Token Dissonance

Black & gay, young & conservative. A Southern gentleman writes about life and politics after Yale


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Pride and Terrorism: Reflections on Orlando

“People like me are constantly subjected to immense violence. I expect violence walking alone late at night… I expect random acts of hate violence on the street. [But] I do not expect violence when I am dancing at an LGBTQ club…” –Jacob Tobia

Sunday morning, after news of the Orlando terrorist attack broke, I received a text message from an old friend I hadn’t connected with in a while. A Jewish UChicago Law graduate (and passionate Duke alumnus) from suburban New York, he is a stalwart #NeverTrump conservative who interned for Utah Senator Mike Lee and campaigned mightily for the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz from start to finish. Like both senators, this friend is socially conservative to a fault, and we have sparred often and bitterly through the years over gay rights, from the Obergefell decision to the various iterations of the Federal Marriage Amendment to the circumstances in which my future husband and I should be able to adopt kids.

Some might wonder how I would have the patience for such a friendship, and I don’t have an easy answer to that question for the truly incredulous. But some people are worth the long project of winning their hearts bit by bit, even through the inexorable pain of the many potholes and snares along the way.

His text read: “Just want you to know that as I wake up to this terrible news in the midst of Pride week, that I am thinking of you. That is all. Hope you are well, otherwise.”

It was a welcome surprise, considering.

As the unexpected thoughtfulness of that gesture has lingered, it’s been surreal to see the furious amalgam of LGBT allies—from the ACLU to a vast network on social media—blaming Christian opponents of gay rights, among others, for the murderous evil of a radicalized adherent to the superlative homophobia of Islamism. Most social conservatives, like just about everyone else, recoiled in horror and sadness from the undisputed evil of anti-gay terrorism. Accordingly, many of them, like my Jewish UChicago Law friend, were dumbfounded and insulted to be public targets of blame for villains they revile engaging in conduct they abhor.

I can understand—or at least maybe grasp—the underlying sentiments that animate some of this antagonism that seems as unintelligible to its recipients as it is painfully obvious to its progenitors. The simplest but perhaps most important thing to say to baffled social conservatives to explain the invective against them in the wake of Orlando is that religious terrorism against LGBT Americans did not begin in Orlando.

The more consistent LGBT critics of social conservatives perceive a culture that produced the attack on Pulse in the homophobic fanaticism of both conservative Christianity and Islam. A friend of a friend on Facebook, for example, sees the roots of the potentially closeted terrorist’s violently internalized homophobia as much grounded in the toxic Islamism of Afghanistan as in the decades of anti-gay cultural hostility inflicted by American Christians.

This awareness of Christian mistreatment of gays is hardly relegated to the fringes of society—where you’ll find its unrepentant celebrants in the likes of Pastor Roger “they deserve what they got” Jimenez of California’s Verity Baptist Church (who no more represents the Christian mainstream than the shooter represented American Muslims)—but extends all the way to the leaders of the American Body of Christ. In the recent words of Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, Florida:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, that targets, mostly verbally, and often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence.

Before we go any further, I want to state clearly, lest there be any confusion, that I do not blame Christians for the horror in Orlando. Rather, I admire the staff of Chick-fil-a who went out of their way, as though in a modern-day parable, to support the victims of the tragedy at Pulse and their families. What I hope to accomplish in writing all this is something of a bridge between wholly different perspectives, so that social conservatives and LGBT allies can better understand one another—pain, grievances, and all.

Having said that, now I’ll be blunt: queers have a long, nasty history with political and cultural Christianity that far too many Christian conservatives seem unwilling or unable to appreciate. There are the kids kicked out of their own homes, expelled from institutions, inveighed against from the pulpit (don’t even get me started), bullied relentlessly into depression or even suicide; there are the adults who were tormented at workfired from jobs, kicked out of hospitals, kicked out of mallsslandered across continents, denied basic services, and scapegoated for every manner of misfortune—and were fought tooth and nail by Christian conservatives at nearly every turn for every iota of dignity and respect they managed to accrue from society or the law.

There are the people who know too well what Storm meant when she answered Senator Kelly’s question in the first X-Men movie about “normal people”: she hates them, sometimes, “because I’m afraid of them.” And they have good reason to be afraid—to hold hands in public, come out at work, or put an arm on a significant other’s shoulder during a transit ride. It’s no surprise to the LGBT community that the second-most common type of hate crime in America by far, according to the most recent FBI data, is anti-LGBT violence. (For comparison, anti-Muslim violence was less than 3 percent, and anti-Christian attacks were among the lowest of any demographic.)

And the truth is, we never really know when we go out somewhere in the world which of you will suddenly attack us for being who we are, or who you assume we are. But the thought occurs to us more often than you might think. Among other things, this is why my boyfriend and I, who were nearly victims of hate crimes in supposedly tolerant places, have concealed carry licenses and the means to defend ourselves, if it ever came to that. It’s almost why I used to feel a mercurial combination of gratitude and shame at having grown up in (and exaggerating this aspect of) a culture that discourages PDA, which in turn excused my once indomitable aversion to holding my boyfriend’s hand in public.

This is why Orlando hurts so much for gays hundreds of miles away who knew nobody inside, living or casualty.

