2012 Election | Ari Ezra Waldman | GOProud | Log Cabin Republicans

Decision 2012: What Does It Mean for the Gay Republican?


The LGBT community played an outsized role in Tuesday's Democratic sweep. Constituting 5 percent of the electorate in 2012, the gay community went 77 percent to 23 percent for President Obama. If you do the math, the number of LGBT voters who chose to re-elect President Obama exceeded the margin of votes separating him and Mitt Romney. That means that our community delivered the election to the President.

Log-Cabin-Republicans-Rainbow-Elephant-300x265Eloquent commentators from Andrew Sullivan to Matt Yglesias have all seen this as part of a larger trend toward the emergence of a modern American electorate that is less white, more Hispanic, younger, and fairer than before. Their words are, as usual, worth a read.

There's more to the story, though. Both the increase in gay voting numbers and the increase in our already heavy Democratic tilt, together with a sweep of the four states voting on the freedom to marry and the elections of the openly gay candidates across the country, have a lot to say about the role of gay identity in modern politics. It is not simply, as Richard Socarides said, that today, supporting gay rights is no longer the albatross it was in the 1990s and, instead, is a banner to wear proudly. He's right, but that's too simple. Nor is it simply about gays being liberal. There are a lot of gay conservatives, but being conservative and voting Republican are two different things.

Our victories on Tuesday prove the hollowness of the gay Republican talking point that gay identity is tiny in politics. For all the talk that gay people want jobs, too, and for all the chatter about the economy being of supreme importance no matter who or how you love, the idea that our identity as gay persons does not mean that equal rights are more important to us than, say, our concerns about the debt is simply not true. Gay Republicans and gay conservatives risk irrelevance if they stick to the notion that "being gay is only a small part of who I am" and then proceed to endorse candidates who are anti-gay in the traditional sense. Being gay is who we are. It tints the way we see the world and how we interact with others. It informs our vote, as well. 

We need gay Republicans. We need them to talk with fellow Republicans, to teach them that gay people are good, moral, upstanding citizens, who love their country, each other, and their children. We need them to push their party's leadership away from "legitimate rape" and away from "it's wrong on paper" to a mainstream party -- like the Tories in England -- who support the freedom to marry not in spite of their conservative principles, but because of them. But, voting for a Republican who wants to rescind their rights because gay Republicans are more concerned with other things than being gay is at once wrong -- by all accounts, Mr. Romney's tax plan and proposals for spending trillions the military did not want would add to the debt and raise taxes on the middle class -- and foolish. No one will respect them until they respect themselves. 

This election showed that gay social identity is predominant in determining our political identity. If they ever hope to attract more of our community, even the conservative among us, to the Republican fold, gay Republicans should take heed, drop the canard that being gay doesn't matter, and embrace the importance of equality. 

I explain exactly what I mean, AFTER THE JUMP...

LogcabinMany people construct their identities on a host of social ties, from their families, religions, genders, socioeconomic status, national heritage, wants, desires, professions and professional goals, and so on. The list is endless. But, for almost everyone, there is usually one -- or two or three -- of their community ties that are more important than others. For some, however, the most powerful social identity is the one that is subject to hate or disccrimination from the outside world. That is, women tend to see themselves more as women voters than men see themselves as men voters, in part because historic discrimination against women forced them to organize together. The same is true for most black voters and Hispanic voters. I am not saying that there are no men who see themselves as voting to stand up for masculine ideas, whatever those are. Indeed, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that characterizes quite a few of Mr. Romney's supporters. Notably, the evidence suggests that this minority identity is less strong among Asian voters, but as seen in Tuesday's election, that is changing as well.

For many of us, being gay and subject to discrimination as gay persons defines our political identities. We may not always want it this way, but the challenges we face because others discriminate against us is an identity thrust upon us. Surveys of gay voters show lopsided skews toward liberalism in politics, but when asked how they would feel about this or that economic issue or this or that candidate in a future world where there is zero sexual orientation discrimination, suddenly our community becomes political diverse.

The identity theory of the gay Republican is different. We can talk all we want about assuming that gay Republicans are self-haters or rely on contrarian social theory that posits that some gay people say they are Republicans because they think it's pretty cool to be different from the herd. Those are caricatures of gay Republicans and only foster divisions within our community. 

Instead, I think it is a matter of degree. Most gay persons see themselves as gay voters, voting for President Obama and our Democratic allies because they, not the Republicans, are protecting our rights, recognizing our equality, and actually moving the levers of government to enshrine those rights. Gay Republicans like to say that "being gay is only a small part of who" they are, that they, like everyone else, are concerned about the debt, jobs, and foreign policy. Their identities are no less thickly constituted than ours. It is just that their gayness makes up a smaller portion of that identity.

