Tuesday, August 23, 2011

#8. Gregory T. Angelo (Log Cabin Republican) - Someone with my opposite political beliefs who has held public office

Gregory T Angelo

Photo: ontopmag.com

It would not be unusual to find Gregory T. Angelo at a Kiwanis club in Missouri standing in front of a room full of people who think he is an abomination of the Lord.

Or maybe at a church in Mississippi shaking hands with people whose fathers and grandfathers would have shunned him or worse. Or making good with people who simply, have never met “one of those gays” before.

Greg’s willing to let them gawk. He tells them though our Constitution is informed by Christian principles, the Bible does not govern us. He sits through question-and-answer sessions. He listens to opinions. He doesn’t judge and he doesn’t condescend. He brings along other members of the LGBTQ community. He brings evangelical parents, like For the Bible Tells Me So’s Mary Lou Wallner whose lesbian daughter committed suicide after Mary Lou and her husband didn’t accept her. She speaks about the importance of acceptance, often telling groups: “It’s better to be kind than to be right.”

“Everything that they’ve seen and heard and read in the media hasn’t given them a good impression or even a realistic impression of what an average gay citizen of the United States is like,” he says. “[It’s] to really show these individuals that gay people are just like you and I. They’re trying to live just like you are, just trying to get by. They’d like to have a family. They’d like to be recognized with the same equal rights and protections that heterosexual couples have under the law and that everyone should have under the law.”

Gregory T. Angelo does all this because he is a gay Republican. To some people, that may as well read: “Gregory T. Angelo is a Jew supporting Hitler” or “Gregory T. Angelo is the Easter Bunny.”

I can vouch that he’s a real person. Greg is in his early thirties. He lives in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City, where he also serves as Republican District Leader, an elected position within the GOP.

In June, he started a new job as Executive Director of Liberty Education Forum, a nonpartisan, nonprofit think tank that advocates for the LGBTQ community to conservatives and people of faith. It is connected to Log Cabin Republicans, a branch of the GOP serving the LGBTQ community. There are 43 chapters of Log Cabin Republicans nationwide.

Greg is a church-going Christian. He watches ‘The O’Reilly Factor.’ He has light hair and light skin. He always wears an American flag lapel pin. He looks like a young Republican candidate for office might.

Greg says the kind of work he does in the Midwest, the South and the Heartland lays a foundation for eventual acceptance.

“Are you going to roll into Mississippi and speak to a church and the next legislative session pass marriage equality? No,” he says. “But could that get people in a community, especially if their story is covered by the news, to maybe think differently about their opposition to employment nondiscrimination, to maybe think differently about hate crimes legislation in their state? Yeah, it could.”

Log Cabin Republicans takes its name from the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln. The organization’s goal is to fight for equal rights while maintaining the core of the GOP: “individual liberty, personal responsibility and small government,” he says. They also campaign and fund raise for GOP candidates. Greg says, at its heart, the Republican Party is about equality, but “sometimes Log Cabin Republicans need to be there to nudge certain members of the party and remind them of that fact.”

Greg was born in Long Island and grew up in Connecticut. His father is a libertarian and his mother is a Republican. His father has never skipped voting in an election, a tradition Greg carries on. His mother spoke highly of Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush, and was critical of Democrats.

During Greg’s senior year majoring in English and Theatre Arts at Boston College, Greg’s father asked him point blank if he was gay. Already out to his sister and his friends, Greg decided not to lie. His mother cried.

His father wrote him a letter outlining the reasons being gay was a “terrible life choice,” mainly that he was condemning himself to die of AIDS. For most of the second semester of Greg’s senior year, they didn’t speak.

After some time, Greg moved in with a guy he’d been seeing and his parents invited their son and “his friend” to brunch. Greg’s boyfriend worked in finance and impressed his father with his intelligence. His mother was thrilled to see Greg’s relationship was committed and loving. Growth began. Just last week, Greg says, his mother told him that she recognizes the importance of the work of the Log Cabin Republicans. I tell Greg what he does now encourages strangers to evolve in the same way his parents have.

"I don’t like to psychoanalyze myself, but I have certainly seen firsthand, in a very personal way, how important it is and how far one individual can come when that type of one-on-one advocacy takes place," he says.

Beyond his family, most people Greg knew in college were Democrats. When he turned 18, he registered to vote as an independent. He was working as an editor at the time and didn’t want to taint his objectivity with an official political party. In 2007, he left his job in journalism. A year later, he was registered Republican. His liberal friends were horrified.

“Being a gay man, I had a cacophony of individuals who were really encouraging me to join the Democratic Party,” he says. He was also terrified to come out to his conservative friends. When he finally did, none of them reacted poorly. It showed Greg that the Republican Party doesn’t exist to hate gay people.

"The party leadership obviously understands to win elections we need to be inclusive and not exclusive. It flies in the face of what people will automatically and wrongly assume it means to be a Republican,” he says. “In my own personal experience, I have found I am far more accepted as a gay man in Republican circles than, in many cases, I am as a Republican in gay circles.”

