“Coming out as gay now is the easiest thing in the world,” says Anthony “Rek” LeCounte. “No one has a problem with it, especially in D.C.”
Coming out as Republican? Not so much.
“I’ll often find myself trying to talk around my political views in conversations with folks in D.C. or in New York or New Haven, in ways I’m much less likely to do when it comes to my being gay,” says the 27-year old Arlington resident and board member of the D.C. Log Cabin Republicans. “It’s harder navigating the question of, ‘When do you make the reveal that you’re a Republican and how do you squeeze that in there?'”
That’s not to say that coming out gay was simple for LeCounte, who was raised in a close-knit conservative military family by devout evangelical parents. His father, an Army officer, is also an ordained minister. Despite their religious beliefs, his parents eventually came to accept his sexual orientation, as well as his relationship with his boyfriend.
“My parents are conservative Christians,” says LeCounte. “They’re still not going to be going to any gay pride parades or anything like that. I don’t see them joining PFLAG or anything. I don’t know how they square what their thoughts on my being gay are with the church. I’m under the impression they think it’s a sin, but I’m not actually sure. They’re working through that their own way, and as long as our relationship continues to be warm, I’m happy to let them develop as they will.”
The oldest of four children, LeCounte spent his childhood moving to various army bases: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, even Germany. The constant moving forced him to learn how to adapt to new situations and make new friends quickly. It’s a skill LeCounte has carried into adulthood, charming people with his outgoing nature, intelligence, and warm Southern drawl.
Given his family’s conservative background, it’s not surprising that LeCounte eventually gravitated to the Republican Party. What’s also not surprising — particularly in our current political climate — is that people often take issue with the fact that he’s a Republican who happens to be both gay and African-American.
“I’ve had a number of folks make crazy remarks at bars or on Facebook. A number of people have defriended me because of it,” he says. “I had an acquaintance who I ran into at a bar, and we chatted for a little bit. Later, he texted me and said something to the effect of ‘I’d forgotten you were a Log Cabin Republican, and like there’s nothing more disgusting to me than a Log Cabin Republican.’ And I responded, ‘Okay, well, you have a good night, too.'”
LeCounte points out that Log Cabin hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves for working within the GOP to advance LGBTQ rights.
“A lot of folks don’t realize, for example, that the lawsuit that led to the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ was a Log Cabin lawsuit,” he says. “Or that the Log Cabin Republicans submitted a white paper to the Trump administration about the executive order. [National Log Cabin President] Gregory Angelo has been in constant consultation with folks on the transition team, and later, in the administration, and has a bunch of them on speed dial. We’re making progress behind the scenes. We are getting folks who agree with us. We are turning the tide on a lot of LGBT rights issues from a Republican perspective.”
Asked why the organization he belongs to hasn’t gotten a fair shake, LeCounte targets the staff at some national LGBTQ organizations.
“There’s a saying in politics that ‘personnel is policy,'” he says. “A lot of these nonpartisan groups are staffed by aggressively left-wing progressive folks who, even if their organization say, ‘We believe X, Y, and Z,’ have their own biases which then affect their decisions. If an LGBT candidate is pro-life, or supports gun rights, or holds a bunch of other conservative positions that run deeply counter to what the progressive movement is doing, a lot of these groups don’t want to be associated with those kind of candidates. So they’ll either endorse against or they’ll just pretend the candidate doesn’t exist.”
That situation is further complicated by the “two-front war” Log Cabin must wage, not only against the Left, but from extreme social conservatives within the Republican Party, who wear hostility towards the LGBTQ community as a badge of honor. LeCounte believes that they are a dwindling minority, even within the GOP.
“There’s the sense now that the mainstream of America is pro-LGBT, and therefore, the party needs to, at the very least look like it’s moving in that direction. Even if there’s still some policy disputes,” he says. “So a lot of the rank-and-file Republicans find in Log Cabin a way to reach out directly to the LGBT community, or at the very least, ways to be and seem more inclusive.”
Although LeCounte was not a Trump supporter in last year’s election — he felt Trump was insufficiently conservative — he is keeping an open mind when it comes to policy, preferring to score the president’s job performance on an issue-by-issue basis.
He is concerned, however, about the highly partisan nature of politics in Washington that threatens to keep Trump supporters and opponents in separate silos.
“I think there’s a mutually reinforcing epistemic closure where President Trump isn’t talking to a lot of the folks who could probably help him policy wise,” he says. “And a lot of those people aren’t willing to help because apparently even just sitting on his economic counsel is grounds for people to boycott your company.” He points to the recent boycott of Uber, believed to be friendly to the Trump administration until it pulled away.
