Servants of Misrule

Taking issue with Richard Grenell's mea culpa and grand old gaiety

People in scorned social positions can sometimes transcend their subservient roles by their wit. This is no substitute for a liberation movement, but it can offer a ray of hope during dark times. ”Golden Age” film actors Franklin Pangborn and Edward Everett Horton played comic supporting roles drenched in gay stereotypes, six decades before Sean Hayes on Will & Grace. Their confident performances, however, served as tacit rebukes not only to the equally foolish leading characters, but to film censors.

Much has changed in 80 years, but the ruling class can still mistreat its gay servants. This came to mind last week when Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney’s sharp-tongued, openly gay foreign policy spokesman, resigned after denunciations from the radical right. It was not the ‘phobes themselves who appear to have prompted his departure, but the boss’s refusal to reproach them, coupled with the campaign putting Grenell on ice.

Romney’s failure to back Grenell against his party’s extreme fringe demonstrated how that fringe holds him and the rest of the GOP hostage. Romney’s staffing decisions certainly don’t compare well with President Obama’s gay hires, from Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to White House social secretary Jeremy Bernard. But my question is why a gay person was eager to help the Republican Party in the first place.

I have not forgotten my recent statement that “it avails nothing to judge others’ choices by one’s own experience.” Given that roughly one-fourth of gay voters consistently vote Republican, we may as well make our peace with the fact that our oft-celebrated diversity includes diversity of opinion. We should respect gay Republicans’ belief in “low taxes, limited government, strong defense, free markets, personal responsibility, and individual liberty,” as DC Log Cabin puts it.

Let us ask, then, how Log Cabin’s cherished free markets are consistent with corporate welfare payouts like oil subsidies; how limited government and individual liberty are consistent with GOP attacks on reproductive choice and gay families; and for that matter how our hawkish president is weak on defense.

I was as unhappy as anyone with President Obama’s long equivocation on marriage. But even without his historic endorsement of marriage equality this week, it would dishonor our efforts not to recognize how vastly better he is than the alternative. Given Grenell’s advocacy of marriage equality, it was not unreasonable for Matthew J. Franck of The National Review to ask how quickly he would switch candidates if Obama endorsed it.

Grenell’s tweets insulting everyone from Michelle Obama to Rachel Maddow are not my main problem with him, any more than they are for Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association. My concern as an activist is more about policy than personalities. Bigots like Fischer cannot see past Grenell’s gayness. I see little sign that Grenell’s gayness influences his politics at all.

If gay Republicans’ sexual orientation is only a small part of their lives, as they often say, what are gay Republican groups for? If the goal is to make sexual orientation politically irrelevant, why support a party that scapegoats us, or candidates who pander to it? Why not restrict Republican-focused giving to gay-affirming candidates, as I did with the Republican New York state senators who voted for marriage equality?

The blind partisanship on view has not been symmetric. While progressives were arguing whether to abandon the most pro-gay president in history because he hadn’t given us everything, gay conservatives were aiding a party that aggressively incites a bigoted rabble to consolidate power for plutocrats. Instead of praising Obama’s embrace of marriage equality this week – even if it would merely be a pause from denouncing him for other reasons – Log Cabin used it as an excuse for an attack, making it painfully clear that they put their party first.

Grenell apologized for his tweets’ hurtfulness, but not for their juvenility. Paul Lynde had better material on the Hollywood Squares. If you are going to help our persecutors, at least offer us a higher class of insult.

Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at rrosendall@starpower.net.

The May 10 print edition of Metro Weekly contains a variation of this column, which has been amended online following President Obama’s May 9 affirmation of marriage equality.

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