James Richardson Wants You to Believe He's Not Imaginary

Yes, Virginia, There is a Gay-Friendly Republican

QUEERTY IN-DEPTH — In the aftermath of the 2008 election, James Richardson, the R.N.C’s Online Communication Manager, suddenly found himself with a lot of free time on his hands. Naturally, he did what everyone with free time and an opinion does: started a blog. Skepticians, as he dubbed his site, drew instant attention from the political blogosphere after Richardson posted a call for the GOP to drop its long-standing opposition to gay adoption, saying, “What is perhaps equally as distressing is our collective failure as a party to hold a candid discussion on the emerging role of gays in the Party and society at large – not as outcasts, but as equals.”

When we first reported on Richardson, readers were skeptical of his motives. One commenter wrote, “Now that it’s no longer politically profitable to bash gays, he comes running to us with a bouquet of flowers.”

Our curiosity piqued, Queerty sought to find out whether this good ol’ Georgia boy was a hypocrite, a fairweather friend or lying. What we got was the GOP’s biggest dirty little secret.

QUEERTY: A lot of our readers read your article on how the Republican party ought to drop its opposition to gay adoption and saw it as an act of opportunism, or a purely cynical political move. How did you come to your belief that the GOP should drop its anti gay-adoption stance?

James Richardson: Initially, the excessive word-parsing and charges of political opportunism surprised and offended me, but then I remembered the manner in which most Americans view our politics, i.e. very skeptically. It was naïve of me to expect an open embrace after years of prejudiced fanaticism – for which I am sorry – but I have never aligned myself with that wing of the Party.

The Republican Party has always been, or at least billed as, the “crusader” of limited government intervention and intrusion, which is why I’m baffled we’ve recently adopted this troubling gay-hostile rhetoric by way of appeasing a fraction of the “base.”

It was never a question of whether or not to support gay rights – which I always have. It was a question of courage and conviction. Irrespective of your readers’ decidedly skeptical interpretation of my support, I put my career on the line. Perhaps some of McCain’s patented “Mavericky’ness” rubbed off on me, or perhaps I just grew tired of ideologues speaking on behalf of the Party. Either way, it’s abundantly clear I’ve made political enemies among those I formerly considered allies.

“Homophobia doesn’t run rampant in the Republican Party, pandering does.”

Have any Republican leaders or strategists talked to you about your post?

A few have, yes. The majority of gainfully employed political strategists and consultants I spoke with agreed, more or less, with the issues I addressed. As for the fanatic political wannabes who make Gary Bauer look moderate: well, let’s just say they were less than pleased with my public support.

Social conservatives, despite their baggage, have earned significant political capital over the years – and you can be sure they know it. The party establishment is (justifiably) fearful that social conservatives will abandon us if we veer from their religion-dominated agenda. And so, we toe the line like good little boys and girls.

Here’s the GOP’s dirty little secret: Homophobia doesn’t run rampant in the Republican Party, pandering does. So many of my former colleagues are afraid they’ll be blackballed by the Don Wildmon’s of the world for voicing their honest-to-God opinions on controversial issues (see any reference to “the List” by social conservative leaders after the Foley fall-out).

As a Republican, do you think there’s any political energy to soften the party’s stance on equal rights for gays and lesbians? To the average American, it looks as if the Sarah Palin/ social-conservative wing of the party is the faction most likely to dominate in the near future.

While recent polls indicates a growing number of Americans support key equal rights legislation for gay men and women, the number of “base supporters” who favor such legislation is frighteningly low. Vilifying homosexuals is a successful base turnout, and candidates and strategists fully understand this (even if they don’t agree with it). The problem for Republicans now: The values constituency has shrunk, and this gay-hostile rhetoric does us no favors with suburban women and younger voters.

Sadly, I don’t foresee any seismic shifts in the political landscape. For the Right, the “radical gay culture war” will remain a reliable campaign villain in campaigns to come, further marginalizing moderates, independents, and the few gay republicans we have left. Even worse, I suspect prominent social conservatives will overcompensate after their near-defeat in California.

Some folks are going to assume that because you’re a Republican, you’re against gay rights. How are they wrong?

