Tuesday, October 4

Editor’s Letter: We Need To Talk About LGBTQ+ Republicans

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I voted in person this morning at 6:30 am. They let in the first 14 people. I was 15th in line,  which definitely elicited a chuckle from behind my mask as I instantly thought it would make for a great Alanis Morrissette lyric

And now we wait.

There are so many unknowns with this election, not the least of which is the timeline of when we will hear results to either celebrate or mourn. Here in Ohio, there are a slew of out LGBTQ+ candidates vying to make history in their respective municipalities, and one small Ohio village is fighting to keep the LGBTQ+ protections they passed in January. So there will be tons to write…just not yet.

In this in-between space, I’m left sitting here pondering this election season, which for me was marked yet again by my unrelenting addiction to interacting with LGBTQ+ Republicans. I follow them. I comment on their posts. I engage them in lengthy dialogue. And I can’t stop.

This has continued to be a real and true disruption in my life.

There’s Chadwick Moore, a one-time writer for Out Magazine and The Advocate, who appeared several times on my radio show to expound on pieces he had written about LGBTQ+ people in Russia and wives of closeted gay men. Then he wrote a fangirl interview of Milo Yiannopoulos, was widely derided, and now has embraced his pursuit of clinging tightly to the British provocateur’s frayed coattails with Moore desperately trying to get people to remember him by saying “shocking” things like gay people “will never be normal”, and publicly mocking trans people. And then there was this about Juneteenth:

There’s Rob Smith, a Black veteran who also appeared my radio show multiple times, speaking about his liberal stances, including his extraordinary efforts to secure the rights of gay people to serve openly in the military. Smith has undergone a complete transformation, now branding himself as “America’s Favorite Black, Gay Veteran Republican,” seeing no irony in supporting the Trump administration that banned Smith’s trans siblings from the military service for which Smith fought so hard to achieve.

But my real obsession is Brandon Straka. The former liberal hair-dresser and game show contestant saw an opening for recognition as a gay unicorn in the Republican space and went all in. He says he walked away from the Democratic party because he was told what to think. So now he is a Republican, telling his hundreds of thousands of followers—you guessed it—what to think.

He denies he’s a grifter, but is less than forthcoming about where the donations end up. His obsession with getting a blue checkmark next to his name on Twitter was near-maniacal. He constantly descries identity politics, yet makes sure to put “Gay” front and center in his bio, content to trade in on that part of his identity if it means more followers.

And I can’t quit him.

Brandon and I have exchanged hundreds of private messages on Twitter, long discussions of my trying to highlight the irony of his vicious and downright nasty attacks on Democrats, when his whole #walkaway movement is seemingly based on Democrats’ attacks on Republicans. He invited me on his web-series once, and I declined as the proposed topic —immigration—wasn’t something on which I could speak knowledgeably, and I have a thing about only speaking on topics about which I can speak knowledgeably. He was miffed that I would turn down the opportunity for exposure, which I thought summed him up perfectly.

Our interactions ended when Straka blocked me on social media because he felt that I didn’t come to his defense when The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center canceled an LGBTQ+ Republican event of his, a cancelation I specifically told him was unquestionably going to happen when he first told me the venue. He sued The Center for discrimination, cyberbullying, defamation, and breach of contract claims. The suit was tossed out.

And still I can’t quit him or the host of other LGBTQ+ Republicans who have been surfacing with increasing frequency.

But here’s the thing: I have never once had one of these interactions and felt fulfilled. I have never once thought, “Yeah, that went well.” I have never once typed the perfect 280 characters to an LGBTQ+ Republican about why their claims of “I don’t lead with my sexual orientation” betrays a core piece of our individual and collective humanity. And yet my addiction persists.

Over the past year, I have stumbled, changed some tactics, and marginally kept my cool in ways I wasn’t able to previously. If you are struggling with the same addiction, I present to you some tips I have learned firsthand about interacting with LGBTQ+ Republicans:

DO NOT try to change them. LGBTQ+ Republicans are not morons. You can believe all you want that they are self-hating, self-interested, confused props for a party that betrays them with every vote they take. But LGBTQ+ Republicans have agency. Your efforts to change them (I’ve tried) will make you look like the condescending, arrogant prick they need you to appear to be to deepen their ideological entrenchment.

DO come prepared. LGBTQ+ Republicans have their facts, stats, and figures all lined up. They know their ostracized place and stand at the ready to prove their point as any show of weakness on their part would damage their already fragile standing. If you don’t know what a “well regulated militia” means, you are not prepared. If you don’t know the latest story of an ISIS beheading (and thus their chief reason for supporting Trump), you are not prepared. If you can’t sustain a conversation on why parents should not be able to choose a form of therapy that both doesn’t work and does harm, you are not ready. Say one thing about pariahs: they know what’s coming and are prepared. You need to be too.

DO NOT try to represent the entire LGBTQ+ community. I’ve done this and it has backfired every time. Literally every time. When you say things like, “The Republicans have disdain for the gay community,” you are giving gay Republicans the opening to say, “No! We are accepted. Don’t speak for us!” The left fights for the LGBTQ+ community, has LGBTQ+ people’s backs and amplifies LGBTQ+ voices at every available opportunity. The left does not own the LGBTQ+ community. There is an important difference between these two sentences.

DO speak from the “I.” Tell your story. It is absolutely key that you represent your own experience and declare it proudly. Speak about your experience in the workplace, in schools, in society. The most compelling argument will always be, “This is what I experienced.”

DO highlight issues of race. We must, must, MUST keep injecting racial justice into these dialogues. LGBTQ+ Republicans are aligning themselves with a party that featured 18 black delegates out of a grand total of 2472 at the RNC. To repeat: 18 black delegates. Less than 1 percent. Our LGBTQ+ fight for equality is intricately interwoven with that of our siblings of color and we must remind gay Republicans of the white backdrop in front of which they stand.

DO NOT give up. Countless times, friends and family have told me to stop interacting with LGBTQ+ Republicans, that there is nothing to be gained in my attempts. But I can’t. Are things better than they were 10 years ago? For some. But we live in a state without LGBTQ+ protections in housing, public accommodations and employment. Most of us can’t give blood. Our trans siblings are being targeted legislatively here in Ohio, and that’s when they aren’t literally being murdered. There is so much more to do and we cannot let this subset of voices try to represent our community and tell the country, “The LGBTQ+ community has everything we need.” Because we don’t.

To be clear: I’m all for amplifying every LGBTQ+ voice that wants to be heard. That’s what The Buckeye Flame is all about. Ignoring voices does not make them go away. Dismissing voices does not make them go away.

When this election is over—whenever that may be—we need to talk about the fact that LGBTQ+ Republicans are (increasingly) here, they’re (adjacently) queer, and we have to (reluctantly for many) get used to it. 🔥

(This piece cribbed from a 2016 piece I wrote for The Huffington Post and appears here with their permission.)

About Author

Ken Schneck is the Editor of The Buckeye Flame. He received the 2021 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for the LGBTQ Journalist of the Year from the NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists. He is the author of "Seriously, What Am I Doing Here? The Adventures of a Wondering and Wandering Gay Jew" (2017), "LGBTQ Cleveland" (2018), "LGBTQ Columbus" (2019), and "LGBTQ Cincinnati" (2020). In his spare time, he is a professor of education at Baldwin Wallace University.

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