Is There Room For The ‘R’ In LGBT?

By | 2013-05-23T09:00:00-05:00 May 23rd, 2013|Michigan, News|

Arlene Kish identifies as a transgender conservative.

Republicans. Where do they fit in the LGBT community and are they needed to achieve full equality? That is an ever-evolving question as gay Republican groups grow; Republican officials change their mind on equality policies and new polling shows growing support for same sex marriage among self-identified Republicans.
In the first few months of 2013, as debate was taking place leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court cases that took up marriage equality, a number of prominent U.S Republicans including Ohio Senator Rob Portman (he became the first sitting Republican Senator to publicly support marriage equality), Illinois Senator Mark Kirk (the 50th U.S. Senator to support equality) and former Utah Governor and primary candidate for the Republican Presidential nomination John Huntsman, all declared support for full marriage equality.
In fact, one of the attorneys in one of the two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court this past March, Theodore B. Olson, is a conservative Republican who served as Solicitor General in the second Bush administration. In 2009 he teamed up with an unlikely partner, attorney David Boies, to fight the passage of Prop. 8 in California that sought to ban same sex marriage.
The two attorneys had been on opposite ends of the 2000 Gore V. Bush battle. Olson has proven to be a tireless spokesperson for marriage equality and has often been shunned by members of his party because of his position.
In April into early May, three more states moved to approve marriage equality. Rhode Island was one and it had the unanimous support of all the state’s Republican Senators. Minnesota saw a prominent state Senate Republican move to a pro-equality stance, possibly risking re-election in 2014, and the third state, Delaware, also saw limited Republican support from the Delaware State House.
Back home in Michigan one can find optimism in a recent poll and from a well known anti-gay foe, former attorney general Mike Cox, that indicates it’s more than President Obama “evolving” on same sex marriage. Cox recently told the Detroit News he supports same sex marriage.

A Transgender Conservative Fights For Both Causes

As a conservative political independent, Michigander Arlene Kish often takes flack for supporting right-wing causes. The outspoken transgender activist has helped countless transgender women blossom and has volunteered for many LGBT causes. She also worked as a poll volunteer for the Mitt Romney Presidential Campaign, and has lost friends because of it.
“I am ridiculed because of my beliefs and called names like ‘republitard’ and ‘tea-bagger,'” Kish said. “Although I spend more time than most advocating for not only transgender issues, but issues involving the total LGBT community, I am demonized for my conservative views when it comes to limited government and fiscal responsibility. I tend to keep my mouth shut on issues I feel passionate about until I just can’t stand it anymore. Then, it seems, I get myself in trouble.”
Though she voted Democratic in the Michigan Governor’s race, on a national level she could not support President Barack Obama. “I just felt that our economy and foreign policy were more important issues on the national level, and in my opinion, the Obama administration hasn’t addressed or worked to resolve the problems in these area’s that affect everyone including LGBT people. There is no question that the Obama administration has done more for our community than any other, and although a national policy may set the tone, ultimately these changes happen on the state and local level.
“I believe that religion should not be a part of government. I believe in a smaller, less invasive government. I believe in freedom of speech. I personally am pro-life, but understand choice. I vehemently dislike late-term abortions. I dislike government micro-managing our lives. I believe we do need a safety net for our citizens. I think healthcare needs to be fixed, but Obamacare is a disaster. I don’t believe we addressed the real issues. I am a ‘show me’ type of person. I feel we keep hearing promises from our politicians (I call them all the ruling elite/people of privilege – both parties) yet never see results.”
Kish grew up in a family of Democrats, and spent the Vietnam era in college. “I was very idealistic and progressive,” she said. “As I got into the workforce and felt the union hindered my advancement and rewarded those with seniority, rather than merit and hard work, it began to change me. Getting involved in the business side, rather than the labor side gave me a new perspective. I suppose real life experience changed my political views.”
Kish said that far-right individuals like, “the Santorums, Perrys, Palins, and Bachmanns need to go away,” but that there are conservatives who have more diverse worldviews. She said she knows several other LGBT conservatives, some of whom are open about their political beliefs and some who keep them hidden. Regardless of the strife her views cause, Kish said she is loyal to the LGBT community.
“I stress that I fight for equality and inclusion with conservative friends and acquaintances who disagree. To continue to dialogue only with people who agree is just preaching to the choir. Our government is for all the people, not just those who agree with the party in power. The same is true for our LGBT community. I would like to see more acceptance of diverse opinions, so we can continue to fight for those issues that we all believe in,” she said.