There are several explanations for this, and self-hate and contrarianism do play a role. But we cannot ignore the fact that gay people, like every other person, are subject to a multitude of community ties. Some are bound to be stronger than others because of unique facts of a person's background and goals. And, we should respect those personal journeys that are different than ours.

However, this notion of gay identity for gay Republicans is a losing idea. If it is legitimate at all, it is describing fewer and fewer members of our community. It emptiness is the reason why Sean Patrick Maloney and Tammy Baldwin, two openly gay candidates who embrace their identity, won, and why Richard Tisei and Carl DeMaio, two gay Republicans who claimed over and over that their gayness means very little to their political ideals, lost. And, I think there are three reasons why. One reason concerns politics, the second reason concerns messaging, and the third reason concerns the underlying failure of gay Republican identity.

M_romneyFirst, the 2012 election gave us an unprecedent choice between, on the one hand, a man and party -- President Obama and the Democrats -- that have actually done many great things for the gay community, and, on the other hand, a man and a party -- Mr. Romney and the Republicans -- that want to take away our rights. Previously, our community looked to progressive candidates like Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry who either never talked about gay rights or gave half-hearted vocal support to a particularly palatable gay rights issue only to frustrate us while in office (in the case of former President Clinton).

We had the choice between the bad and the not so bad, the guy who hated us and the guy who probably didn't hate us but who couldn't talk about us because of what it would mean for his election prospects. As Mr. Socarides said, the world is different now. President Obama and the Democrats are proudly wearing their support for the freedom to marry and other gay rights causes because it will bring them votes. But, again, it's more than that. The President hasn't just spoken about his support for our community; he's done something about it, supporting the freedom to marry, stopping the Defense of Marriage Act, keeping binational couples together, giving us hospital visitation rights, supporting our service members' right to serve openly, and so on.

In a world where one candidate gets an A and the other candidate gets a D on gay rights, gay identity has to mean more to a vote than when the two candidates get a C and D. Our sexual orientation matters less when the choices are more fungible because our various identities are more fungible with respect to how the candidates represent us.

Second, gay Republican insistence on endorsing Mr. Romney was a messaging problem that damaged their credibility. That so many of us see our social identity as essential to our political identity, openly flouting that identity by endorsing a candidate so brazenly opposed to our social identity showed gay Republicans to be craven and only out for political posturing in a possible Romney administration. As it happened, Romney lost, makig the Log Cabin and GOProud endorsements irrelevant. Their role in the party could only shrink.

DadtAnd, that's a shame. The Log Cabin Republicans have been strong allies in some of our most important struggles over the past few years. They challenged "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and their victory in Log Cabin Republicans v. United States most likely pushed the military and the legislative branches into faster and comprehensive action on repeal. Log Cabiners helped pass the freedom to marry in New York, working alongside the HRC and all of us who met with Democratic and Republican officials and reaching across the aisle to their contacts in the Republican party.

We need a vibrant, strong gay community in the Republican Party. Ignoring their identity to endorse a Republican who wanted to take away their social rights made them look foolish.

Third, the idea that being gay is "only a small part of who we are" is constantly in tension with gay people's lives. Our social identity is forced upon us as a political identity by those that seek to discriminate against us. That is a fact. Ignoring it only perpetuates the assumed acceptability of continuing that discrimination. Therefore, the centrality of our social identity as gay persons is not a small part of who we are as voters. It is who we are as political animals.

There is nothing inconsistent with having a robust concept of gay identity and being conservative. The only way the Republican Party will learn that is through not simply the presence of gay Republicans, but through the presence of gay Republicans for whom being gay is the most important thing in their political lives.

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  1. I did not know there were gay republicans.

    Posted by: Emmy | Nov 9, 2012 1:16:40 PM

  2. "Our social identity is forced upon us as a political identity by those that seek to discriminate against us."

    And herein is the great irony: those who have been most aggressive in their condemnation of gay people, those who have sought most fervently to ostracize and marginalize us, are MOST responsible for creating a cohesive gay identity within our society. They are arguably more responsible for this than gay people are themselves. By shoving us out of the tribe, they've forced us to band together and to realize that we aren't alone. That has given us much more power than we would have had if they'd just left us alone.

    You reap what you sow.