Granted, many Christian conservatives today would not favor any of that pain, but the (ongoing) history is there. It does not help that breathtakingly few prominent Republicans even bothered to mention the LGBT nature of the Pulse massacre, even though that aspect was integral to why the tragedy occurred in the first place. Moreover, some, like The Resurgent’s Erick Erickson, went so far as to dismiss vital questions about gay rights issues in wake of a transparently anti-gay attack as “an unnecessary dividing line.”

At best, this excessive discomfort with even talking about gays is appallingly ignorant and insensitive. At worst, it is emblematic of the kind of malign indifference or deep-seated hostility to the peculiar struggles of LGBT Americans that underlies (and some would say justifies) LGBT supporters’ open revulsion at and rejection of what they interpret as the crocodile tears of their enemies. As conservative journalist and LGBT ally Betsy Woodruff put it rather poignantly:

After years of supporting some of the most discriminatory and hateful legislation aimed at the LGBT community, some top Republicans finally found a way to exploit the community as it grieved the Orlando shootings.

In this vein, well-intentioned overtures to gays from some on the Right—from The Resurgent’s Dave Scharoun to evangelical darling Ted Cruz—rooted primarily in conservative opposition to violence against gay people come off as patronizing and disingenuous. It is a supremely low bar to say, in effect, “We may have viciously opposed just about every social, cultural, and political initiative that would have empowered you to pursue happiness as productive citizens—and in so doing actively worked to make your lives more miserable than they needed to be—but at least we don’t want to kill you like those people we hate over there. Why won’t you support us?”

That is not a compelling message. Especially not when aggressively LGBT-friendly candidate Hillary Clinton is laying out plans (whatever you think of their substance) to destroy the Islamic State while calling out America’s Muslim “allies” for being insufficiently committed to extirpating Islamic radicalism.

It is certainly a noteworthy point that even some of the worst anti-gay organizations, like the Family Research Council, which most gay rights advocates consider an anti-gay hate group, offered explicit support to the LGBT victims of Orlando (and in so doing managed somehow to convey a greater degree of sympathy than the bulk of elected Republican officials), while the worst anti-gay jurisdictions in the Middle East would make the Pulse terrorist seem tame and merciful by comparison. But we’re not in the Middle East.

Whether or not social conservatives find that interpretation of their sympathy and culture war history fair (and those honest or sufficiently self-aware will concede at least much of it is), this is how the situation looks to a great host of LGBT people and their allies for many good reasons.

In response to much of this, some social conservatives and their political allies will incline understandably toward incredulity or exasperation. They maintain sincere, principled objections to same-sex marriage and various gender identity mandates. To be sure, there are some on the Left for whom such opposition is a non-negotiable personal failure over which no social or political bridge is possible. For most others, though, there is a navigable world of fertile seeds for common ground and mutual understanding. The paths that lead to and through it are all accessible by a deceptively simple code of conduct derivative from the Golden Rule:

Act like you give a damn.

What does that mean, you ask?

Well, for starters, if you notice a radical Islamic terrorist attacked an LGBT space to kill LGBT people, acknowledge the primacy of LGBT suffering in that tragedy. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, talk about the manifold ways in which America has been—and in some ways continues to be—a hostile place for gay people. See: the aforementioned point about hate crimes. If the Family Research Council and Ted Cruz can pull off a passable effort, so can you.

A real-life instance of this was a speech Marco Rubio—one of the few GOP officeholders to acknowledge the anti-gay nature of the Orlando attack—gave at Catholic University in summer 2014. Even as he reaffirmed his unyielding opposition to same-sex marriage, he acknowledged the monstrous but little-known history of government-sanctioned discrimination against gays, and the legitimate grievances gay people have today because of such ills. There’s certainly more the Florida senator could do to better represent his LGBT constituents, but his comments represent a helpful show of what I hope is genuine good will.

If you want to get more advanced, you could spend a fraction of the resources you use to oppose same-sex marriage or other gay rights issues to, say, engage gay parents, taxpayers, and community members about particular challenges facing their families, which will exist whatever your opinions of them. You could explore—and dare I say champion—policies that might help alleviate such challenges without compromising your values.

Real-life examples of this would be then-Sen.-elect Pat Toomey’s (R-Penn.) announcement of support for the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, even though he would never get a chance to vote on it, or Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-NC) surprising decision to vote for that repeal bill, with no evident political gain, because it was “the right thing to do.” There’s also the case of Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), who posted a lengthy and detailed explanation of his vote for an amendment from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) that reaffirmed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors. The explanation even went so far as to call out Amash’s conservative allies for woefully misrepresenting the amendment’s text and effects. Etc.

But even for those social conservatives who remain skeptical of such policy reforms, the mere exercise of continually engaging LGBT people to hash out such things would almost certainly lead to a learning by osmosis of some concerns, struggles, frustrations, and hopes that go beyond politics and underlie true compassion. It’s the kind of empathetic approach that, if scaled well, would go a long way to resolving the GOP and conservative movement’s enduring difficulty with young and minority voters.

You can find a gold standard of empathy and a way forward in the cogent remarks of Utah’s Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox at a vigil for the Orlando victims:

I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize.

