Is Hampton Roads Pride’s Primary Color Red?

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Illustration by Walt Taylor.

The story of the modern LGBT rights movement follows the story of my life.

I was born on June 24, 1969, the same week as the New York Stonewall riots triggered the modern LGBT rights movement. I became sexually aware in the mid-Eighties at the height of the AIDS epidemic. I watched in horror as Regan’s Republican administration dismissed AIDS as gay cancer and refused to even acknowledge its existence as the Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices upheld state laws criminalizing gay sex.

After the Clinton administration, the Republican hatred of the LGBT community again reared its head. In 2000, Republicans rose to power in large part due to its gay fear mongering. The party convinced citizens in dozens of states to back constitutional amendments recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman in order to protect the institution of marriage from the gay agenda.

Now, after eight years of the Obama administration, our electorate has once again swung to the right with the election of Donald Trump. The progress afforded our community during the Obama era is being all but erased before our very eyes. At breakneck speed, protections for employees of federal contractors have been gutted; protections for LGBT youth in schools have been eliminated; and any mention of the LGBT community in the census procedures has been eliminated.

Yet again, there is complete indifference to the AIDS epidemic, which recently led to the mass resignation of advisors to the president on AIDS issues due to Trump’s ignorance. On the state level, Republican legislative action to permit discrimination against the LGBT community in the name of religious liberty is afoot.

And there you have a clear picture of the Republican Party’s hatred of the LGBT community.

Against this backdrop, I am astonished that any member of the LGBT community would support the Republican agenda. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the leadership of Hampton Roads Pride, some members of which are registered Republicans with an affinity for Trump and active members of the Virginia Beach Young Republicans, a group whose mission is promoting Republican majorities at all levels of government.

One member of Pride’s leadership took to Facebook during the 2016 election cycle to advocate Rocky Holcomb, the successful Republican candidate for delegate who voted in favor of the unsuccessful religious freedom bill designed to legalize discrimination against the LGBT community. At least two of those leaders are staunch supporters of Scott Taylor who has a 100% voting record in support of Trump. And at last week’s Pridefest, both politicians walked out on the stage to declare (unconvincingly) their support of the LGBT community.

By far, the strongest evidence of Pride’s connection to the party of hate is its alliance with Gays For Trump, led by Scott Presler, leader of a known Alt-Right hate group and avid Donald Trump supporter. Gays for Trump’s presence at Pride was a slap in the face to the vast majority of the LGBT community. The group’s inclusion was even more acute for Muslims, given that Presler heads up ACT For America, a group that the Southern Poverty Law Center blacklists as a hate group.

 

The close relationship between leaders of Pride and the Republican Party should be troublesome for the queer community. They are out of touch with the interests of our people, especially those of us who have endured previous cycles of Republican rule.

To be fair, Pride has done many positive things for the LGBT community, and its leadership has done well at publicizing and taking credit for them. However, from my perspective, those achievements are overshadowed by Pride’s continued association with a political party that for decades has attempted to diminish the LGBT community.

At best, the support of the Republican Party by members of Pride’s leadership is a clear conflict of interest. At worst, it represents a complete ignorance of the history of Republican abuse of and indifference to the gay community over the past 40 years and a deliberate disregard for the experiences of those Pride members who lived through those years.

As a non-profit with a mission of charity and education, and the cultivation of unity, pride and diversity, Pride should never support or include any organization or individual with a political agenda other than one that advances the LGBT community. And yet, at this year’s Pridefest, we saw Republicans Scott Taylor and Rocky Holcomb march out on the stage and attempt to woo the crowd for their own political purposes.

Those choices are not just horrible judgment. They reflect the personal agendas of some of Pride’s leaders. I cannot fathom any reason why Pride found it appropriate to invite to Pridefest an avowed hate group and two Republican politicians who support the Trump anti-LGBT agenda. I can only speculate that that it was intended to demonstrate loyalty to the Republican establishment and raise the organization’s political profile within the Republican Party.

Every individual is entitled to personal political beliefs, and we are free to actively promote our personal political agendas. But Hampton Roads Pride claims to represent the entire spectrum of the Hampton Roads LGBT community, and its leadership should be held accountable by its members and the community for supporting ANY political candidates that are diametrically in opposition to our interests.

Pride has a long history of positive advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community. Its members—and the entire LGBT community­–deserve leadership that is fully committed to its history and its future.

Leadership that allies itself with the Republican Party cannot possibly be fully committed to either.

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