    Posted by: Keppler | Nov 9, 2012 1:23:04 PM

  3. "We need a vibrant, strong gay community in the Republican Party. Ignoring their identity to endorse a Republican who wanted to take away their social rights made them look foolish"

    It did not make them any more foolish than it makes gay Democrats look for continuing to worship at the feet of Hillary Clinton, despite her continuing stated opposition to same-sex marriage.

    That aside, what you don't understand, Mr. Waldman, is that many, many, in fact, most men who are attracted to other men sexually and indulge that attraction......do not identify with the whole idea of "gay" and are turned off by what has come to be the cultural definition of "gay"--things that have nothing to do with sexuality, per se.

    In reality, at this point in history, the hostility directed at "gay" men has less to do with sexual orientation than it has to do with the effeminacy that so often defines those who embrace the concept of "gay" publicly. For them, "gay" is about "gender-non-conformity" and a whole culture that reflects that mindset.....an anti-masculinity mindset that is hugely offputting to the vast majority of men in this society (and others) who enjoy sex with other men and who do not see that attraction as being inconsistent with an embrace of masculine values and natural masculinity.

    For this majority, the goal is to change the male culture in such a way as to make sexual expression between men an integral part of that culture rather than something that is considered contradictory to it.

    Not only can that not be accomplished through any political process.....but the effeminate face of "gay" in the popular culture and the embrace of the culture of effeminacy by most gay activists stands in the way of the real change that is needed.....cutural change that would make the passage of laws unnecessary in the first place.

    These men do not "hate themselves"--on the contrary, they are quite proud of who they are in a way that "men" who have forsaken identification with their own gender in favor of identification with the opposite gender--out of a sense of masculine inferiority--are not, despite their attempts to pretend they are.

    When we change the larger male culture and the "gay" culture along with it, then you will see the kind of unity you are talking about, but it will be impossible until that change takes place.

    Posted by: Rick | Nov 9, 2012 1:24:15 PM

  4. Let the Republican Party wither & die.

    No self-respecting gay person should aid their mission to foster racism & homophobia.

    If Gay Republicans insist they believe in fiscal conservatism, they should spearhead forming a new political movement. The GOP is too rotten to rehabilitate.

    Posted by: JONNY NYNY2FLFL | Nov 9, 2012 1:33:08 PM

  5. If I may summarize the article above: The Log Cabin/GOProud crowd should have endorsed Obama. THAT alone would have gotten them the attention they need within the Republican Party.

    And, as to canards, the idea that the Republicans are fiscally conservative is a complete falsehood. Anyone, especially gay, using that as an excuse to vote Republican is blind to the facts.

    So, here's a plan going forward for the gay Republican, vote for Democrats and make it known to your fellow party members why.

    Posted by: Advice from a conservative | Nov 9, 2012 1:35:50 PM

  6. omg taaaxessss.

    Posted by: alex | Nov 9, 2012 1:41:03 PM

  7. "Gay" encompasses the entire spectrum of male same-sex attraction, RICK, whether it's the effeminate fey queen or the butch str8t man's man. The vast majority of gay men exist somewhere in between, not at either extreme. Just like in politics, the fringes ought to learn to get along better if the whole body of people is going to move forward. And there are a lot of button-pushing comments and questionable theories from both sides in the comments here.

    Just as I question the popular notion that you're a self-loathing homosexual desperate for your father's approval, I also don't buy into the idea that the effeminate gays will have to change in order to gain mainstream acceptance. There will always be effeminate men; every culture on the planet has them--we need to get over it.

    Posted by: Sean in Dallas | Nov 9, 2012 1:44:35 PM

  8. as long as "i hate femmes!" cowards refuse to grow some balls and stand up to be counted, their hoped-for revolution will never come. and that's a good thing, because they're useless pathetic cowards who aren't exactly missed.

    it's very simple, re: gay republicans. if they spent as much time working to show their fellow republicans that gay people, and LGBT Equality, are no threat to "america" or "tradition" as they do slandering "liberals" and inventing fake-@ss "violent attacks" from "blacks' and "mean gay liberals" they might have made some progress.

    as it stands now, they continue to apologize for being gay by neutering themselves.

    they should be relieved that not just gay people ,but straight liberals took a stand for Equality in this last election.

    as for Troll-Rick-With-No-Balls, he proves the rest of us right.

    the miserable closet cases who blame "effeminate men" for their own cowardly refusal to stand up to be visibly identified as gay.

    you can't complain that you're being misrepresented when you refuse to stand up like a grown adult and represent yourselves.

    so, keep hating femmes. and die alone in your closet.

    or, take a lesson from the effeminate gay males you hate - learn to not care what ignorant bigots think. after all, they don't.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Nov 9, 2012 1:53:30 PM

  9. Ari,

    I cannot agree that we need " a strong vibrant gay community within the Republican party....."
    The experience of gays living with that bigot Margaret Thatcher demonstrated unequivocally that trying to change these entrenched homophobic establishments from the inside is a fool's errand.....remember clause 28 ??? another anti-gay piece of legislation.

