An interview with lesbian feminist Republican Sarah Longwell
Like the unicorn and the mermaid, the lesbian Republican has long been believed to be a creature of myth. However, in a universe of possibilities, it is inevitable that politically conservative LGBT women do exist. The difficulty lies in finding them.
“Republican lesbians are more like four-leaf clovers,” jokes Sarah Longwell, the Vice-Chair of the Log Cabin Republicans, America’s largest organization representing LGBT conservatives and their allies. “They exist,” she says, “but there aren’t many, and you’re lucky when you find one.”
Roughly 10% of the members of Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) are women, according to the organization’s president, Gregory T. Angelo. Sarah Longwell is one of them. She is, in many ways, how you would picture a conservative woman—she’s bright, educated, gainfully employed, a wife and soon-to-be mom. What makes her stand out is that she also identifies as a lesbian.
Here, Longwell answers questions about Republican policy with regard to LGBT issues, and explains the reason why she is a gay conservative.
AfterEllen.com: You’re a lesbian and a Republican? What? How is such a thing possible?
Sarah Longwell: I knew I was a conservative long before I knew I was gay. Individual liberty, self-reliance and minimal intrusion from the government into our lives made sense to me from a young age. When I realized I was gay in my early/mid-20s, I didn’t see a reason to abandon my political beliefs. I hadn’t yet realized the world would think that a gay Republican was such a bizarre concept. To me, being gay and a Republican were two completely compatible parts of my identity.
AE: There are people in your party who really, really hate gays. There are gay people who believe it’s morally wrong to associate yourself with a party that associates itself with them. What’s your take?
SL: Anyone who believes either of those things is wrong.
Look, I totally get why LGBT people are frustrated by the notion that someone would belong to a party that actively works to discriminate against them. But many of us who choose to stay in the party do so because we believe it’s the best way to push the party toward change. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. They have a lot harder time discriminating against you when they know you’re in the room. So it’s important to be visible, vocal and in the room. That will get all of us further than being mad and throwing stones from the outside.
Also—and this is important—Republicans who oppose gay rights are actually acting contrary to conservative ideals, which pivot around individuals being able to maximize freedom and forming strong family units so that people can take care of themselves, as opposed to the government having to do it. Real conservatives should WANT gay people to get married. A Federal Amendment banning gay marriage isn’t the least bit conservative. That’s why there’s currently a battle going on for the soul of the Republican Party. Will it return to its core values of individual liberty and personal responsibility, and work to add more people to its ranks? Or will it continue this slow suicide by focusing on social issues and repelling young, minority and female voters? You can’t win elections with a subtraction strategy.
AE: Is it possible to be a feminist and a Republican?
SL: Of course. I think the term feminist has become unnecessarily loaded down with political baggage. Assuming that feminism is simply the desire for men and women to be treated equally, then I think you’d find that many, if not most, Republican women (and men) could call themselves feminists. I certainly would. Unfortunately, the word feminist now comes with so many preconceived notions about your stance on things like abortion rights or wage issues, etc., that Republicans have a hard time identifying with it.
AE: Caitlyn Jenner said that coming out as a trans woman was nothing compared to coming out as a Republican. Can you relate?
SL: Sort of. For a social group that claims to value tolerance and diversity, there’s not always much tolerance from liberals for a diverse set of opinions around politics.
AE: Whom do you find more intolerant—Republicans of gay people or gay people of Republicans?
SL: I can’t generalize on this. I’ve seen intolerance from both sides. Luckily, however, my primary experience has been that people take you as you are and love you no matter what—gay, Republican, whatever.
Most of my friends are socially liberal and were great and supportive when I came out. But as I made new lesbian friends, they were always shocked and a bit dismayed to learn I am a Republican.
But that isn’t everyone’s experience. If your social circle is primarily comprised of evangelical conservatives, they’re going to likely take your coming out as gay or trans worse than you telling them you’re a Republican.
I had close friends who were evangelicals who acted like they felt sorry for me when I came out to them. And gave me a “love the sinner, hate the sin” speech. Several told me they’d never be able to come to my wedding. These were people I was pretty tight with, whose weddings I certainly attended.
So how people react has a lot to do with how they see the world.
AE: Do you believe the Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it legalized gay marriage in all 50 states?
SL: Nope. I think it stepped just right.
AE: LCR endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012. Looking back, especially with regard to gay marriage, do you think he would still have been the wiser choice?
SL: I think Mitt Romney would have made an overall better President than Barack Obama, and ultimately I don’t think it would have changed the course of history on gay marriage.
AE: Ok, I’m going to go there. This question is one word: Trump?
SL: I’m #NeverTrump.
AE: I think a lot of women, in particular, gay women, stay away from the party because of its stance on abortion. Do you see a way around this?
SL: Yes. I think the GOP is due for an overhaul in its tone on a wide variety of issues. You can be a proponent of legal immigration, of traditional marriage, and of pro-life policies without sounding hostile toward immigrants, the LGBT community or women. John Kasich has been doing a relatively good job of this and so did Jeb Bush when he was in the race. I’m not saying a more compassionate tone will automatically send women flocking, but they may not be so turned off that they stop listening to everything else that you’re saying. I think women would feel more comfortable voting for a candidate—even if he or she were pro-life—if they felt like that candidate legitimately understood and cared about women’s health issues.
AE: Final thoughts?
SL: I don’t align myself with a political party as much as I do a set of core beliefs—I believe a free market will provide better economic solutions than the government will, I believe in the right to self-determination, I believe excessive regulation chokes innovation, etc. And more often than not, the Republican party is the party championing those same beliefs.
The GOP champions many ideas with which I disagre—its opposition to gay marriage chief among them. But in a two-party system, I’ll go with the party that represents my beliefs 80 percent of the time and fight with them over the other 20 percent.
I’ve been a vocal advocate for marriage equality and nondiscrimination within the Republican Party. My wife and I are expecting our first child, and I don’t want him to grow up in a world where he’s told there is something wrong or immoral about his family.