August 11, 2011 at 10:08 am EDT | by Jessica Lee
Being gay doesn’t mean being a leftist

“It is quite a shock at the age of five or six to find that in a world of Gary Coopers you are the Indian.”  —James Baldwin

I have always held the above words dear to my heart. At a very young age I stumbled upon the fact that something was different about me. Thus crept into my being a sense of other-ness and a coming molasses-slow embrace of my non-conformity. I expect that many LGBT individuals have also experienced a similarly not-quite-typical coming of age process.

In my long years of establishing a confident place within a reality in which I was “other,” the countervailing force was to me always clear: the predominantly straight, and often hostile, world. In my fantasies I was, at best, a rebel and, at worst, a misfit. Now, as I amble toward my middle years, with the confusing and challenging coming of age process firmly under my belt, I confront a new countervailing force as I find myself again identified as “other.” But this time it is by a surprising group of people: other gays. Specifically, the gay left. In a chilling reenactment of the dreaded grade school recess, the gay left takes aim at conservative gays.

There are many examples from which I could harvest an illustrative example. So I shall only reach back to an op-ed published Aug. 4, 2011, in this newspaper and penned by contributor Sean Cotter. His column initially takes aim at GOProud, of which I am a board member, by painting an association among GOProud, an embrace of reparative therapy and the Tea Party. As much as I am disappointed and wearied by this style of argument, I am getting used to it.

Like many of the other written attacks against gay conservatives and GOProud that have come before it, Cotter’s op-ed posits that it is appalling to be gay and not a leftist, or in the least a Democrat. In Cotter’s view, GOProud is not only conservative, (emphasis mine) but is “enabling of homophobia.” Gay conservatives “have worked for and campaigned and legislated agendas that have explicitly sought to curtail not only their own rights, but to reverse the social and civil rights measures for women and minorities that gay political activists have supported in the past.”

This is the critical theoretical jump: the bridge that the gay left, in publications and in blogs, often constructs to connect gay conservatives to Really Bad Things. Among these Really Bad Things are self-loathing, treason against one’s own, and even being secretly heterosexual and aiming to destroy the gay community. As a side note, I can assure conspiracy weavers that I am indeed gay.

It is sad when a group of gays disputes the sincerity, integrity and even sanity of another group of gays that holds a differing viewpoint. Cotter looks back affectionately to a past in which the gay rights movement “was explicitly leftist. Essays and manifestos from these activists tell us that to be ‘gay’ was meant to be something new. It meant not just having same-sex attractions, but also espousing a certain set of political beliefs.”

In this gay dystopia, conforming to a leftist agenda is more important than intellectual freedom. But, in truth, intellectual freedom (in this case holding conservative views) does not make you self-loathing, traitorous or the perpetrator of Really Bad Things. Rather, it makes you fabulous. I do not long for the days of identity politics, when being gay meant being a leftist. I am happy right now, when being gay means I can be myself, a conservative. I hope that one day all viewpoints will be welcome in our community so that we can work together for the cause of LGBT freedom.

Jessica Lee is a GOProud board member.

  • “His column initially takes aim at GOProud, of which I am a board member, by painting an association among GOProud, an embrace of reparative therapy and the Tea Party. As much as I am disappointed and wearied by this style of argument, I am getting used to it.”

    …and yet no denying or rebutting it, instead saving it for the (admittedly absurd) notion that GOProud members are heterosexual. If that’s the only one you can actually rebut, well… says a lot, doesn’t it?

    The problem isn’t that GOProud isn’t a liberal organization. It’s that you embrace the gay-hating factions that want us gone and then get surprised that you’re called out on it. Get a grip.

  • You whine about the supposed intolerance of most gays and then go and use loaded terms like “leftist” to describe the intolerant liberal gays that you’ve thrown all together in the same group. You throw around terms like “intellectual freedom” and yet you willingly align yourselves with the very people who vote against equality. Ms. Lee, you are hardly qualified to chastise others regarding their political affiliations.

    You’re certainly welcome to make your own political choices and affiliations, but come on. Whining about those who dare to be critical about your choices is as cowardly as censorship. It’s only virtue is that it is slightly more democratic. Why don’t you instead respond to the meat of Cotter’s charges (e.g. the Tea Party and reparative therapy affiliations) instead of making ones about how evil liberal gays are completely intolerant of all gay conservatives. (Hint: We’re not. We’re just not keen on the ones who enable our oppression.)

  • A actually agree that all viewpoints should be welcome in our community. But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be debated. Rational and intelligent people will always debate issues and then will come to their own determination and conclusions as to those positions they think make sense and are right for them to espouse on a personal level.

    The majority of the people in the LGBT movement are like the majority of the nation, in the middle on most issues, seeing that to move the world and our nation forward we have to compromise and deal in the realities of what is good public policy. That can and must be done without giving up the fight for full human and civil rights for everyone, including the LGBT community.

    The questions many rational and thinking people have about GOProud, which you so proudly claim to be on the Board of, aren’t questions of conservatism vs. liberalism rather a question of rationality. I have never before heard Log Cabin Republicans being referred to as leftists but I would assume from this column you think they are because they recently attacked a postiion of GOProud as well.

  • If you realize that you are an Native American in a society of Gary Coopers, the answer isn’t to switch sides and help Gary Cooper.

    GOProud members want to be the Gary Coopers of the world and were openly saying that they hate other gay people at CPAC.