    It's not long ago that people like these Republicans would not eat near us in case they'd catch something;
    it's not long ago that people like this wanted to round us up and put us in quarantine as a threat to society;
    it's not long ago since they jailed us, beat us up or like Romney and his bully thugs held us down to cut our "faggot" hair.

    Hell will reign before I ever consider a GOP log Cabin Republican as one of us.

    Ken Melman demonstrated clearly the harm which Republican (in his case closeted) gays can do to our fight for Equal rights.
    We should never stoop so low as these Republican supporters of Romney have; they have sold the Pass.......there must be no mercy shown such self serving traitors.

    (I posted some of these remarks earlier.)

    Posted by: JackFknTwist | Nov 9, 2012 2:01:08 PM

  10. Regarding Jonny's comment, it is worth pointing out that, Bush was in favor of a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage until the election, at which point he dropped the idea. What Romney would have done is anyone's guess - he's basically a salesman and you can't trust anything he says. I suspect that is the rationale gay Republican voters use - the apparent homophobia is marketing to get the religious-right-wing vote. Gays who vote Republican probably discount the homophobic positions on those grounds but like the tax cuts for the wealthy (assuming they benefit personally).

    The idea that the gay vote changed the outcome of the election, though, hasn't been shown to be correct because of the electoral college - you'd need to look at what happened in the "swing states" and what fraction of the voters in those states were gay voters. A large pro-Obama vote by gays in California is nice, for example, but had no effect on the outcome as Obama won by a substantial majority in California. In the town I live in, there were lots of "Obama-Biden" signs in front of houses, but I don't recall seeing even one Romney-Ryan sign.

    Posted by: Bill | Nov 9, 2012 2:04:38 PM

  11. I for one, hope the GOP decides the answer is to veer even more right. I suggest their 2014 platform becomes:
    1. Down with electricity!
    2. Limit Sex to 1 day a month for married hetros with 2 approved positions.
    3. Turn the minimum wage into a maximum wage.

    Posted by: DJ | Nov 9, 2012 2:07:15 PM

  12. I was very happy to learn that Richard Tisei, running against a strong ally in Massachusetts, and Carl DeMaio, running for the Mayor of San Diego, lost. Both were gay but quite willing to abet anti-gay Republican policies.

    Posted by: Jay | Nov 9, 2012 2:14:58 PM

  13. It's probably an overstatement to say that gays delivered the election for the president. I don't have sociological studies to back it up, but I would suspect that quite a few of the gays who voted live in large, liberal cities that would have elected obama even if he had been silent on marriage--los angeles, nyc, d.c., chicago. Perhaps there was a difference in Florida where the election was close, but as it turned out, FL didn't matter. Still, thrilled to be part of the coalition of latinos, asians, women who did support him. BTW, who are the gays who voted for romney? SO creepy to think people would vote for a guy who would support changing the US constitution to forbid marriage equality. We need to identify these people and figure out some way to shame them.

    Posted by: dms | Nov 9, 2012 2:15:15 PM

  14. Ari, a very well thought out column as always. I do think you underestimate the self hate and need for approval that motivates these people however. That said, the fact that they would just not say to their overlords, "hey, we agree with you on everything except your hate for us, so unless you drop that, we are going to sit on the sidelines" and instead reliably endorse the hater every time, shows just how irrelavent they have become.

    Posted by: Mikey Dallas | Nov 9, 2012 2:20:13 PM

  15. Nicely said, and not as overly verbose as usual.

    Posted by: Wilberforce | Nov 9, 2012 2:28:11 PM

  16. @ Bill: I was thinking the same thing. You would have to look at the gay vote in states like FL, VA, and OH to determine that. As the vast majority of self-identified LGBT Americans live in NY and CA (states that voted overwhelmingly for Obama), it is unlikely that gay Americans pushed Obama across the finish line. Hispanic voters were probably more responsible for that outcome.