Over the intervening years, my heart has changed. It has changed because of you. It has changed because I have gotten to know many of you. You have been patient with me. You helped me learn the right letters of the alphabet in the right order even though you keep adding new ones. You have been kind to me. Jim Dabakis even told me I dressed nice once, even though I know he was lying. You have treated me with the kindness, dignity, and respect — the love — that I very often did NOT deserve. And it has made me love you.

I cannot recommend his entire speech enough. Seriously, go read it right now. I can wait.

But if nothing else, the next time you have an occasion to ponder the fury or frustrations of LGBT people in your midst, however baffling or seemingly inscrutable, reflect on this timeless insight from Carlos Maza in the Washington Post:

Many LGBT people have spent years keeping problems — especially problems related to being LGBT — to ourselves. We have become masters of seeming fine, of convincing ourselves that we are fine, when we are not fine. Because we badly want to be fine.

There is a good chance your charming, confident, smiling gay friend feels deeply scared and unwelcome in the world.

Ask them how they’re doing. Tell them you love them. Tell them your love doesn’t come with caveats. Tell them it’s okay to cry. Tell them they don’t deserve to be scared. Tell them that it’s okay to be scared anyway. Tell them it’s okay to be afraid of dying. Tell them that they matter to you — and that you want them here, alive, now.

As it stands, too many LGBT people believe that conservative Republicans don’t care or actively despise them, and so much about the response to the Orlando attacks will reinforce that perception, to everybody’s detriment. That, in the end, is the tragedy that keeps on stealing from all of us.

We can and must do better.

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Sunshine & Rainbows: Marco Rubio & LGBT Issues

“I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I have had occasion in my life to defend marriage, to stand up for marriage, to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I [am] committed to the sanctity of marriage, [to] the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults.” –Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY)

“I do not support anti-discrimination laws for Bushes and Clintons.”

We all stand, whether conscientiously or insouciantly, at the delirious crossroads of competing obligations, values, and desires. For politicians, in particular, the road threading the needles of the constituent elements of a broader electoral coalition can be a herculean task at the best of times. When volatile issues like marriage policy, protected status for elucidated groups, and religious freedom concerns are the issues of the day, finding a simulacrum of compromise that can please—or displease—enough people in the right ways to win at the ballot box and in the legislative chambers becomes a Sisyphean ordeal that would perhaps evoke more sympathy were the people involved not, as politicians are, powerful and duplicitous.

Somewhere along the Sisyphean route, my home-state Senator and declared presidential candidate Marco Rubio has gained a cascade of (mostly favorable) attention for his encouraging approach to issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of gay Americans. Since announcing his campaign for the Republican nomination, the Floridian made headlines for affirming his willingness to attend a same-sex wedding and his understanding that being gay is not a choice. While these are certainly small steps, they are nonetheless welcome.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Marco Rubio remains as personally opposed to same-sex marriage as Hillary Clinton passionately was until she changed her mind in 2013—a process most Americans have experienced and millions are still undergoing. On a policy level, Rubio retains the states-rights view of marriage that Hillary Clinton championed right up until a week ago. If that is a single-issue deal-breaker—or if you’re an unrepentant liberal—there is little more to say, though I appreciate your reading these words anyway.

However, for genuinely independent, persuadable voters and right-leaning folks who support gay rights, Sen. Rubio is demonstrably among the most appealing candidates in the field of 2016. This development is probably not too surprising for those who have been paying attention to the Miami-native’s approach to LGBT issues, as Rubio has been working to understand and include gay Americans and their political allies for some time now.

According to Gregory Angelo, Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, Rubio’s Senate staff has held regular quarterly meetings with the pro-gay conservative group. (Though I am a member of Log Cabin, I haven’t met with Rubio staffers in that capacity.) Back in January, the junior Senator from Florida stated that he would not contest a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage rights. He’s made true on those remarks by declining to endorse Ted Cruz’s proposal to restrict marriage rights currently available through court order to same-sex couples, as well as refusing to sign—to the enduring umbrage of Maggie Gallagher—a recent amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to enact a ruling to that effect. (Full disclosure: my boyfriend, several friends, colleagues, and I are signatories to the opposing brief in the same case.)

While Rubio’s position is by no means an endorsement of the Supreme Court recognizing a constitutional right to same-sex marriage—which new position Hillary discovered, through a spokesman and with appreciably less brio than her original opposition, three days after her second presidential announcement—there is no daylight between how the executive branch would engage such a ruling under a President Rubio vs. a President Clinton.

Of course, gay rights concerns extend beyond marriage policy, and so does Rubio’s record of public remarks. In summer 2014, the devout Catholic gave a speech on marriage policy and judicial rulings at Catholic University where he acknowledged that multiple levels and institutions of government have discriminated horrifically against gay Americans.

I’ll let Sen. Rubio speak for himself:

“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.

Fortunately, we have come a long way since then. But many committed gay and lesbian couples feel humiliated by the law’s failure to recognize their relationship as a marriage. And supporters of same sex marriage argue that laws banning same sex marriage are discrimination.

I respect their arguments. And I would concede that they pose a legitimate question for lawmakers and for society.”