I view my support of equal rights measures as fundamentally in sync with the GOP’s cause of limited government interference, not to mention basic human values. Depriving simple rights like loving the partner of one’s choice is, in my eyes, a gross dereliction of human decency. It is only when we apply these asinine social conservative “culture war” filters that we run into problems of this nature…

“I understand the pain from Prop 8’s loss, but ‘Call in to work gay’ protests do nothing if not cast a negative light on the gay rights movement.”

Our collective willingness to jump to some biased and inflexible conclusions is a sad testament to the divisiveness of American politics. No one, it seems, is honestly interested in, or prepared for, a meaningful debate: “I don’t want to know you, and you don’t want to know me, unless, of course, you’re willing to admit you’re wrong.”

It’s far easier to espouse hostile rhetoric when you haven’t humanized the debate (see Harry Reid rolling out poor, sickly children in the SCHIP debate). It’s as hard to call the sweet, 90 year old lady down the street a “gay hating bigot” as it is to call little Tommy who’s all grown up now a “sodomite” itching to bring down the foundations of society. Whether they’re willing to admit it or not, the LGBT community and social conservatives have one thing on common: they want to remain relatively in the dark on the “enemy.” It’s hard to hate someone you know and love… The need for social conservatives to understand that gays aren’t bad people is as great as the need for gays to understand that social conservatives aren’t bad people.

After the disheartening losses in California, Florida, and Arkansas, the LGBT community doesn’t have the novelty of excluding support from groups and individuals you broadly deem as hostile.

The conservative right is on a housecleaning kick lately, tossing conservative intellectuals like Chris Buckley overboard if they don’t toe the line. Is there a genuine schism in the party or is it a temporary rift?

This notion that there is some festering schism among the ranks of the GOP is, in my opinion, a manufactured narrative, fabricated by single-issue fringe voters. The Party’s problem wasn’t their decision to give “evangelical, right-wing, oogedy boogedy” voters a seat at the table; the problem was their decision to give them the only seat at the table. As evidenced by a growing number of elected moderate Republicans, we’re now seeing a few more chairs pull up.

If I were to characterize the intra-party strife as anything, it would be a temporary rift. What you’re seeing now is a concerted effort by social conservatives to capitalize on the “what if” questions Party now faces. What if we courted X demographic of voters more? What if we reexamined our stance on issue X? Undoubtedly, their answer is: “If we had done any of those things, we would have lost worst. Stick to the straight and narrow.”

Healthy debate and party evolution is natural – and to be expected after the losses we incurred. After the drubbing we just endured, I’d be worried if I heard the contrary. I wouldn’t put too much stock in the belief that the party is falling apart.

If gay families should be allowed to adopt children, why should they be denied marriage rights?

I’m in total support of all equal rights measures, including adoption and marriage.

I purposefully confined my article to the limited issue of gay adoption to expose the inherent hypocrisy in Florida state law. I’ve found it’s easier to earn allies and build a coalition by addressing issues, not rhetoric. If the gay rights movement is to succeed, they’ll do the same.

In your opinion, if there was one thing the gay community could do to either pressure or encourage the GOP leadership to reevaluate its stance on gay rights, what would it be?

It’s imperative for LGBT activists and allies to understand they are the ones pushing for a “radical” social change. Marriage, in the eyes of blue collar voters, has never been defined as a union between two loving individuals.

I understand the pain from Prop 8’s loss, but “Call in to work gay” protests do nothing if not cast a negative light on the gay rights movement. I can’t tell you how many colleagues phoned or emailed me to discuss this and other recent protest. While no protests were well-received, the ‘call in gay’ protest was overwhelmingly seen by (moderate) Republican strategists as a childish, counter-productive move. To John Q. Public, these protests don’t make you look “normal.” Petulance and public displays of anger will not necessitate action from the GOP leadership on equal rights issues.

Promoting the merits of gay marriage is easier said than done, but it surely doesn’t begin with calling into work gay.

While they don’t have to agree with it, gay activists must accept the results of Prop 8. Why? Because they need to understand that voters have serious concerns with undermining a millennium-long held definition of marriage as one man and one woman.

My advice: First, reject these sophomoric antics like ‘call into work gay’ and instead assume your obligation to make a positive case for equal rights. As someone who worked for the RNC and, by proxy, McCain, I can unequivocally say that shamelessly attacking the enemy rarely helps in these situations. Second, fight the issues, not the religion-dominated ideology. Third, understand the fight for equal rights will not come easy. Public opinion is shifting in your favor, but juvenile tactics stand to undermine all your hard work.