The Problem With Gay Conservatives Isn’t Political Ideology, It’s a Lack of Empathy

SLATE | Apr. 28, 2017

On Thursday, I attended an event at the Metropolitan Republican Club of Manhattan in which four conservative gay white men sat on a panel on Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side to sing the praises of Donald Trump and the contemporary GOP. The panelists included Fred Karger, a gay Republican who ran for president in 2012; Gregory Angelo, president of the Log Cabin Republicans; Chadwick Moore, a former Out editor who recently came out as conservative; and Lucian Wintrich, a disciple of the disgraced Milo Yiannopoulos, and a fellow gay provocateur who now covers the White House for the right-wing blog, Gateway Pundit. The question of the evening was whether conservatism, with its alleged emphasis on individual liberty, is a more natural home for LGBTQ Americans than progressivism. (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

The group offered a wide range of views on LGBTQ issues, politics, and culture, probably not so different, at least in breadth, from the range of views to be found among the LGBTQ left. But there was one common theme that greatly alarmed me: a radical failure of empathy by gay men witnessing—but somehow not seeing—the rank persecution of spurned minorities, as vulnerable now as they were a few short years ago, by the party they proudly endorse.

I heard “tranny”—a term widely viewed as a slur among transgender people—tossed around by Wintrich with impunity, amidst jokes about the fuss by progressives over the transgender bathroom issue. (He likely missed the hypocrisy of having excused himself in the middle of the discussion to use the bathroom, with no questions asked. Must be nice.) The president’s retraction of federal guidance instructing public schools to allow transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity was dismissed as simply dialing back government overreach. I heard jokes made from the panel about Caitlyn Jenner being busy until “after the operation.” (Get it? Trans people amount to nothing but their “sex change operations.”) I heard that Donald Trump should be thanked by all LGBTQ people for waiving a rainbow flag and saying that same-sex marriage was settled law—without anyone mentioning that he’s still on the record opposing marriage equality.

I heard endless complaints about the political correctness of the left, including the travesty of Berkeley, the birthplace of the free speech movement, blocking conservatives from speaking on campus. I heard grave fears about radical Islamic terrorist attacks “twice a week” in Europe and about the great danger of having the second amendment taken away (“freedom to marry, freedom to carry” was one slogan uttered with a self-satisfied grin). Wintrich questioned how progressives could still consider African Americans oppressed when slavery had ended so long ago.

I heard some revisionist history by Log Cabin Republicans that sought to erase GOP responsibility for dozens of state same-sex marriage bans between 1995 and 2012. As further evidence of Republican enlightenment on marriage equality, I heard that Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who reversed his opposition to marriage equality when his son came out, had changed his position “for principled reasons”—he wanted to take care of his family—while Democrats who came out for marriage equality had done so only for political reasons. If principle is placing your son’s wellbeing above the concerns of your constituents, and politics is reflecting where your constituents are on evolving social issues, perhaps politics ain’t so bad.

After the panel, I spoke to gay Republicans from the audience who said there should be an intelligence test for immigrants wishing to enter the country, and that Jews should always be allowed in because they have superior intelligence. One person said he had nothing against Mexicans but they should stay in their own country and work to make it better. He then explained that he went to Harvard with “wealthy, white” Mexicans he quite enjoyed. “But the dumb ones—I don’t want them.”

What I didn’t hear—amidst agony over Europe’s terrorism problem—was anything about the 30,000 gun deaths every year in the U.S., which far outweigh all the terrorist deaths in Europe for the last 45 years combined. I heard nothing—amidst claims that the Republican Party was the party of individual liberty—about the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” that President Trump once promised in his campaign for president or about the indiscriminate travel ban of those from countries that were far less responsible for terrorist attacks than those whose citizens are still welcomed here with open arms. I heard nothing about the spike, after Trump’s election, of violence and intimidation of immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ people, African Americans, and women. And I heard nothing about the GOP’s recent effort to take away health care coverage for 24 million people, something that would disproportionately harm LGBTQ people, particularly transgender individuals who are less likely to be employed and are at greater risk for negative health outcomes.

I have sympathy for precisely one point I heard from the panel. Nothing is more bigoted, said Moore, than to tell people how they should think because of how they were born. In other words, the demand by the LGBTQ left that our entire community embrace the Democratic Party or progressivism is, I think, an unacceptable form of intolerance.

When I stood to ask a question about empathy for others, I gave kudos to Chadwick for making that point, but I offered what I think is a stronger argument for why gay Republicans are frankly such a disappointment. (At least, I tried to. I first had to battle being shouted down when I raised the plight of Muslims being targeted in Trump’s America, another ironic moment coming from a group of free speech conservatives aghast at the left’s refusal to honor free speech.) It’s true that we should not demand that all LGBTQ people subscribe to one kind of politics; what we should do is always remind ourselves, and urge others to remember, the persecution we faced historically and continue to face as minorities, particularly the most vulnerable among us. We should never forget what that felt like. And those lucky enough never to have experienced it should study that history and vow never to stand by as other minorities face the same.

That’s not a matter of politics, but of empathy—something which, while it needs to be cultivated, also appears naturally in human beings whose judgment is not marred by self-regard. Apparently empathy is in short supply among gay Republicans, who seem too preoccupied with taking care of themselves to feel much concern for the suffering of those around them.