GOProud

Nationwide there are two prominent organizations that serve LGBT conservatives – GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans. GoProud was formed in 2009 in Washington, DC to focus on federal-level political action.
“Because marriage has been a state issue since the founding of our country, we have had no official position on marriage or relationship recognition,” states the group’s website. It goes on to say, “We are firmly committed to winning hearts and minds, which is why we understand that not everyone who doesn’t support marriage for gay couples is automatically a bigot or homophobe. We understand that there are people of deep faith who may have religious objections to marriage. We respect those differences and believe that no church or religious institution should ever be forced to solemnize a marriage that is against its teachings.”
GOProud’s founder and Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia did get involved in Michigan politics recently when Republican National Committeeman Dave Agema was under fire for sharing inaccurate, anti-gay propaganda on his Facebook page. LaSalvia said in a statement, “Conservatives in Michigan get it. They understand that while we can disagree on issues like marriage, our movement and our party cannot and should not tolerate rank anti-gay bigotry.”

Log Cabin Republicans Rebrand

The Log Cabin Republicans formed in 1977 in California when a bill called the Briggs Initiative attempted to ban gays from teaching in public schools. This organization has grown and now has a staffed office in Washington, DC, plus chapters in over half of the states. Recently a new Executive Director, Gregory T. Angelo, took over and with him came some new branding and new energy. Their new logo incorporates both the equality symbol and the red roof of a log cabin.
“Though we’ve existed for decades, we’ve never had an iconic image associated with our organization. It was time to change that. As the new executive director of this organization, and one with a background in marketing and communications, I felt this was an ideal time to relaunch Log Cabin Republicans and create a strong, identifiable brand for the organization that we could implement at the national level and throughout our local chapters around the country,” Angelo said.
The re-branding and the changing of political tides seem to be paying off for the Log Cabin Republicans. “More and more gay Americans are coming to the realization that you don’t need to be a Democrat if you’re gay, and they’re standing up and making their voices heard as proud gay Republicans or as straight Republican allies who support equality. Our membership continues to grow across the country; since we announced our relaunch I’ve received messages from people across the U.S. eager to start up their own chapters of Log Cabin Republicans in their community,” Angelo said.
“At the same time, growing Republican support for our issues has bolstered our membership. Right now there are two sitting members in the House – Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Congressman Richard Hanna – and Senator Rob Portman stating they support marriage equality. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Congressman Hanna, and Congressman Dent support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA). And we’ve seen milestones on the local level like every Republican in the Rhode Island State Senate supporting marriage equality. Collectively it’s buoyed our membership and shown gay Americans around the country that there are fair-minded Republicans out there and they deserve our support.”

Log Cabins in Michigan

In Michigan the Log Cabin Republicans have faced some organizational challenges. Joe Sylvester, originally of Bay City, resigned as chair after three years of service and moved to Florida. In a recent BTL interview Sylvester said, “There are only two or three (people) really active” in the group. He said that one board member passed away in an auto accident and another left to become a liberal. When Sylvester moved, former Treasurer Matt Pascoe was elected chair. Pascoe did not return requests for comment.
Sylvester said the group had 15-20 members throughout the state, “almost all younger.” He explained the size by emphasizing, “Keep in mind the nature of it. A lot of people have to hide…it’s a delicate balancing act.”
In spite of the small group size, there was difficulty getting everyone on the same page. Sylvester said he would send out surveys on issues and members would not agree. “There was rarely consensus on anything. Everyone had different opinions on the issues. Like with gay marriage, the libertarians said it should be left to the states.”
The group did not endorse anyone for President in the most recent election, nor have they done much lobbying, though they did push out an anti-Agema message to members, calling for the party to eliminate homophobia.
In 2011 a couple members went to the Mackinac Conference where Sylvester estimates that about 50 to 100 people signed up for more information about the group. When asked how he responded to people giving him a hard time about being a gay Republican, Sylvester said matter-of-factly, “I’m combative as hell so it doesn’t bother me.”

The Move To Oust Agema

One thing that most gay conservative groups have agreed on is that the homophobic language of the far-right is harmful to people and the party. In response to Dave Agema’s Facebook post, over 50 self-identified Michigan Republicans signed an online petition calling for his resignation. Of those, the Unity Michigan Coalition found over 20 Republicans who were elected officials or had some recognized position in the party, such as precinct delegates or college Republicans. Unity Michigan listed them on their website and sent them thank you postcards. Among those on the list are Tom Isaacs, chair of the Oakland County Young Republicans, Brian Szmytke, chair of the Wayne County Teenage Republicans and director of the 2012 Livonia Republican Victory Center, Justin Bis, chair of the Northern Michigan University College Republicans, Aliceea Rice, vice chair of the University of Michigan College Republicans and Ted Woodcock, political director of the Michigan Federation of College Republicans.
Alicia Ping, a Washtenaw County Commissioner and Republican Precinct Delegate was among those who signed. “I think the party is moving in the right direction by openly talking about inclusion,” Ping said. “To continue having a check list on whether you can be a ‘real’ Republican is not working. The party needs to remind itself what its core values are and go with that. Limiting party involvement by skin color, race, sexual orientation, and/or social litmus tests have not been successful ways to grow the party.
“If the GOP made an open statement to the effect of ‘we welcome the LGBT community,’ that in itself is not going to open the flood gates and immediately grow the party, but it will make it okay for LGBT community members who hold Republican values to say proudly I am a member of the Republican Party.”
Ping does not consider herself an activist, and has no other involvement with the LGBT movement, but felt signing the petition was important. “I don’t think I can be credited for anything of significance in being a voice for the LGBT community, but I certainly will not stand for discrimination of any sort,” she said.
The complete list can be found at http://salsa.dontchangeyourself.com/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=10188.

