I had a phenomenal time in Minneapolis last week. My trip to Netroots Nation served as unique opportunity to meet with like-minded progressive activists, bloggers, journalists and others from across the nation. In particular, I enjoyed another chance to sit down face-to-face with so many of my fellow LGBT bloggers and journalists I usually only see as thumbnail pics on Twitter or Facebook.
But there was another just as exciting opportunity this weekend. At the same time that thousands of progressive activists flocked to Netroots Nations, hundreds of activists, writers, journalists and others from the other side of the political spectrum were gathering at the host hotel for for their own conference, RightOnline.
I spoke to a dozen or more RightOnline attendees during my few days in Minneapolis. Our conversations were civil and friendly. We shared some laughs, exchanged some personal stories about ourselves or hometowns and had some great conversations about real political and ideological differences. I was surprised to find, however, that the overwhelming majority of those I spoke with felt relatively little opposition to issues of LGBT equality. The majority agreed that LGBT people shouldn’t be discriminated against in employment. They agreed that schools should be safe for LGBT students. They agreed that some form of relationship recognition — though not marriage — should be offered to same-sex couples. One nice lady from Ohio, who said she had a lesbian sister, seemed to have no problem with same-sex parenting and care giving.
My interactions surprised me. I wasn’t expecting that sort of support from conservatives attending RightOnline. Though not as supportive as I’d like them to be, these people were certainly not the anti-gay fringe that has had such a control on Republican Party politics these past few decades.
There are some Republicans, including my own Sen. Richard Burr, who have recognized a generational shift on these issues. But where is the disconnect elsewhere? Why does the right’s grassroots and netroots base support some LGBT issues while the majority of the Republican establishment continues to push right-wing, hate-group propagated talking points?
I asked my RightOnline friends that question. They proposed that the answer might very well be that Republican electeds and party officials perceive their constituencies as far more conservative on these issues than they actually are. While that’s a testament to the (seems to be waning) power of the religious right, it’s also a sign of political homophobia. Such non-personal bigotry upheld by elected officials is also a problem on the left; plenty of Democratic electeds aren’t as supportive as they might otherwise be because they feel their constituencies aren’t.
There’s a clear mission here for right and left LGBT people and our allies. Political homophobia should be easy to overcome, especially as more and more evidence shows that the average citizen cares very little about anti-LGBT causes and, in fact, outright supports equality for LGBT people.