I’m always amazed by how many people still, even to this day, stop me on the street, grab my elbow on the train, or gently nudge me into a corner and express their surprise, bemusement, dismay; and even their sorrow about me being a conservative.
My response is always the same, which is one of always thanking the person for stopping me and expressing their thoughts, sometimes gently correcting them of a misconception, and more often than not, reminding them that in our country of freedom of thought, the diversity of thought is not only a privilege that we should cherish; but also a God-given right.
I’m not sure I can pinpoint a moment in my life when my conservatism flicked on like a light switch. I can remember early on my mother voting for Ronald Reagan in 1984 and I think even in 1980. My father never talked about politics, but I remember him being engaged in the civic process and having the disposition of a social and fiscal conservative. I cannot recall one instance when the names of Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis where mentioned in my house. Most likely not out of hate — I never heard my parents utter anything unkind about any elected official — but more because Ronald Reagan was such a dominant figure in their life — and mine — and in most Americans’ lives in the 1980s.
As I entered college in the fall of 1992 and for the first time really became exposed to people who thought differently, I noticed that with the prevailing political winds of “change” during the 1992 presidential race and with the dominant conversation on campus and across the country of being pro life or pro choice, for smaller government, or being for a more pronounced form of government, I found myself being the minority voice (figuratively speaking, since I went to an Historically Black College) on most of the issues of the day. I went to the library (pre-Internet days) and read up on the differences of being pro-life and pro-choice, I read the pro and con arguments of supply side economics and the overall role of government. I found that the more policy papers I read, I became hungry for more. I read all of the Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and even all of the biographies of our presidents. The more I read, the more I became comfortable defending my thoughts and became pretty good at understanding and even anticipating the thoughts of others on the other side of the argument.
With the benefit of wisdom, I know now what that time in college did to me: I became more grounded in my own personal thoughts about the political process, my role in it and my thoughts about it; and I also grew into a man who could appreciate an opposing point of view. I think one of my biggest attributes is having the ability to listen to a alternative point of view, respectfully disagreeing, and strongly encouraging the person with a view that is different from mine to go out for a beer to discuss in greater detail why we disagree, or better yet to find a topic where there is common ground to move an agenda forward.
I choose to use this column space to talk touch upon my philosophical leanings, because I get asked about it so often from friends and strangers alike. The other question I get often is how I can be Black, gay and conservative. To be clear, I had no choice in being Black and gay. My God chose me this way and I thank him every morning for creating me in his own unique image of how I can carry out his mission for me during my earthly presence. It’s hard sometimes to take some of the mean-spirited comments, but the unfortunate truth is that it’s even harder to extend an olive branch to those who have no tolerance for a different point of view, and are not even open to having a conversation. As I have said many times, I cannot defend what’s in the heart of some within the Republican Party. I can only define what’s in mine: a clear sense of right and wrong; a small and limited federal government; protecting life and allowing anyone to marry whom they wish.
I always find it amusing when people stop me and pull me closer to them and whisper, “I have a friend who is gay and Republican” or “I am a Black Republican.” “That’s great,” I reply, “but why are we whispering?”
Let’s all work together for a period in our future where no one has to whisper about who they are, and just important, we can all have an honest adult conversation about our differences in a respectful, civil manner. Too much to ask?