It would have been easy enough for a Republican presidential hopeful to elide or gloss over our country’s sordid history of anti-gay persecution. After all, most Americans are unaware of terrors like the McCarthy-era Lavender Scare—in which the federal government systemically hunted and purged gay civil servants and proscribed their employment until the 1990s—or not-that-long-ago prohibitions on serving gay customers in public bars, as was the law in places like New York City. Likewise, many people believe, erroneously, that national anti-discrimination laws already protect people from being fired for being gay. (In fact, 29 states lack such protections.) Yet, without prodding, Sen. Rubio spoke a difficult truth that showed, among other things, that he listens to and cares about the diverse array of voters he represents and aspires to serve.

When he revisited the issue in the wake of the RFRA battle in Indiana, Rubio reaffirmed his commitment to religious liberty (though he did not, as some parties lazily suggested, endorse either version of the Indiana law) and declared unequivocally that the laws of this country should not sanction anti-gay discrimination—putting him squarely in sync with most Americans. To quote him again:

“No one here is saying it should be legal to deny someone services at a hotel or at a restaurant because of their sexual orientation. I think that is a consensus view in America.”

People can disagree about whether conservative Muslims and Christians should be forced to violate their religious beliefs by participating in same-sex weddings. But I would ask those who would dismiss Rubio’s sympathies for business owners’ rights of conscience regarding same-sex weddings to elucidate the coherent principle by which they would allow gays, Jews, African Americans, or anybody decent from compulsory service to events of the Westboro Baptist Church or KKK (both of which, it’s worth noting, purport to be religious organizations). To paraphrase a friend: our rights and freedoms are defined by the edge cases that make us uncomfortable, not the easy-seeming ones that require sacrifice only from our sociopolitical opponents.

While he’s not a perfect candidate, the growing sentiment of tolerance and inclusiveness underlying Rubio’s campaign suggest a realistic foundation for how the Republican Party can move beyond the divisive decades of the matrimonial culture wars. Perhaps his broader aura of constructive, forward-looking optimism will help Rubio sublimate his post-announcement bounce in the polls into an indomitable campaign for the nomination and the White House. Who knows? We’re still several seasons away from the primaries, and politics is a fickle game.

But if you’re one of those many almost-Republicans who have long been alienated by the GOP’s mean-spirited past on gay issues, candidates like Marco Rubio might have a whole new world of political opportunity to offer. Either way, at least we can all agree that same-sex marriages probably aren’t killing babies, whether or not Rick Perry ever figures out if he would attend a wedding.


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Guest Post: How Will Life Go On After RFRA?

The following is guest post from my friend Lyman Stone. The views expressed are solely Lyman’s own, and do not reflect his employer, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. If you, dear reader, are interested in adding your own voice and perspective to Token Dissonance, get in touch with my by email, and we can chat.

“What makes this response particularly instructive is that such bills have been seen, in the past, as a way for religious conservatives to negotiate surrender — to accept same-sex marriage’s inevitability while carving out protections for dissent. But now, apparently, the official line is that you bigots don’t get to negotiate anymore.” –Ross Douthat

By Lyman Stone

But can the "straight" fountain donate blood to the Red Cross if it's been used in the last year?

The “gay” fountain loves show tunes and can’t donate water to the Red Cross.

As I know Rek’s usual readership keeps up with the news, I’ll skip the summary of events surrounding Indiana’s RFRA (and now potentially Arkansas’ as well) as well as any argument as to what the RFRA actually implies for life in Indiana. These may be interesting questions, but the reader is doubtless as well equipped to answer those questions as I. Rather, Rek asked me to write a guest post in response to a line of speculation I advanced: What happens next? So we’ve got some RFRAs with allegedly new, unique, and uncertain provisions that LGBT activists believe are intended to enable discriminatory treatment. There’s a boycott movement against Indiana with, apparently, some real teeth to it. Governor Pence of Indiana has promised to offer “clarification,” while Governor Hutchinson of Arkansas has suggested he wants the bill before him revised to look more like the Federal RFRA. On face value, it looks like LGBT activists may be able to chalk up a win. But there are some unresolved questions here.

Let’s say that the Indiana RFRA is clarified in such a way as to offer protections of LGBT individuals. Indiana does not currently afford such protections, thus such a change would be momentous. Would LGBT activists then go on to other “red” states, crusading for the passage of gay-friendly RFRAs?

The key argument against Indiana’s RFRA is not that it will actually create discrimination, or even legalize discrimination: it’s already legal in Indiana to discriminate against gay people. The argument is that Indiana’s RFRA shows bad intentions; that Hoosier legislators are haters, and haters should be punished by society on the whole. The argument isn’t about policy details, which is why all the explanations about past RFRA usage and compelling interests, etc, aren’t going to change any minds. If you press those most vocally for or against Indiana’s RFRA, it becomes clear that neither side even knows what effect the RFRA will have. Those shouting loudest on this issue tend to support or oppose RFRA primarily as a way of showing solidarity as allies and striking a blow for, respectively, religious liberty or gay rights.

I say striking a blow for a reason: the fight isn’t about what either side is for, but about what, and especially who, they are against. Or, at least, from the perspective of a liberty-minded social conservative like myself, that’s what it looks like.