“I think Trump would probably be more amenable to hearing some criticism and changing his mind about things, if there were a sense that it was being offered as constructive criticism,” LeCounte says. “We need folks who are Democrats or libertarian or even nonpartisan being willing to work with the administration to offer better ideas, good ideas, course corrections, and to do it from a place where they’re willing to say, ‘Yeah, I’m working with the administration to do this. I’m going to own part of this, too. This is a team effort.'”
METRO WEEKLY: When did you first realize you were a conservative Republican?
ANTHONY “REK” LECOUNTE: When I was in high school, I was Democrat, but I was a pretty conservative one, because I was an evangelical Christian. I actually used to listen to Christian talk radio on my way to and from school. I listened to Focus on the Family with James Dobson and some other conservative talk radio, so I always had Christian conservative-style views.
Then, I kind of swung hard libertarian. I read half of Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I went into college as this libertarian democrat, and then swung pretty hard left because of Yale.
MW: What about Yale changed your views, particularly if Atlas Shrugged appealed to you?
LECOUNTE: The social aspect of college. I was surrounded all the time by people who were just incredibly far left, and left in a way that I had never really experienced before. Growing up, a Democrat was a Mark Warner-style Democrat, or a Joe Manchin, or a Bill Nelson. Liberals were not that liberal. Especially in the military. Views in the military run the gamut, but all the Democrats were much more like working-class Democrats. When I went to Yale, everyone was aggressive, Marx-reading social Democrats, quoting Europe or citing Europe for every policy.
I started to realize that, on a lot of things, I was kind of out of sync. It gradually reached a crescendo by senior year when I realized that I was skeptical of a lot of the policy goals [of liberals]. The entire social justice movement made me uneasy. Identity politics has always made me uncomfortable and has always struck me as everything that’s wrong with politics, and so that was a source of friction.
Then the Tea Party rose up, and I remember having conversations where I’d say, “Some of the stuff they’re saying, they have a point,” or “Some of the criticisms you’re launching are just really unfair for these folks.” While that was happening, my conservative friends were increasing in number and I was having more conversations with them. They were having me look at other sources of information. I started reading stuff like National Review, and Heritage — this was before The Daily Signal — CATO, and Reason, and I started seeing alternate points of view that started making a lot of sense.
In 2012, I realized, “Holy crap. I think I’m Republican.” So I made the switch, went out and volunteered for Mitt Romney, voted for Mitt Romney, and got my job in right-leaning politics, and it was off to the races from there.
[callout]Read: LGBTQ Letters to President Trump[/callout]
MW: Do you feel your military upbringing influenced your political leanings?
LECOUNTE: Certainly. The military is a very right-leaning community, but not necessarily in the ways a lot of folks think. There is a lot of the traditional “three-legged stool” Republicanism — you know, social conservatism, economic conservatism and foreign policy, obviously. But a lot of folks in the military are just libertarian.
A lot of that comes down to the environment you’re in. If you’re in the military, as a service member or a dependent, your entire life is heavily regulated by the government. Your kids go to federal government schools. You go to government doctors. A lot of times, you’re doing your shopping at government stores. You see, in just about everything you do, what a command economy looks like, and it’s really inefficient and frustrating and limiting. It leaves a lot of folks thinking, “Man, free markets are awesome.”
You get this sort of libertarian atmosphere where one of the most popular bumper stickers I remember seeing was “Government philosophy: If it ain’t broke, fix it till it’s broke.” You say that to anyone with military experience, whether as a dependent or a service member, and they’ll immediately relate and have stories for you. I feel that sort of experience really primes you for a more libertarian world view.
MW: Have you ever experienced any pushback from the African-American community because you are Republican?
LECOUNTE: The simple answer is yes. I actually got into this heated argument at a gay bar last week. A few Black Lives Matter protesters were there, and they weren’t protesting, just having a drink. I was there with some Republicans and they realized that we were a Republican group, so they came over to talk to us.
Initially, they were friendly. We were happy to talk to them. Then they brought up Black Lives Matter, and I had a mild disagreement about a tactical question and they flew off the handle. Within half-an-hour, one of them was shouting “You’re a traitor to your race. You’re a self-hating black man.” One said, “I protest so that we can have fewer people like you. So I can stop people like you.”