    Posted by: Joseph | Nov 9, 2012 2:37:56 PM

  17. No, I didn't read the article. Who cares about gay republicans? Let them sink to the depths of hell.

    Posted by: elb | Nov 9, 2012 2:48:32 PM

  18. "That means that our community delivered the election to the President."

    let's not pat ourselves on the back too much... the "latino vote" was 10% of the electorate and they voted 71% for O. sooo, they also "delivered the election to the President." probably along with women voters, African American voters - and a whole lot of other people.

    Posted by: corny | Nov 9, 2012 3:01:39 PM

  19. Please do not claim that gays got Obama elected.

    We were part of a large, diverse group all of whom--together--got Obama elected.

    Posted by: cminca | Nov 9, 2012 3:03:22 PM

  20. Obama is a conservative Democrat with conservative economic policies issuing from his appointment of Bush administration Geitner. As has been stated above Log Cabin and GOProud should be for Obama, which would really send a message to those who are so far right on the political spectrum that they're in the shadowy deep violet (that is sooo ironic); unless of course, Log Cabin and GOProud are also lunatic fringe conservatives (which I don't think they are, actually--just misguided). The notion that conservatives are the best suited to handle the economy or any financial matters is an outmoded idea. Despite Bill Maher once stating that he'd rather have a mean old white man handle his money than a pot-smoking liberal, A pot smoking liberal saved us money, while little boy fondling/alcoholic/bible thumping conservatives economically destroy and divide America.

    Posted by: woodroad34d | Nov 9, 2012 3:15:06 PM

  21. Ari, thanks again for a thoughtful and thought-provoking article. I always enjoy them.

    @RICK -- When it came to the mantra "real men don't eat quiche", my reply has always been "a real man eats anything he wants". And a REAL man, gay or straight (like Chris Kluwe), protects and fights for those being bullied and discriminated against, but you would bully what you perceive as "sissies". So why not grow some *real* balls and think about being more inclusive? Masculinity is a spectrum. And, by the way, you're overlooking that it was a bunch of "queens" who finally had enough and fought back at Stonewall.

    Posted by: Robert | Nov 9, 2012 3:17:14 PM

  22. Rick is a troll who hates the girlie aspects of himself so much that he constantly screeches about the gays who are too gay and the men who aren't manly enough. Sometimes he takes time to be a misogynist, as well, and generally just likes to take the opposite view of the majority.... and common sense.
    He ridiculously says that because he feels a certain way that that is the majority opinion but has zero evidence to back that up while there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Please ignore him.

    Posted by: StillMarriedinCA | Nov 9, 2012 3:24:50 PM

  23. Robert - understand that Rick The Troll, and the gays like him, use their hatred of "effeminate gay men" as an excuse to not Come Out.

    they scream their fury anonymously, on the internet.

    why? because they're emasculated. the men they've been conditioned to loathe live OUT lives, not burdened by a cowardly fear of what people may be thinking about them.

    the "i hate femmes" brigade is incapable of living with that type of fearlessness, hence their emasculation.

    the men they hate and the men they hope to denigrate are actually the ones living real, authentic non-cowardly lives.

    this is why the Ricks of the world are so useless. they wont' stand up to be counted and their furious that the type of men they "don't want to be associated with" do.

    Posted by: LittleKiwi | Nov 9, 2012 3:25:14 PM

  24. Gays are all about diversity, except when it involves something we don't like. (Then we get all pissy.)

    Posted by: anon | Nov 9, 2012 3:27:18 PM

  25. It's silly to say that the LGBT community delivered the election to Obama. Yes, the number of LGBT voters that chose Obama was greater than the margin between the two candidates. That is true. But first, that ignores the whole Nate Silver vs the pundits that everyone was talking about for the entire week prior to the election. The popular vote doesn't matter. Without an examination of state statistics, you can't really say the LGBT community delivered victory to Obama.

    Second, even operating under your view of what constitutes delivering victory, the same is true of whites, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, straight people, Christians, atheists, men, and women. While it's true that the LGBT is small, the Asian population is similarly small and actually favored Obama at a higher rate.

    My point is that a broad coalition of communities delivered victory to Obama. It is a disservice to the future of coalition-building if we engage in silly and self-serving identity politics. No single group decides elections. There are no king makers. Yes, each community has unique and important issues. But the rhetoric of "it was us that did it" ignores the intersections of those communities and treats policy as a zero-sum game.

    The reality is that policy can provide for everyone if we work together. We did that on Election Day, when a coalition of like-minded Americans re-elected Obama. Instead of ignoring the contributions that various communities made in Obama's reelection, can't we maintain that coalition, whose collaboration brought success, for at least a little while?

    Posted by: John | Nov 9, 2012 3:29:36 PM

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