It does not have to be this way. Either side could outflank the other handily enough. If RFRA advocates paired Indiana-style RFRA bills with non-discrimination provisions and beefed-up free speech and expression rules, they might not win the LGBT activist base, but they could neuter the most effective criticisms, address the areas that create the biggest concern for conservatives, and provide enough “wins” for supporters of civil liberties to credibly show that “No Gays Allowed” signs are neither the goal or consequence of religious freedom advocacy. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates get non-discrimination laws making LGBT-identifying individuals a protected class attached to a similarly robust RFRA (perhaps in a blue or purple state), they could capture much of the base of support for RFRAs among moderate social conservatives who, rightly or wrongly, worry about religious liberty issues.

If neither side tries such tactics (yes, LGBT advocates have tried to attach non-discrimination laws to RFRAs in red states, but mainly by using language that amounted to poison pills, because the goal was to kill RFRA—discrimination protections or not), then, paradoxically, both sides will probably prove their worst impressions of each other. If conservatives won’t introduce any kind of “clarification” or “fix” aimed at preventing a future of segregation by sexuality, the LGBT community will have ample cause to view conservative-backed RFRAs as Trojan horses, within which lies the promise of entrenched discrimination. On the other hand, if LGBT advocates persistently degrade and demean efforts to protect religious liberty—and respond to such proposals with concerted efforts to drive up unemployment with boycotts that broadly hurt even those with no connection to the laws in question—then conservatives will be entirely justified in calling for more, and more robust, RFRAs. Spitefulness begets spitefulness.

The RFRA in Arkansas did not move through the legislature despite the Indiana boycott, but because of it. LGBT advocates should not be shocked if other states respond to “boycott Indiana” by adopting new RFRAs as well. Watching Indiana be pilloried, punished, and shamed for providing what, to many conservatives, seem like pretty anodyne protections for religious liberty might dissuade other conservatives from taking up the cause, as LGBT advocates hope. Or, and I find this rather more likely, it may lead to religious folk having a deepened sense of isolation and a heightened concern for their own apparently-besieged liberty, and thus pressing harder for RFRAs.

I see this even in my own experience: when the Arizona RFRA was debated, I was extremely skeptical of the idea, and argued against many of my fellow conservatives who believed it was a necessary and good law. But watching the treatment of religiously motivated conservatives in Indiana has altered my frame of reference. The LGBT community seems far more vindictive and far less open to compromise on this issue than I would have expected. Innocent Hoosiers, whose state has languished through Rust Belt decline for decades, are going to suffer so that activists nationwide can make a statement about a law that nobody actually understands and will probably have very little effect anyway.

My goal here is not to try to convince others to adopt a given policy position. Rather, I hope to offer an insight, however speculative, into the worsening future that social conservative activists and gay activists are creating together with alarming speed.

So for me, a pretty deep-red and quite religious social conservative with far too many gay friends and loved ones to write off their experiences, the question is: will either side actually show an interest in governing a diverse society?

I hope so.


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All We Know of Heaven: A Requiem for NOM

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We don't always endorse liberal Democrats, but when we do, it's because gays."

“We don’t always endorse liberal Democrats, but when we do, it’s because gays.”

It wasn’t so long ago when indefatigably engaged political outfits like the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) or Family Research Council (FRC) could drive (in modern Politico speak) vital conversations from the Bible Belt to the nation’s capital. Nowadays, as the country slips away from their hostility to same-sex marriage, such avowedly socially conservative groups find their influence even in the Republican Party to be limited and declining.

In such a situation, one might expect serious conservatives to proactively complement or even spearhead GOP attempts to expand the electoral coalition that supports the conservative movement. After all, we owe it to our philosophy to study how to win, and a broad Republican coalition—featuring such diverse voices as Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Mitt Romney, Milton Wolf, American Crossroads, Tea Party Express, and the pro-gay Log Cabin Republicans and American Unity Fund—is campaigning hard for Republican candidates with whom they assuredly do not agree on every issue. Unfortunately, NOM has opted instead for reactionary spoilage by endorsing the very congressional Democrats who would empower Nancy Pelosi and the Obama agenda.

While conservatives are out working to expand Republican control of the House of Representatives and win control of the Senate, NOM is launching all-out political warfare against gay Republican candidates Richard Tisei of Massachusetts and Carl DeMaio of California. This scorched-earth belligerence represents an escalation from earlier in the cycle, when NOM joined FRC in expressing opposition to the gay Republicans (including an odd attack on DeMaio’s support for the Second Amendment based on his desire to “improve enforcement for background checks and to keep weapons out of the hands of those with serious mental health issues and criminal history”—a position concordant with the NRA) but stopped short of endorsing their liberal opponents.

To be sure, the official reasons given for the active belligerence are rooted in the candidates’ support for same-sex marriage, but this reasoning is belied by the evidence.

As anybody who is passionate about the marriage issue ought to know, Tisei and DeMaio are not the only Republican candidates who support issuing civil marriage licenses to committed same-sex couples. Current Republican challengers and incumbents for congressional office who support same-sex marriage include Carlos Curbelo, David Jolly, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Susan Collins, and Charlie Dent. Even if we narrowly restrict the discussion only to non-incumbent Republicans in competitive races for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, there remains no explanation for why NOM is ignoring my fellow Florida native Carlos Curbelo—who has been endorsed by pro-gay Republicans for his support for same-sex marriage—for holding essentially identical positions on marriage as his fellow challengers in Massachusetts and California.

