Chris Barron, the founder and former head of conservative LGBT group GOProud, sat down with me recently and answered several questions about conservatism, LGBT issues, and the increase in public visibility of gay and trans conservatives. The first part of our interview focused primarily on the growing presence of conservative LGBT people in society. This second half of our interview, however, dives more deeply into how conservatives have wrestled with LGBT issues as society has changed over the past few years.
*Author’s note: this interview was conducted in the week BEFORE the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, and does not reflect that decision.
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David Giffin: Digging more into how conservatives have responded to trans people, some writers on the right have pushed back against Caitlyn Jenner’s sex change and transgender experience. Matt Walsh wrote a particularly provocative article, pointing to research suggesting that sex change operations do not improve the lives of transgendered people and suggesting that the process would ultimately harm both Jenner and those around him. How do you respond to Walsh’s claims, or the claims of those who share a similar position?
Chris Barron: I come from the libertarian wing of the conservative movement, so I might not understand what has motivated Caitlyn Jenner—but I don’t have to. Fundamentally, it’s her life. Matt Walsh doesn’t have to live her life, walk in her shoes, or experience what she feels.
DG: Some might argue that it’s not quite as simple as just leaving it to individual determinations of identity. Many social conservatives have tried to argue that there are public and social considerations that must be considered as well, especially with issues such as public accommodations (like restrooms) and gay marriage. How would you respond?
CB: I believe in individual liberty, I don’t believe it takes a village.
DG: Religious groups in particular have traditionally offered resistance to LGBT issues. This is changing somewhat with regards to acceptance of LGBT individuals, but is still more entrenched with regards to gay marriage itself. What do you think about these cultural shifts?
CB: These cultural shifts are hugely generational, even among Christian conservatives. I think more and more young evangelicals are asking why the older leaders in the evangelical movement are so focused on opposing gay marriage.
DG: So how do you respond to the position taken by people like Barronelle Stutzman, the now-infamous Washington State florist, who argue that they love gay people but still cannot support gay marriage for religious reasons?
CB: If you want to repeal things like public accommodation laws, then that’s fine by me. Either you have them and enforce them for everyone, or you don’t.
DG: Your former colleague Jimmy LaSalvia once argued that the GOP’s reticence on gay marriage and other related issues boils down to pure bigotry. Do you agree, disagree, or have a different perspective?
CB: I disagree, strongly. I believe that people of good faith can disagree over an issue like marriage equality.
DG: If anything, what do you think in the past few years has changed to allow announcements like Jenner’s and Guy Benson’s to become more publicly permissible, even if not widely accepted by those on the most extreme ends of the two major parties?
CB: Its 100% generational. The truth is that the vast majority of younger Americans—regardless of their political ideology—are much more accepting of LGBT people. They have grown up in a world where they know LGBT people, work with them, go to school with them, and see them on TV, and for younger Americans it’s hard for them to understand what the big deal is. I also think that younger Americans tend to be more libertarian—not just on LGBT issues, but on a whole host of issues.
DG: Several new discussions about the trans experience are also coming to the fore as a result of generational changes. For example, there’s now talk about trans-racialism following on the news about Rachel Dolezal. Do you have any thoughts on Dolezal and this new discussion about people being trans-racial?
CB: I think the entire Rachel Dolezal discussion is one of the seven signs of the apocalypse. In all seriousness, with all the massive challenges facing our country—mountains of debt, a broken healthcare system, a disastrous foreign policy, unsustainable entitlements, etc.—I can’t believe we are wasting time debating the actions of a clearly delusional woman.
DG: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. Last one: do you have any plans to stay active in the conservative movement? If so, what do you have in mind?
CB: I do plan to stay active. Maybe not as front and center as I was at GOProud, but I will continue to stay active. I still write occasionally, still speak at college campuses occasionally, and still appear on FOX News Red Eye – and who knows what the future holds. The best thing about politics is that there is almost always an opportunity for a second act.
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I want to thank Chris again for his willingness to sit down and discuss these important issues. In the era after Obergefell v. Hodges, voices like Chris’s will be critical to conservatives’ efforts to navigate new cultural and political waters.