Coming Out Conservative

Olivia isn’t sure whom she will vote for Nov. 6, and as that date approaches, her decision may not get any easier. Like her parents, the junior applied communication studies major at Kent State is a registered Republican, but she doesn’t agree with her party on all issues. She specifically doesn’t agree with their often anti-gay platform.

“I know it’s hard because none of (the Republicans) are going to be for gay marriage, but neither necessarily is Obama,” Olivia said, adding that President Obama hasn’t done enough to push for repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The 1996 law bans the federal government from honoring marriage between two people of the same sex.

Olivia has been openly gay since high school. She has a girlfriend, and many of her friends are bisexual, gay or lesbian. But issues like marriage equality don’t define “true conservatives” or whom she votes for, she said.

“I base (my conservative ideology on) self-determination and independence,” Olivia said. “I don’t think people have a good definition of what conservatism is.”

Her father had a major role in her conservative upbringing in downstate New York. When Olivia came out, it didn’t take long for her father to introduce her to the Log Cabin Republicans, an organization for conservative gays, lesbians, bisexuals and allies.

“He wanted to help me figure out my own political identity while being gay,” said Olivia, who now follows the Log Cabin Republicans and its Cleveland chapter on Facebook.

Olivia said her opinion of President Obama’s job performance is “low,” but she hasn’t ruled him out yet.

GOProud has though. Like the Log Cabin Republicans, GOProud fights for conservative policy-making and equality for gays and lesbians.

GOProud has yet to endorse a Republican candidate, but Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director and co-founder of the group, said Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul or Mitt Romney would better serve Americans — including those in the LGBT community — than Obama.

Although all three candidates have said in debates and media interviews they would uphold DOMA, Jimmy said it doesn’t matter who wins in November because a repeal wouldn’t have enough support anyway.

“I don’t know if it will even reach the next president’s desk because we are a long way from the repeal of DOMA,” said Jimmy. “Let’s talk about reality.”

Even less threatening, he said, is Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich’s pledge to vote in favor of a U.S. constitutional marriage amendment, which would overrule gay marriage legislation in every state. The first attempt to pass a marriage amendment in Congress failed in 2004 and has lost popularity since then, Jimmy said.

GOProud supports repealing DOMA and blocking a federal marriage amendment, but Jimmy said the group is focused on initiatives like reforming health care and Social Security to be more inclusive for same-sex couples.

Jimmy said the biggest issue the LGBT community should be most concerned about is the economy. “What’s affecting most gay people isn’t that they are going to get fired because they’re gay,” Jimmy said. “It’s because their boss is laying off the whole staff.”

Protesters at a Rick Santorum event

Rick Santorum, the most socially conservative Republican candidate, may pose a direct threat to LBGT rights. Like Romney and Gingrich, he is for enforcing DOMA and passing a marriage amendment. However, his most threatening promise of all is to reinstate the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy with an executive order if elected.

Despite his imminent threat to openly gay soldiers, “Rick Santorum has as much of a chance getting elected president as I do,” Jimmy said.

Richard Stanislaw, a Kent State political science professor, agrees with Santorum’s low chances of getting elected or even nominated. He said Santorum’s anti-gay rhetoric is missing the mark among the American public, and he is seen as the “dinosaur” of the Republican Party.

“There’s still a population that feels that way and he’s playing to those people, but (the American public) is shifting,” Richard said. Over the past two decades, Richard said the American public’s perspective on tax policies, spending and other fiscal matters has grown more conservative.  “At the same time, we have demonstrably become more tolerant of LGBT issues. That, to me, is an amazing shift.”

Conservatives and Moderates aren’t the only people changing. Among LGBT rights activists, a distinction is growing between conservative people and anti-gay pundits.

On Feb. 18, more than 30 activists gathered at the University of Akron to protest Rick Santorum’s guest appearance at the Lincoln Day Dinner hosted by the Summit County Republicans. Before and during the demonstration, organizers made it clear the event was not aimed at Republicans.

“I love that this is simply an anti-gay politics rally and not an anti-Republican rally,” said Tim Shallahamer, a senior computer information systems major at the University of Akron.

Tim Shallahamer (right) with other protesters

Tim isn’t a Republican — he’s a registered Independent, but there are many things he agrees with Republicans about and even more things he disagrees with Democrats about, like healthcare and immigration reform.

Like Olivia, he is openly gay and was glad to see DADT repealed last year. He said he hopes to see DOMA repealed soon as well. But like Olivia, LGBT rights don’t define Tim’s political ideology.

“I can’t vote just on my equality because the economic situation is a far more pressing matter,” he said.

He voted for Obama in 2008 because of his platform on financial aid and higher education. This year, he has settled on voting for Obama again.

“I’m not thrilled with Obama, but given the alternatives, he’s not the worst solution,” Tim said. “I wish politicians were less focused on social issues and more focused on the issues affecting our nation.”

Photos by Hannah Potes

Contributed reporting by Shauna Carter and Jackie Bergeron

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