Mike Cox Comes Around

In April Agema’s comments even provoked one of the gay community’s most ardent opposers to speak against him, and to come out in support of same sex marriage. Former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox led the charge to take away domestic partner benefits after the passage of the 2004 state constitutional amendment (Prop. 2) defining marriage as “between a man and a woman or similar union for any purpose.” In a Detroit News interview published April 8, Cox said his views had “evolved.”
“I’d have no problem with the Legislature creating a vehicle for same-sex marriage,” Cox said. He went on to say about gay marriage, “It’s just part of modern life.”
Speaking about Agema, Cox told the Detroit News on May 13, “I like Dave and I find him entertaining at times, but posting the rants of a white supremacist using 40-year-old data hurts the party,” and “We’re conservative, but that doesn’t always mean we need to be backward thinking.”

What The Polls Show

Polls have steadily shown an increase in support for equality in Michigan. Most recently The Glengariff Group of Chicago did a poll of 600 Michigan registered voters showing unprecedented numbers that now indicate a majority of the state’s population supports full marriage equality. The poll looked at ten areas where LGBT people lack equality, going beyond the much-discussed topic of marriage.
Support for marriage has gone up 12 percent overall from last year, with 56.8 percent of voters in Michigan now in favor of same-sex marriage. Fifty-four percent want to fix the state Constitution to reverse the 2004 ban on recognizing same sex relationships.
On other issues included in the poll the following was found:
90.7 percent feel that partners should be guaranteed a right to visit their partners in the hospital.
84.3 percent feel that partners should be allowed to make end of life medical decisions.
75.4 percent want to extend inheritance rights to deceased gay/lesbian partners.
74.4 percent favor same legal rights for adoption as heterosexual parents.
69.9 percent believe there should be hate crimes protections for LGBT people. Extension of the Elliot Larsen Civil RIghts Act has majority support among all thirty demographic groups listed in the cross-tabulation report including 56 percent of strong Republican voters, 60 percent of lean Republican voters, and 64 percent of Independent voters.
65.5 percent believe in domestic partner benefits for university employees.
The following shows how Republican voters have changed their views in just a year’s time.

{BOLD Strong Lean
GOP GOP Difference}
Illegal to fire or deny housing 59.5% 72.9% +13.4%
Hate crimes legislation 59.2% 68.8% +9.6%
Domestic partnership benefits 46.8% 54.2% +7.4%
Hospital visitation 82.0% 89.6% +7.6%
Medical decisions for a partner 79.4% 83.3% +3.9%
Inheritance rights 62.1% 75.0% +12.9%
Adoption rights 58.6% 73.0% +14.4%
Marriage 33.3% 43.8% +10.5%
Civil unions 62.1% 77.1% +15.0%
Recognition of
out of state marriages 40.5% 52.1% +11.6%

The results are optimistic and indicate that bi-partisan support for marriage equality is growing. Those leaning Republican support 9 of the 10 issues, and among strong Republicans, 8 of the 10 issues have majority support.
“The tide is clearly turning as support for civil marriage equality in Michigan continues to surge forward. With the largest increase over the last year coming from Republican and Independent voters, and support among Republicans doubling, this poll proves that fundamental fairness is not a partisan issue,” said Equality Michigan Director Emily Dievendorf. The entire report, which was done independently by the Glengariff Group, can be downloaded at http://eqmi.us/513lgbt.
Two similar polls were conducted in Arizona and Virginia this month as well, with both now showing majority support for marriage equality. You can learn more about these polls here

All In This Together

The tide is not only turning in the Republican Party. As more Republicans come out in favor of LGBT equality, the gay community also faces a tough choice in how to respond to those who once stood against equality.
At the Affirmations Spring Bash in April, Executive Director Dave Garcia provided some thoughts on the changing tide, giving guidance on how to continue the pattern of growth and acceptance. “Like many others I get angry when a Republican, who has caused our community great harm, now need only say, ‘I have a gay nephew or daughter or neighbor and my views have evolved.’ Part of me wants to see them punished, some sort of reparations or public apology, community service at your local LGBT center – something,” he said. “We can either behave as Lincoln and forgive our enemies and welcome them into this more perfect union or we can pull a Bush/Cheney. For the sake of the LGBT movement and future generations I would argue we extend our hand. This will not be easy, but it is absolutely necessary.”

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