On Monday last, Jimmy LaSalvia, who co-founded the U.S. Republican LGBT group, GOProud, announced on his website that he has left the Republican Party, and has become independent.
LaSalvia wrote on his blog:
Today [Monday], I joined the ranks of unaffiliated voters. I am every bit as conservative as I've always been, but I just can't bring myself to carry the Republican label any longer. You see, I just don't agree with the big-government 'conservatives' who run the party now.
I was somewhat stunned when I first came across Jimmy LaSalvia, when I learned about his heavy involvement in, and endorsement of, the Republican Party. During the 2012 U.S. Presidential campaign, LaSalvia's endorsement of Mitt Romney -- ignoring, and sometimes excusing, Romney's own homophobic views -- was incomprehensible to me. LGBT Republicans in the U.S. were left with little choice, admittedly, if they wanted to see a Republican president stop Obama from achieving a second term. I'm pretty certain, however, that the majority of LGBT Republican voters with half a conscience would have forsaken their political views to vote for Obama, who has had an undeniably positive effect on LGBT rights during his presidency. Naturally, LGBT rights are not the only issue that concerns LGBT Americans, but I cannot fathom a voter who would support a politician with distain for the LGBT community. LaSalvia, as co-founder of GOProud, must have felt politically obliged to publicly support Romney during his campaign, but when he did, I lost all respect for him.
This week's announcement, however, will be seen as a rebirth for LaSalvia by his supporters. As LaSalvia states, a new poll came out last week, which shows a record number of Americans -- 42 percent -- reject both major political parties, and identify as independents. Republicans, meanwhile, are at a historic low of only 27 percent.
Is he simply jumping ship, in that case? It could be argued so, but to jump ship without serious thought would be reckless, and he would only damage his own reputation if he left the GOP without a good reason. That reason, according to his blog, is enough for LaSalvia to be forgiven for previous errors:
The other reason I am leaving is the tolerance of bigotry in the GOP. The current leadership lacks the courage to stand up to it - I'm not sure they ever will.
I have worked hard to help to create an atmosphere on the right where conservatives can openly support gay Americans and even support same-sex marriage. In that effort, we have won, but there is more work to do to root out the anti-gay and other forms of bigotry in the party.
Naturally, there are many LGBT Americans who would consider themselves as conservative. The United States is no different to Canada, France, Ireland or the United Kingdom in that regard. Those four latter countries, however, have attained a minimum standard of equality for LGBT people, and therefore, those people can focus their attention on other issues, such as taxation, employment and reform. A vote for the Republican Party strikes me as a vote backwards in terms of social development; not just in terms of LGBT issues, but in many Republican politicians' attitudes to the rights of women and immigrants (despite the United States, ironically, having been built on the efforts and hopes of immigrants).
LaSalvia, in that case, has joined an often-overlooked third group in American politics. He can maintain his views and ideals as a conservative, without having to sacrifice his integrity as a gay man. In a political environment where the label 'gay Republican' is sometimes perceived as a sub-class of Republican -- tolerated, maybe, but neither understood nor welcome -- it is not certain what will become of GOProud. After all, what credibility can a group have, when one of its own founders no longer believes in the party it is part of? Undoubtedly, GOProud will feign an air of 'we don't need you anyway', but without its star speaker, the group will need to examine their options carefully.
For Jimmy LaSalvia, the news of his departure from the Republican Party has been well received by many of his fans, and in restoring his dignity, may have gained him a few new ones.
This article was first published in EILE Magazine on January 15, 2014.