To Greg, being a Republican means being self-determined, letting individuals make their own decisions, and being responsible for the consequences of those decisions for better or for worse, in life and in business. With Republicans, he says he agrees on 95 percent of the issues and disagrees strongly with 5 percent. With Democrats, the only issue he really agrees with them on is gay rights.

“I don’t believe equal rights is a partisan issue. …It shouldn’t be a Democratic issue or a Republican issue and I’m not particularly fond of people who play political football with my equal rights,” he says. He’d prefer to play the “politics game” within the Republican Party to get the laws he wants passed.

Hence, Log Cabin Republicans exist. It gives people like Greg a seat at the table within the Republican Party to push for those five percent of issues he disagrees with.

“It’s far easier for me to have a dialogue with someone when we agree on almost everything,” he says. “…To put it in practical terms, if you’re going to reach a conservative you need to speak to them as a conservative, and if you’re going to reach a person of faith, you need to speak to them as a person of faith.”

We talk a bit about gay pride parades. Greg laments that what was once a march for equal rights has turned into a party whose message “gets lost in all the rainbow confetti and glitter that gets thrown about” and feels it’s “non-exemplery of what it means to be gay in the 2011 United States.” But, he says, it’s not like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade really says anything about what it means to be Irish.

Most of the other gay Republicans Greg knows, he says, are not fans of the pride parade. They’re not wearing their sexuality on their sleeve, he says. Many are partnered. A lot are business owners.

“The bottom line is many just want to live their lives in quiet dignity. Their rights are important to them and achieving equal rights is important to them but the way to do it isn’t really to go out and bang a drum and make a lot of noise. It’s more so to make a difference within the party and to sit down with fellow Republicans and sit down with their partners, sit down with the foster children they’re taking care of, sit down and explain that they’re a business owner who is also not happy with the MTA payroll tax in New York and make the case that we are normal,” he says. Greg has met with people who think all gay men are hairdressers or fashion designers.

"You’re different people who just share a sexuality is what you’re saying?” I ask. “You’re allowed to have different politics."

Greg nods, “Correct.” Later, he says, “[In the 2012 election,] I think jobs are going to be the number one issue.”

I ask if he thinks economic issues will trump social issues.

"People say, ‘How could you possibly vote for someone running for President who doesn’t believe you should be married? …I can tell you that gay issues are not the only issue that is important to Log Cabin Republicans or to many gay people in this country who are maybe not even affiliated with Log Cabin Republicans. If you are an individual who has been unemployed for the last two years, and you lost your unemployment benefits, they’ve run out and your house is in foreclosure and you get into that voting booth come November 2012, what’s the most important thing to you?” he says.

“It’s a great myth of the left that they want people to believe that you need to be single issue voters and that you cannot vote for a Republican because Republicans don’t want you to get married and Republicans didn’t want to repeal ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ even though that was proven to be a fallacy. But in fact, we are not one-dimensional. No one is. At the end of the day it comes down to what is most important for you, as an individual and a voter.”

I tell him I think the GOP has a long way to go before people think it’s a cool party again. Greg says he doesn’t agree with the need to make a political party seem “sexy.”

“At the end of the day, we’re dealing with some very serious issues and not to introduce hyperbole but often times what you’re dealing with in politics is life or death,” he says. “It’s very serious. To say we need to focus our energies on making this cool…”

I interrupt, “But that’s why you lost to Obama, isn’t it?”

Greg laughs, “And what did you get out of that ultimately? There’s a lot of empty rhetoric and you have a lot of young people who were very enthusiastic to vote for a President who they thought was ‘cool’ that I don’t know, perhaps coming from a Republican background, I know many people who voted for Obama who, younger people who are dissatisfied.”

I ask if he thinks it’s moving them to vote Republican in 2012. Greg says he thinks so. I counter, saying people more closely identify the Republican Party with someone like Michele Bachmann who recently got lambasted in the press for not being clear about whether gay families are really “families.”

Greg says he would point to Michele Bachmann in general, as a glaring sign that Liberty Education Forum still has some tough work ahead.

“If you’re a let’s say, left wing extremist who is glitter bombing Republicans or chaining yourself to a White House fence or lying down in the middle of Times Square and stopping traffic to support equal rights, how sympathetic do you think Newt Gingrich or Michele Bachmann or Mitt Romney or Rick Perry is going to be to hearing you out? How effective do you think you’re going to be unless you’re able to get face to face with that person and say, ‘You know what? I’m just like you. I am. I’m a taxpayer. I’m living in this economy. I know people who are unemployed. I might be unemployed and the issues you care about I care about too,” he says.

"We disagree on so little and it’s mostly a misunderstanding so let’s talk about where we’re misunderstanding one another and let’s take it from there.”

Notes

  1. mickears reblogged this from 100interviews and added:
    Super interesting and thought provoking…
  2. fokakier21 reblogged this from 100interviews
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  6. thetrekkiehasthephonebox reblogged this from 100interviews and added:
    Very interesting…
  7. nhmortgagebroker reblogged this from 100interviews
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