    GOProud members need to accept themselves. Anything is hard to find if you don’t open your eyes.

  • I read GOProud board member Jessica Lee’s Viewpoint contribution with interest. It was hard to figure out what her gripe is other than, as she implies, some grade school type hurt feelings. If some individuals within our own community have been unkind towards her, that is regrettable and I am sorry to hear of it. Public discourse certainly has taken a downturn in recent years, and we all need to try to be more polite towards each other, particularly among members of the LGBT community, of which Jessica Lee is a valued part.

    But maybe this is the time to remind folks that while widely overlapping, there is a distinction between the gay COMMUNITY and the gay MOVEMENT. The mainstream LGBT movement is broad and inclusive, as it should be. But it is not without thought, principle or philosophy. Like the African-American civil rights movement, our objectives presuppose mainstream and progressive principles. Our support for ENDA presupposes the legitimacy of the federal government regulating a private firm’s employment practices. Much of our advocacy work on AIDS/HIV presupposes that government has a role in seeing that all Americans have access to needed health care and that needed research for medical cures is conducted. Our movement has not taken the position that a cure for AIDS will come by giving pharmacetical companies tax breaks. Our Movement has never said that government is the only response to a lack of gay rights. It has recognized that many in our community have real protections on the job thanks to collective bargaining.

    Conservatives who don’t accept the underlying presuppositions that our goals are based on should never be treated as second class members of our community. But they also, as is their right, are in dissent from the mainstream LGBT movement. In our free society, is their right to form their own distinct and separate political movement. It is the right of those of us in the mainstream LGBT movement to continue to promote the beliefs we hold and organize to advance them.
    Being gay doesn’t mean you have to be a part of the mainstream LGBT movement. But being a gay conservative probably means (if you are being philosophically consistent) that you have decided to not stand with the mainstream movement.

    Kurt Vorndran
    President, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (2000-2003)

  • Seriously? A GOProud board member is whining about being oppressed by the “gay left” because they don’t celebrate her decision to associate herself with loathsome people like Ann Coulter, recently named chair of the group’s advisory board? Coulter’s whole career has been built on viciously denigrating those who disagree with her political beliefs. GOProud itself seems to have adopted a strategy of getting media by attacking other gay people who don’t share its own reactionary politics. It doesn’t take a big leap to associate GOProud with “Really Bad Things” – GOProud openly and proudly embraces pundits and politicians who oppose legal equality for LGBT people, not to mention a lot of things I think are important but Ms. Lee may well consider “bad” and “leftist” – living wages, regulations that protect consumers and worker safety and heath, progressive taxation, etc. I’m committed to intellectual freedom, and absolutely support Ms. Lee’s freedom to associate with GOProud as well as her right to support right-wing politicians who would deprive me and my partner and friends and loved ones of basic legal protections. But that doesn’t mean she gets a free pass from criticism. And forgive me if I can’t work up a lot of sympathy for someone who, by joining GOProud’s board, stakes out a position on the far right of the political spectrum, savages gays who are even slightly less right-wing, and then doesn’t understand why most of us don’t respond by thinking, “fabulous!”

  • Jessica Lee has a naive view of the way things work in American politics. Are gay conservatives trying to “reverse the social and civil rights measures women and minorities” have fought for? Are they trying to undermine the gay rights movement? Of course not. The problem is that they are doing just that.

    Conservatives–even just fiscal conservatives–vote Republicans into office.

    The problem is that Republican elected officials–even moderate, well-meaning, gay-friendly Republicans–generally vote the way the party tells them to vote. They aren’t really given a choice. It’s just the cutthroat, my-way-or-the-highway, if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us way that the GOP operates. And they’re punished if they try to do otherwise. And these same moderate, well-meaning, gay-friendly Republicans help fundraise for other Republicans who are anything but benign–Republicans like Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, and others of that… ilk. This is common knowledge to those of us who watch something other than FOX news.

    And ultimately that’s the real issue here.

    You’re a fiscal conservative? That’s great. I have zero problem with that. Go start your own political party that supports human rights for all people but has a fiscally conservative bent. I might even vote for you.

    But don’t pretend to make this about “intellectual freedom”. Your votes and political contributions are actively causing harm to living, breathing people. You can’t support the Republican Party and vote to put power into the hands of the vile humans who work night and day to deny our god-given rights and to convince the rest of this country that we are subhuman–the party that has fought and continues to fight every inch of progress we’ve made in our lifetimes, the party that uses anti-gay rhetoric to whip crowds into a frenzy and raise millions of dollars for the Sarah Palins and George W. Bushes of the world, the party that both engenders and encourages the attitudes that lead to high rates of suicide and of violence against us simply because you happen to like their fiscal policies–and expect anyone to think of you anything as other than a traitor.

  • I’m a life long Republican. Ronald Reagan was my hero. I don’t understand why my being Gay should include voting for legislators and policies that will bankrupt me and the country. We’ve had enough of the current “empty suit” in the White House. It’s time to elect some adults and send the “children” back home to play “community activist.”

  • Out of respect for one of the most inspirational queer Americans and civil rights activist, I would request that you expunge James Baldwin from your piece. Your invocation of Baldwin seems to prove Cotter’s point, namely, that coming out as gay is concomitant with an emancipatory promise for all marginalized groups, and thus irreconciable with aligning oneself with political leaders that seek the reversal of all the 20th century’s efforts toward equality (e.g. Representative Bachman).

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