Of course, there is a simple explanation for why NOM is singling out Tisei and DeMaio. Although they are not alone among Republicans in their support for gay rights, Tisei and DeMaio are the only Republican congressional candidates this cycle who are openly gay. That NOM is willing to endorse liberal Democrats against more conservative candidates only in a desperate attempt to defeat gay Republicans speaks volumes about the organization’s—and its supporters’—hostility to gay Americans and willingness to throw the conservative movement under the bus in the pursuit of that animus. That NOM seems unwilling to admit openly what is blatantly obvious upon inspection suggests even the hardened heart of Benedict Arnold may recognize the enormity of this social and political wrong.

It is a terrible shame to realize that an organization familiar to many on the Right is blatantly and enthusiastically discriminating against gay people—a position opposed everywhere from Christian traditionalists to the Mormon Church to Rick Santorum. It is downright infuriating to recall that NOM has been welcome at conservative gatherings like CPAC, even while those gatherings repeatedly exclude pro-gay Republican groups—like the Log Cabin Republicans—that consistently campaign to defeat, rather than elect, liberal Democrats.

NOM could have stayed neutral in Tisei’s and DeMaio’s races, as it is apparently doing in Curbelo’s and the others I mentioned. The Heritage Foundation, RedState, and other socially conservative outfits almost assuredly share NOM’s objections to the marriage positions of all three candidates (and others), but they appear to be focusing their energies on supporting the candidates and policies they agree with, rather than shooting at fellow Republicans in invidious contempt for Reagan’s 11th commandment. This article isn’t about the folks in organizations like Heritage or RedState—with whom I of course profoundly disagree—it is about the unholy union of NOM and the janissaries of the imperial Obama-Pelosi agenda.

As I’ve said before, it’s vital that we keep social conservatives in the Republican coalition, even and especially as the same-sex marriage question fades like dust in the wind. It’s also vital to include the growing majority of young Republicans (let alone winnable independents) who even Heritage obliquely acknowledges are turned off by divisive mean-spiritedness against gay people. From what I can see, a good many social conservatives, even those who disagree on civil marriage policy, are eager or at least willing to accept gay Republicans and civil marriage dissenters into the GOP big tent.

This article is not about reasonable conservatives of good will who still have political differences to hash out. This article is about NOM and the priorities of those for whom gays and Republicans are as men and lions.

Notwithstanding my objections to NOM’s vituperative treachery against American conservatism, I am profoundly grateful that they have shown us their true colors.  When the chips are down, and the time comes for conservatives to unite for the good of the country, we all now know that NOM cannot be trusted to oppose the political enablers of the deranged fever dreams of Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. Those so-called social “conservatives” would rather smear and fight against gay Americans than support the broad spectrum of conservative principles that unite us all behind a common banner.

Perhaps this parting is all we need of the culture wars.

Now remember to vote!


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The Twilight of Family Values

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” –Ramsay Bolton

This congressman-elect brought you by Values Voters USA.

Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, and other old-style social conservatives lost two rather public battles this week. While each loss has direct political results in the immediate future, both portend long-term changes in American social policy and culture.

First, Delaware joined Rhode Island and nine other states (and the District of Columbia) in extending the freedom to marry to committed gay American couples. Halfway across the country, elected statesmen in Minnesota are angling to win the race with Illinois to be the second Midwestern state to embrace same-sex marriage, and the first to do so by legislation.

As an aside, one interesting thing about the Rhode Island vote—besides unanimous Republican support for gay marriage in the Ocean State senate—is that it finally consolidates New England and New York in unified recognition of marital rights for gay unions, which have been approved by every accessible metric: judicial rulings (Massachusetts and Connecticut), overridden veto (Vermont), rebuffed attempt at legislative repeal (New Hampshire), referendum (Maine), and governor-signed legislation with bipartisan support (New York and Rhode Island). With Delaware joining the marriage fold, Pennsylvania is now the only state in the Northeast or Mid-Atlantic that offers no recognition to gay unions whatsoever.

Secondly, the first district of South Carolina is sending Mark Sanford back to Congress as a conservative Republican.

While John Hayward over at RedState might imagine that liberals and Democrats are shying from the discussion on “family values”, it is abundantly clear that they—along with more libertarian Republicans and Independents—are quite willing, able, and successful in wielding traditionalist hypocrisy as a weapon for a more inclusive understanding of marriage and family. Within the next week or so, Rep.-elect Sanford will join the likes of Senator David Vitter (R-La.) in mocking the undead credibility of the “moral” opposition to gay rights.

To be sure, one cannot fault the average Sanford general-election voter for pinching their noses and thwarting Elizabeth Colbert Busch’s attempt to bolster the coalition of Nancy Pelosi. It was certainly as pragmatic a political choice, if also a repulsive instance of “dirty hands,” as the partisans of Bill Clinton holding the fort against his Republican opposition. And for what it’s worth, Lowcountry voters did, as Nate Silver notes, withhold a substantial degree of support from the disgraced ex-governor.

