare because otherwise we die young, despite a Facebook post in which he said “Many homosexuals admit they are pedophiles,” and “The median age of death of lesbians is 45,” and despite another post that said Russia’s outlawing of so-called "gay propaganda" is just “common sense.”
Comments like that can't be hidden behind phony claims of "religious freedom." They're outright bigoted. LaSalvia will tell you that people like Agema "just don't like gay people." The party doesn't seem to care, though, and "that's just not OK anymore," LaSalvia said, explaining his quitting the GOP and registering instead as "no party affiliation."
Speaker John Boehner also sets a bad example, if you ask LaSalvia. Politico broke a story in December that showed Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes is trying to block the National Republican Congressional Committee from giving money to Republican candidates if they're gay. When asked whether gay candidates should be given committee money, Boehner said "I do."
But that's all he said.
"John Boehner says we will be funding them, he doesn't speak for me, instead of saying, he's wrong," LaSalvia complains. "They can't bring themselves to say that the folks who demonize gay people are wrong, and ultimately that's what is going to bring them down."
Most LGBT people gave up on Republicans a long time ago. LaSalvia joked on Twitter about being the last holdout. "Honestly, the GOP should ask themselves, 'How bad must it be if we've even lost Jimmy?'"
This is a gay man who not only endorsed Mitt Romney for president but also who repeatedly went on TV interviews to make the case. Even now, LaSalvia says he doesn't regret backing Romney over Obama in the election. It's not like LaSalvia is quitting the party over its opposition to increasing the minimum wage or its foreign policy. Rest assured he's a true believer when it comes to conservative ideals.
When it comes down to it, LaSalvia says he was "embarrassed" to be a Republican. And the problem is, so are a lot of people these days.
LaSalvia cites a new Gallup poll released this month showing a new historic low in the number of Americans who call themselves Republican — a mere 25 percent in 2013. (The number is even lower, 22 percent, if you consider only surveys from the last three months of the year.) Instead, more Americans than ever before are calling themselves independent.
LaSalvia looks at the negative trend line and sees a direct tie to the party's intolerant image. We've arrived at a tipping point for LGBT equality, but Republican leadership is in denial of the urgency for evolution.
"Frankly, I am embarrassed that the Republican Party couldn't beat a failed president in Barack Obama," says LaSalvia, sounding ever like the dedicated conservative, "and the reason they couldn't beat him is because America doesn't think Republicans like them, or their family and friends. Period."
LUCAS GRINDLEY is editorial director for Here Media. Contact him on Twitter @lucasgrindley.