We’ve all been at a social event where a gay or lesbian friend, acquaintance or stranger has expressed support for a Republican candidate or policy position only to hear ice melt in nearby glasses – if not drowned out by the disapproving comments or outright anger on the part of some.
Political hegemony regarding both party affiliation and political ideology emanating from much of LGBT organizational leadership and many community activists creates a quickly learned lesson among the rank-and-file that tolerance for divergent views is not among our community’s strongest attributes.
But an objective examination — without political bias or advocacy one way or the other — suggests that the hallmark monolithic dominance of the Democratic Party among LGBT voters could noticeably weaken in direct correlation to broadening public acceptance and corresponding gains in civil and legal equality.
Early signs of this likely cultural transition and forecast of a reasonably anticipated political transformation in coming years are already evident.
CNN exit polls and other respected surveys indicate that the percentage of self-identified lesbians and gays currently voting for Republican candidates is surprisingly sizable and, although a minority, is increasing over time. In recent presidential elections, between one-quarter and one-third of us voted Republican. In the most recent 2010 congressional races, one-third of declared gays and lesbians voted for the GOP candidate.
For a community whose battle cry has long been “we are everywhere” and “we are everyone” this should come as no surprise.
As gains in equality spread across local jurisdictions and states, the importance of LGBT-centric issues on the voting habits of gays and lesbians will undoubtedly lessen. We will increasingly enjoy the freedom to vote — like everyone else — according to our own unique perspectives and individual self-interests on issues other than LGBT rights as those rights become more commonplace.
We need only look to the effect assimilation has had on other aspects of our community life to understand this phenomenon.
Even urban gays and lesbians continue to geographically disperse within cities and throughout metropolitan areas, maintaining much less of an affinity or essential connection to the traditional “community” historically centralized in a “safe haven” core constructed in response to a broad sense of alienation and offering protection, identity and camaraderie. This has resulted in fewer LGBT-focused businesses, reduced patronage at community-identified bars, restaurants and nightclubs, less participation in community-oriented organizations and civic groups, and diminished readership of community-focused publications.
This trend is particularly evident among younger gays and lesbians, whose lives are more integrated within a larger context and for whom sexual orientation is a normalized cultural marker.
The political leanings of both Millennials and Generation X are increasingly fluid and unpredictable. Rock the Vote’s midterm election poll found that only a third of all younger Americans now identify themselves as Democrats, with those calling themselves Republicans within near parity of that number.
A recent Pew Research Center poll found an even starker disparity among young white voters under 30. A 52 percent majority now lean Republican, a striking increase from the 42 percent who said the same in 2008 and 11 percent more than the 41 percent who now lean toward Democrats.
In addition, the distinctly high percentage of gay and lesbian small business owners, entrepreneurs, sole proprietors and independent contractors within our national numbers – as high as 10 percent according to the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) – could easily distance themselves from Democratic positions on economic and business issues of importance to them and their professional endeavors once unshackled from a desire to support those who support our civil rights.
There is little to suggest that broader support for LGBT equality among Democratic elected officials will translate into a lasting “halo effect” benefiting the party. Increasingly evident diversity of opinion on other issues will likely be reflected at the polls in the relatively near term – more quickly and significantly than Democratic affiliated community partisans either realize or are willing to acknowledge.
Will it really be all that startling in a center-right nation split 50-50 between the two political parties to soon discover that we are a largely integrated part of that dichotomy?
Perhaps that will prove to be one of the most prominent measures of our achievement of equality.
Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.