Yet the “lesser of two evils” analysis does not excuse the fact that Sanford won a GOP primary where more credible (if less glamorous) and family-friendly options were readily available. If abusing public funds to commit adultery on another continent does not disqualify someone from winning the Republican primary in a region more conservative than 119 Republican districts, why should anybody heed a movement that agitates for the civilizational imperative of “traditional marriage” only insofar as it makes life harder for gay people (e.g. opposition to anti-discrimination laws)?

Jennifer Rubin, a token conservative of The Washington Post, makes the point quite eloquently:

“But social conservatives should take this result seriously as an indication that even in a low-turnout race in a Republican district appeals to personal morality and approbation for sexual misconduct carry little weight. Yes, one can bemoan the voters’ values (or lack thereof), but it is a warning that the public’s willingness to accept all sorts of behavior out of some sense of “fairness” (he apologized didn’t he?) is nearly limitless. That has implications for the sorts of appeals they make on everything from “traditional marriage” to sex education. In short, Americans, including Republicans, aren’t very susceptible to appeals based purely on morality.

Whether we are becoming a more libertarian or a libertine society is a matter of debate. But the real take-away is that Republicans talk a good game on “family values” but don’t take it all that seriously.”

None of this is to say that some understanding of family-oriented traditionalism is no longer relevant or valued in modern America. To the contrary, many people support gay marriage precisely because of the prospect of shoring up conservative values—the proper ends of liberty—against libertine atomism. But if conservative stalwarts will not demand a cogent application of those values in the ruby-red land of palmettos, how can there be a national discussion about why such values must entail ongoing discrimination against the families of gay Americans?

But however the GOP determines to deal with insurmountable public support for gay people and their families, we can all take some small solace in knowing that having Ashley Madison as your running mate trumps an endorsement from Nancy Pelosi. Even Focus on the Family and friends have standards.


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Jason Collins and the Minority Report

“In our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others. We must look for man wherever we can find him… We have many monsters to destroy.” –George Seferis

(Courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Ball so hard, the twofer-hunters wanna find me.

It’s an interesting experience being a compound minority in America. On the one hand, people make offhanded assumptions about your politics, history, culture, preferences, and familiarity with the law based on your skin color. On the other, there are confident expectations of your tastes, mannerisms, speech patterns, and so on based on your perceived or confirmed sexual orientation. Being a black, gay man in a country that segregated my grandparents and still sanctions a broad array of legal discrimination against me produces precisely the kind of experience that most Americans—being white and straight—will never properly understand, although some do sincerely try.

Before we continue, let’s clarify a few things about me.

Politically, I lean libertarian (a popular disposition in the military community), but philosophically, I have much sympathy for traditionalism, which logically extends to committed gay families. Culturally, I love to watch football, particularly FBS, and am a zealous fanatic of the SEC (Gator denomination). I am largely ignorant of (and indifferent to) Cher or Barbra Streisand, was introduced to Lady Gaga by a straight fraternity friend, have a lukewarm appreciation for musical theater, would rather my food be fried than organic, abhor vegetarianism, prefer house music to hip hop (although the two occasionally blend magnificently), and grew up playing more soccer than basketball. I was exceptionally good at math in grade school. My teachers usually loved me.

My poison of choice is bourbon, usually on the rocks, but I will take a good Scotch. I learned how to change a tire, adjust automobile fluids, and properly handle a weapon in my youth. My Yale education notwithstanding, I feel at best a fragmented connection with those who marinate in “narratives of oppression” and are the target consumers of The New York Times (which I do occasionally read) or an ethnic studies department. I am not urban. If there is a personal hell, mine is based on New York City. Michael Bloomberg, naturally, plays the role of Beelzebub. He is too busy warring on freedom to take his Oscar.

Given how well-adjusted I sound, it may seem odd that I should care personally that a mid-30s NBA free agent has come out of the closet as a gay man in the twilight of his career. In truth, whether or not Jason Collins gets signed again is of infinitesimal relevance to my personal life. But when I see people bitterly contrasting the media treatment of Collins to that of Tim Tebow (of whom I was quite the fan) or bemoaning public confessions about private life, I am forced to remember that for all my well-to-do middle-American sub-urbanity, it still means something somewhere in America that some people are black and gay.

Christians in America are not wanting for role models. Every president and governor professes the faith, as do countless athletes, actors, media pundits, businessmen, military leaders, doctors, other prominent figures, and a nominal majority of the country. Christian freedom from persecution is written into our Constitution. Growing up on Army bases and in suburban Virginia, it was not remotely unusual for strangers to aggressively assume the Christianity of new acquaintances in casual conversation. I was frequently asked variants of, “How is your relationship with Christ?” by people whose names I never learned. It may be a while longer before we see such broadly effusive willingness to talk about being gay in public in many parts of America.

It does not occur to most heterosexuals to wonder if their sexuality might impede their life goals. At most, some people might wonder whether marriage or children would fit logistically into a desired career path or envisioned standard of living. But rarely would a straight man or woman fear for their livelihood should their preference in partners become publically known. In fact, that preference is taken for granted and often encouraged, even in the office (e.g. photographs, cards, and flowers). Hence, it is generally pointless for a straight person to announce their sexuality, as it is broadly assumed and will not be held against them.

