1. What inspired you to speak out about your support for Hillary Clinton?
My primary motivation was that I think Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the Republic and cannot be trusted as Commander in Chief. That said, I also had to look at the host of social issues upon which Secretary Clinton and I agree -- one of which is LGBTQ equality. LGBTQ equality is a red line for me. That doesn’t mean perfection necessarily. It means I need to assure myself that a candidate’s heart is in the right place -- that they either have no history of advocating for or even tolerating a system of second class citizenship, or if they, like me, have made mistakes in the past that they meaningfully owned them and have demonstrated a change of heart through action.
2. You've mentioned reservations about Mr. Trump's vice presidential selection of Mike Pence, who has championed deplorable discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Can you elaborate?
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) that Mike Pence signed as Governor of Indiana was a dangerously extreme and mean spirited piece of legislation. One need only look at the people in the room when Pence signed it -- a who’s who of the fringe anti-LGBTQ movement. Its entire purpose was to allow a narrow minded few to deny fundamental rights, like public accommodation to LGBTQ Hoosiers.. Mike Pence participated in a bold faced assault on the LGBTQ community to curry favor with a certain set of the far Christian right in furtherance of a potential presidential bid. As a Christian myself, I find what he did an affront to my faith, and I find it unconscionable.
3. Mr. Trump has built his campaign upon false objectives that aim to elicit anger and fear. What are the dangers and consequences of this approach -- of pitting Americans against one another?
Donald’s no fool. He realized all along that he’d never be able to win on his merits. He exploited a vulnerability in the conservative base no other candidate would. Donald simply took the genie out of the bottle and normalized the far right fringe. These are not all bad people. Many of them just don’t know any better and they have been programmed to believe people that don’t look like them are responsible for their problems. When it comes to the LGBTQ community, conservative media has yielded to bigots thinly cloaked as theologians and conditioned to believe that the gay rights movement is an attack on their faith itself. Now that the tide has turned and equal rights for the LGB communities are less controversial, we see the same forces double down on attacking the trans community. The danger of Donald’s strategy is that it normalizes anger, resentment, even bigotry that was previously not socially acceptable. It turned out to be a great strategy to win the primary, and I think it’s a HUGE mistake for those of us who want to see his defeat at all costs to become complacent. People like Donald will do anything to win, and it’s a huge mistake to assume his certain defeat.
4. After what may come to be the most divisive presidential election our nation's history -- how do we move forward post-election and why is Hillary Clinton uniquely qualified to lead the way?
She’s shown a willingness to reach out to conservative minded independents and sane Republicans, and that’s what it takes. A great example is when she met with major leaders in law enforcement to hear their concerns – that may not be popular with some, but it was the right thing to do. In taking this meeting, she showed she has the maturity to do what’s necessary to navigate difficult issues, even when doing so is unpopular. That’s what this will take – reaching out to the (sane) right and standing up from time to time to progressives who can sometimes be as unreasonable as the conservative base.
5. You've described LGBTQ equality as an issue of morality for you. What's at stake for the progress of civil rights in this election?
The notion of today’s Republican party controlling both houses of Congress and the White House is scary – they’ve simply become way too extreme. It’s not just about LGBTQ equality -- it’s about the right to vote, the right of my daughters (and all women) to determine the course of their own medical care based on their values, not values held by some imposed on all. It’s about who and what we are as a country.
6. You said in your USA Today op-ed that after the withdrawal of your preferred candidate, Gov. John Kasich, your initial instinct was to keep silent. What inspired you to speak out about your support of Hillary Clinton?
Honestly, it was being at the Republican Convention. I went to speak at an event highlighting pro-LGBTQ Republicans, and I’m glad I did. But the content of that convention was as heartbreaking for me as a conservative as it was scary to me as an American, much less a black American. That convention’s theme was “The sky is falling. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Oh, and really be afraid of the Muslims, the Mexicans, the Blacks. And, oh by the way the, Gays are out to take over your churches and take away your guns.” Then when I saw Trump attack the Khan family? It was just too much. I had to say something.
7. What are the costs of sitting this Election out?
A country like we haven’t seen since the Civil War. This isn’t an election -- this is an existential battle for the heart and soul of America. Voting isn’t optional. It’s life or death (as to the future of this country as we know it), especially for the LGBTQ Community. I understand that people of my political persuasion have treated the LGBTQ community badly, and it’s inexcusable. Remember, I myself have had to face the reality that I processed a lot of sailors out of the Navy for being gay while I was serving. And that’s a burden I have to carry, but I’ve changed. My heart has changed. Part of the reason my heart has changed is the many guides I had from within the LGBTQ community who were patient with me when I got a letter or a word wrong, who were always there to answer my questions and realized that my effort and intentions were genuine even if imperfect. That’s the standard you should hold conservatives to. Are they on the right path? If so, how can we help get further along? Please, be patient with those of us whose hearts are in the right place when we get a word or a letter wrong. Have some faith that I’m prepared to put my vote, my time and my mouth where my heart is, and that nothing short of full equality for you is acceptable to me.
Paid for by Human Rights Campaign Equality Votes and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.