The general-election campaign has hardly even started, but it already has produced what likely will go down as the most shameful moment of the 2012 presidential race. That moment occurred when Richard Grennell, an openly gay adviser to Mitt Romney, resigned from the campaign.
Grenell was the first openly gay adviser to a de facto GOP presidential nominee. He was essentially hounded out by vocal anti-gay elements in the conservative movement. Those include in particular the American Family Association's Bryan Fischer, who among other lovely things has likened homosexuals to Nazis. But Fischer was hardly alone; National Review's Matthew Franck and others also went after Grenell. And while the Romney team did not want Grenell to leave – by all accounts, it pleaded with him to stay – neither did it denounce his critics or condemn their bigotry.
The issue has been somewhat muddled because Grenell is a prickly personality, which has raised questions as to whether attacks on his homosexuality were a self-serving excuse for his departure. Grenell has a "confrontational style," according to The Washington Post, and is sometimes not nice to reporters. Neither of these traits is exactly rare in Washington (see, e.g.: Emanuel, Rahm et al.).
Oh, but Grenell said snippy things about women, such as suggesting that Rachel Maddow looks like Justin Bieber and asking whether Callista Gingrich's hair "snaps on." These are not nice things to say and would have been better left unsaid. But as the recent contretemps over, e.g., Rush Limbaugh and Sandra Fluke demonstrate, conservative chivalry has let pass far nastier commentary about fair maidens.
No, the trouble is that too many in the GOP and the conservative rank and file still harbor an ugly animosity toward gays and lesbians. A Republican today is considered liberal if he is merely tolerant toward homosexuality – and tolerance, it is worth noting, is an attitude of putting up with something unpleasant. It is not a brotherly embrace.
Not all conservatives share this attitude. Writing in Commentary, John Podhoretz condemned Franck's attacks on Grenell as "preposterous," disingenuous and rooted in anti-gay sentiment. Former ambassador John Bolton, whose "conservative bona fides are irreproachable," says Podhoretz, has been called among Grenell's "strongest supporters."
Yet these are rare voices in a party that has been on the wrong side of too many civil-rights struggles. It is on the wrong side of this one as well. That is a moral failing and the primary offense. But it is also a gross strategic blunder by a party that today seems bent on driving away one natural constituency after another, from Latino immigrants to suburban soccer moms. There are more gay conservatives than some people realize – and they are having a hard time supporting the party they would prefer to call home.
A certain gay Republican acquaintance of mine has written eloquently and at length on this subject. He wanted his words to appear in the Richmond Times-Dispatch with his name and his picture beside them. Unfortunately, although he is out of the closet, he has been forced to reconsider – not because of the Grenell incident, but for entirely unrelated reasons. Nevertheless, he says the Grenell affair has left him "furious," and he has agreed to let his words be excerpted here, with his name withheld. They appear immediately below.
"During the past couple of years I have come to terms with two unavoidable facts. First, I'm gay. And second, I can't — I won't — hide it. …
"I had not planned on telling anyone but [close] friends, because it really isn't anyone's business. But I have since changed my mind about that…
Why? Because I'm not ashamed of this. I didn't decide to "become" gay, and, truthfully, it's not something I would wish for anyone else. Yet it is who I am, and I refuse to reject it…
Being gay is not "bad." Being gay does not make me evil. Being gay does not mean I am doing anything wrong. I am just being the man that God made. And the totality of that man is not wrapped up in the fact that I am gay. My romantic relationships are a part of me, but they do not define my entire being.
One of the first friends I told sat silently for a few seconds then asked, "Will you still like Hokie football?" I don't know if he was joking or not, but he did sound genuinely concerned. I assured him I would – that is as much a part of me as is my sexuality, if not more.
But when you boil this down, I'm still the same man I was before I accepted my homosexuality. I'm still just a guy who happens to like and do stereotypically guy things. I still love football (GO HOKIES!). I still love cars. I still look natural in my cowboy boots (I own four pairs). I still lift weights for the sheer joy of it. But I just also happen to date dudes.
And I still support political candidates who firmly believe in fiscal and social responsibility – i.e. conservatives. That has been the question I have received most frequently from even close friends when I have told them I am gay: "You're not going to vote the same way, are you?"
Of course I am. I realized I was gay; I didn't have my brain rewired. I continue to believe in a limited role for government. I continue to believe strongly in fiscal discipline. I continue to believe in federalism. I still continue to believe our national security policy should be both extremely muscular and extraordinarily humble. I continue to support the right to keep and bear arms.
None of that changes because of the people I can now admit I love.
And why should it? Changing my political ideology would be far more wrenching for me than asking a guy out on a date. I have spent a lot of years thinking about what I believe philosophically and why I believe it. I am not going to change that under any circumstances.
But I am not naïve. It will take some time for my ideological compatriots to get used to sharing the political spectrum with a guy who sometimes has to check with his boyfriend to see where their anniversary dinner is.
I am not going to abandon the people who have the same political beliefs that I do, and I hope they don't abandon me. I want to show them that people who have the romantic attraction I do aren't these strange terrible beings who have an agenda to destroy the country. I do not.
I, like them, just want to see the federal government stop spending so damn much money – and that view has nothing to do with being straight or gay.
[A close friend] is not sure being public about this is a good thing. He's right. I don't need to invite any attention into this area of my life. It could hurt with future job prospects. It will end any political viability I had. It might make adoption extraordinarily difficult.
Time will tell about the wisdom of making this declaration. Regardless, I am making it.
There is one specific reason, though, that I wanted to say something about this publicly. I can't get the suicides of Tyler Clementi and Jamey Rodemeyer out of my mind. Both were gay teens whose suicides seem to have stemmed from bullying rooted in their sexuality.
There is nothing I alone can do to stop young people like Clementi and Rodemeyer from becoming desperate because of their sexuality. But I can hold my head up aggressively and honestly in hopes that will make such a demeanor the norm. And I can show their bullies not everyone will cower.
In other words, if I can be a small part of the solution, sign me up.
It's ok. It gets better – especially after you gather the courage to tell your closest guy friends, "Dudes, I'm gay."
In the wake of the Grenell affair, the friend writes, "I'm starting to wonder if – despite that fact that I agree with the [Republican] party on most issues, including being strongly pro-life – the GOP just doesn't want people like me." He will not vote for Romney now. But "I won't vote for Obama, so for the first time in my life I won't vote for president. There is no one for me to support."
A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, where this article originally appeared.