Over time, mainstream America has rapidly become refreshingly more accepting of LGBT Americans, and there are prominent gay and Lesbian figures aplenty. But as black and other minority Americans know well, old-style prejudices can give way to new, more insidious typecasting born ironically of well-intentioned attempts to be more understanding. Just as it is not enough to have black or Hispanic role models relegated to music labels, professional sports, and goofy or chronically aggrieved media characterization, it is not enough for gay role models to be largely products of Hollywood, cable news, or the fashion industry, or to be chronically portrayed in trite stereotypes.

That Jason Collins is out and proud and receiving praise everywhere from U.S. presidents to Kobe Bryant allows for a new public face of what it means to be a multifaceted minority in America. Like millions of “gaybros” going about their lives beyond glittery bars in San Francisco and New York or successful black people who went to Stanford and are considering graduate school instead of prison, Collins is not a stereotype. He is a necessary and valuable reminder that gay people are truly no different than anyone and can do and be any- and everything their straight peers take for granted—and that there is no one way to “be black.”

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with or illegitimate about being “effeminate,” loving Madonna, or living in the Castro or Brooklyn, any more than there is anything shameful about listening to hip hop, hanging in the barber shop, or knowing dozens of Gospel hymns by heart (and on key). The people who get mocked or dismissed for conforming more to contemporary expectations of gays or other minorities are actual people with actual lives, tastes, interests, and dreams that matter. But despite the outsized representation of certain limited personas in media, there is a much richer portrait of America that needs to be seen precisely because many of us seldom see it.

In truth, Jason Collins may not matter all that much in a year or a decade. After all, he was a decent enough player to last a dozen years in the NBA, but he was hardly anything to write home about. For now, though, he is putting a new face on parts of America that are too often obscured by the blinding heat of ignorant assumptions. Someday, perhaps, the flow of new, inspiring faces will overrun the gates of our experience and broaden our imagining.

Until then, we still have many more stories to tell.


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Scouting Tolerance

Update: This post was adapted by The Huffington Post. You can find that article here.

“We all live with the objective of being happy, our lives are all different and yet the same.” –Anne Frank

Amazing natural phenomenon where the Baltic and North Seas meet but don't mix because of the differing density

“Two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets.” –Benjamin Disraeli

As a child, I was taught that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Dad’s particular corollary—pick your battles, as it’s not always worth it to be “right”—has served him well in the Army, so I’ve long aspired to apply its wisdom to my life. For this reason, it always made a sort of intuitive sense to seek mutual understanding and deescalate conflict rather than appeal to the choir in a scorched-earth crusade for feel-good “authenticity”. There is little value in a crown of bitterness, however righteous.

This philosophy of living, it turns out, is wonderfully conducive to maintaining close, mutually edifying relationships with many people whose political and ideological priorities would, I strongly suspect, be the ruin of America (and Western civilization) if ever realized. I have well-meaning friends who oppose gay marriage, distrust the military, hate guns, disdain football, loathe the South, think highly of France, want ever higher taxes, and blaspheme the Southeastern Conference. I don’t need my loved ones to agree with me on all that’s right and true, and I have defended those whose positions I reject. I just need the people I care about to be willing to hear me and understand where I’m coming from. Where consideration is given, it is returned.

Accordingly, I’m not terribly surprised by the development of what might seem an unlikely friendship between LGBT activist Shane Windmeyer of Campus Pride and noted evangelical Dan Cathy of Chick-fil-A. If there is any virtue in “tolerance” and “diversity”, you can find it in this:

“Dan, in his heart, is driven by his desire to minister to others and had to choose to continue our relationship throughout this controversy. He had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them. He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as “the blessing of growth.” He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well. [My emphasis]”

And thus a chasm was bridged.

Just last summer, as another bitter presidential campaign launched into orbit, the Boy Scouts closed a two-year study by reaffirming their ban on gay scouts and leaders. By then, there was something resembling growing public consensus in favor of including gays, and both presidential candidates were on record supporting that consensus. Still, the Boy Scouts were primarily backed by religious organizations that preferred the status quo, and so it held. Now, however, it seems that policy might change, after all, much to the chagrin of some—though certainly not all—of the faithful.

If the Boy Scouts decide to shed their national requirement to exclude gays, there will not necessarily be a sudden, massive change-of-heart within the ranks any more than Dan Cathy is now a gay rights activist because of his friendship with Shane Windmeyer. While those troops that have long been gay-friendly will be able to come out of glass closets, others will be allowed to maintain their locally decided ban on gays. In short, a new world won’t be built overnight. What will matter is that fewer members will be rejected for being who they are, and religious conservatives will not be compelled to contravene their values. In an ideal world, people from various perspectives will find new occasions and opportunities to understand one another, to everyone’s benefit. Even if not all minds ever fully change, there is hope in the possibility of harmony emerging from where once there thrived grievance and resentment.

Wherever you fall on this or any issue, there is often a world of difference between being wrong and being evil. We don’t have to all agree on the content or path to a better world of enduring fulfillment and mutual respect, but we can at least acknowledge that we each strive for one. If nothing else, may we always have at least that much in common.

We can agree to disagree.