As a gay Texan, I’ve found a place in the Republican tent

The Texas delegation was easy to spot on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio on July 18, 2016. Photo by Justin Dehn/The Texas Tribune

I never wanted to be identified as a “gay” Republican. It was a valid label, but not one I felt comfortable with. It was not the controversy of it that bothered me. It was not concern about being judged by the LGBT community or by the conservative right that bothered me. I just did not like the baggage that came along with it. Because it didn’t affect my political views.

I already had seen plenty of controversy from my work in two main areas of politics: The pro-life movement and criminal justice reform. The last thing I wanted to do was get involved in gay rights.

Then the “pastor protection” bill came up in 2015.

The legislation reiterated that conservative Christians have the right to live as they wanted to live — just like I wanted to. I waited around for hours to testify. I was surprised so many were testifying against the bill. I do not support unjust governmental discrimination, but it just made sense that people of any faith should practice and hold that faith as they desire as long as it is not harming another person.

That was the first time I testified as a “gay Texan.” I was terrified to say that in a room full of right wing pastors and left wing LGBT activists. I got through the testimony and was waiting to be dismissed, but then I won the lottery. That is what some activists call it when a committee member asks a follow up question.

One of the members asked, “So you're saying you can have deep disagreements with people and still treat them with respect?” I responded, “Absolutely, personally I have friends from Jonathan Saenz to a gay communist stripper.” That got a lot of laughs and a few tweets and stories mocking me.

Jonathan Saenz is the head of Texas Values and leads a lot of what is considered anti-gay legislation. We have disagreements but he's always been friendly and we work together on many pro-life issues. When you refuse to participate in personal attacks and focus on ideas, it is amazing the progress you can make.

After my testimony, things began to change. I was officially “out” and from much of the feedback, I saw the benefit to Christians of seeing someone be openly gay on the right. It broke the mold of LGBT people in their minds.

“Why are you a Republican?” That is the question I receive all the time. The answer is simple. There is no other place to go. Yes, I could become a Libertarian because I believe in small government, but then I would just be ineffectual. Yes, I could become a Democrat because they are more pro-gay, but then I'd have to give up almost every other political belief I have.

The Republican Party is a true big tent party. You would not know that from the news stories, but read between the lines. The media loves to talk about the infighting within the GOP, but why does that occur? Because we have so many different ideas and they come from the bottom up.

A few years back, there was an event with the chairs of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party of Texas. The head of the Democrats decided to mock then-Chair Steve Munisteri because of the floor fights Republicans had at their convention. The Democrat bragged about how they would never have such floor fights.

That is what solidified the Republican Party’s appeal for me. This was a party where there could be disagreement. You could form your own place in this party. And that is what I did.

That is how this openly gay, pro-life, medical marijuana advocate found his home in the GOP.

And if you don't believe the right is a place where LGBT people can find agreement, check out “We Pledge Texas” and see the growing list of right-leaning leaders and activists willing to put their name out there against unjust discrimination — including against LGBT people.

The views expressed here are solely those of the author.

Jason Vaughn

SREC liaison, Texas Young Republicans