With the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage having just been released, and other major issues related to sexuality and gender making headlines over the past few months, I thought that it would be worthwhile to hear from one of the right’s biggest LGBT voices. Chris Barron, the founder and former head of conservative LGBT group GOProud, sat down with me and answered several questions about conservatism, LGBT issues, and the increase in public visibility of gay and trans conservatives.
*Author’s note: this interview was conducted in the week BEFORE the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, and does not reflect that decision.
* * *
David Giffin: First of all, Chris, thank you for being willing to interview with us. For those of our readers who aren’t as familiar with you or your work, could you please share a little bit about yourself and your time with GOProud?
Chris Barron: I co-founded GOProud in April of 2009 as an organization for gay conservatives and their allies. It was founded as a more conservative alternative to the Log Cabin Republicans and as an organization that was specifically focused on the conservative movement and not the Republican Party per se.
DG: So, let’s just get this one out of the way for our more skeptical readers: is it actually possible to be both a member of the LGBT community AND a conservative?
CB: Well I certainly believe so. I firmly believe that conservative policies are good for all Americans – including LGBT Americans. I was born gay but I wasn’t born a liberal.
DG: Traditionally, LGBT people and conservatism haven’t mixed. Can you talk a bit about how you came to be both a gay man and politically conservative?
CB: I grew up in a smaller town in eastern North Carolina, so I was a conservative long before I realized I was a conservative. I don’t think your sexual orientation should determine your politics. The truth is that the LGBT community isn’t a monolithic community. There are LGBT people everywhere, of every ethnic background, religious background, socio-economic background, etc.
DG: There’s been a lot of activity in the news lately with conservatism and LGBT issues. Particularly, we saw Guy Benson’s announcement in May that he is a gay conservative, and we’ve seen Bruce Jenner asserting that he is conservative while transitioning to become Caitlyn Jenner. How do you view these announcements?
CB: I think these announcements are positive and important because they help to show the real political diversity of LGBT Americans. The liberal media would have people believe that every LGBT person is a card-carrying Democrat, the truth is that in most Presidential elections between 25 and 30% of self-identified LGBT vote for the Republican candidate for President. I also think it’s important for conservatives to see that there are LGBT people in the movement’s ranks, to stop buying the stereotype that the liberal media is pushing of LGBT Americans.
DG: Specific to Caitlyn Jenner, there’s been a lot of outrage on both sides of the political aisle. Many people online seemed more disturbed by then-Bruce’s announcement about being conservative than they were about his gender transition. What do you think about this reaction from the left?
CB: Watching left-wing Twitter on the night of the big Jenner interview was so hilarious. Every lefty in the world was praising Jenner for being courageous until she said she was a conservative. Then they all freaked out. For me personally, it has always been easier to be gay in conservative circles than it is to be conservative in gay circles.
DG: Could you explain that last phrase a little more? What do you mean when you say that you’ve found it easier to be gay in conservative circles than you have found it to be conservative in gay circles? Do you have any examples?
CB: You do a quick google search of my name, and the most vicious and out-of-bounds attacks on me didn’t come from social conservatives but for gay progressives. For far too many gay progressives, they believe that LGBT Americans should be owned – lock, stock and barrel – by the Democratic Party.
DG: For several years, you worked with Jimmy LaSalvia and ran GOProud as a successful—though often antagonistic—voice within the conservative movement. Unfortunately, after the two of you resigned, the group largely faded and fell apart. What happened to GOProud?
CB: Jimmy and I both got burned out… The truth is that it’s hard to continue to fight the fight every single day without getting burned out. Unfortunately for GOProud, the next leadership team failed miserably.
DG: The major remaining voice for LGBT conservatives, after GOProud’s departure, was the Log Cabin Republicans. You’ve been critical of LCR in the past, but what do you think of them now?
CB: I think Log Cabin is fine. Not my cup of tea, but they serve a purpose. GOProud was born out of the early days of the Tea Party movement. We were of and for the conservative movement, not the Republican Party. Log Cabin is great for the Meghan McCain wing of the GOP—that’s just not my wing of the party.
* * *
Please check back next week for Part II, where Chris and I go more in-depth with regards to how conservatives have been wrestling with gay marriage and other LGBT issues.