Those incidents, fortunately, don’t happen too often now, but if I make a mistake and I’m walking down the street in D.C. with any kind of Republican paraphernalia there will be comments. Especially in 2012, I would wear my Romney/Ryan pin and more than a few times someone on the Metro would just have very choice remarks. Every so often, they would threaten violence. On four or five different occasions, I’ve almost been the victim of a hate crime for two reasons: once for being gay, and the others for being a Republican while black.
MW: Have these altercations ever turned physical?
LECOUNTE: They would have, but I managed to remove myself from the situation. Two of them were on the Metro. In one case, there was a Metro worker who wasn’t inciting the incident, but was very approvingly standing by the guy who was. It was an awful situation.
That’s part of why I generally don’t go around with Republican paraphernalia that’s visible anymore. Nowadays, you just don’t know. It’s kind of par for the course. You’re used to it. Sen. Tim Scott got up and gave a speech a couple days ago about how he got all manner of invective for supporting Jeff Sessions’ nomination for attorney general. He read some of the tweets that folks were sending him. They were calling him a “house negro,” which I’ve been called. I’ve also been called a “house faggot.” It’s just kind of par for the course if you’re a minority Republican. There are certain comments you know you’re going to get.
MW: Why is that?
LECOUNTE: Because a lot of folks take politics personally. In a way that I think conservatives, like myself, try not to. Instead of just saying, “Oh, this person disagrees with me. That’s interesting,” a lot of folks take it as a personal affront that you disagree with them, especially if you disagree with them as a black man or a gay man or a woman.
MW: Do you expect more African-Americans to become Republicans as time goes on?
LECOUNTE: I hope so. I’ve noticed that in the last couple of elections, young black voters, especially young black male voters, vote significantly more republican than older black voters, and obviously, more than black women. In 2012, for example, among young black men, a full one-fifth of them voted for Mitt Romney. I don’t know what the numbers were for Trump, but it’s probably higher this time around. [Editor’s note: Only 13% of African American men voted for Trump, with just 9% of African Americans 18-29 — regardless of gender — voting for him. Source: Mic.]
I would expect that as a lot of those folks grow older, and as the Republican party makes more of an effort to be inclusive to black voters and actually starts to show up, you will see a lot more folks voting Republican. What that will look like and to what degree the Republican Party will capitalize on that, I have no idea. I would hope that within a few election cycles we get to a point where a Republican getting double digits of the black vote is normal and expected. And then a dam will break, because once it becomes normal to see black Republicans, it will encourage a lot of other folks to say, “Hey, I don’t have to be a Democrat.” Then things will get interesting.
MW: As a group, LGBTQ people overwhelmingly identify as Democrat. Why do you think that is?
LECOUNTE: A lot of it comes down to historical Republican opposition to the LGBT rights movement, which is understandable. Republicans bitterly opposed same-sex marriage. Of course, Democrats did, too, but the Republicans were a little bit more enthusiastic about it. Republicans pushed a lot of the marriage amendments that are still in the constitutions of thirty-something states. Republicans, to this day, are opposing a lot of the trans rights stuff. So I think a lot of LGBT folks see Republicans as the party of the opposition to their civil rights.
There are also a lot of folks in the Republican party who are happy to take up that mantle. I think those folks are a shrinking minority of the party, but there’s a lot of them, and they’re pretty loud. For that reason, a lot of LGBT folks take Democrat versus Republican very, very personally in a way that I find completely understandable.
MW: Do you feel that more LGBTQ people would become Republican if the Party stopped its opposition to our rights?
LECOUNTE: I think so. I know a lot of gay people who have conservative ideas about national defense or economic policies or various social issues that are not gay rights. I think a lot of those folks would be more willing to identify as Republican if they didn’t feel that by doing so they were running counter to their interest in terms of issues like same-sex marriage or anti-discrimination laws.
MW: What do you view as the difference between being a conservative and being a Republican?
LECOUNTE: To be Republican is more of a partisan tribal kind of identification. It’s “This is my team, this is my coalition, I’m invested in this Party’s agenda, this Party’s goals, this Party’s candidates.”
Being a conservative is more about a philosophy. Some folks are conservatives first, and they’re Republicans because that is the closest thing to a conservative. Some folks are Republicans first, and they are conservative when the Republican Party’s conservative, and they’re not conservative when the Republican Party’s not.
I’m more of a conservative first, a libertarian-leaning conservative. And to the extent that the Republican Party is the best vehicle to promote the conservative and libertarian policy goals, that’s the umbrella that I want to work within. If at some point, it somehow became the case that Democrats were much better on a lot of those issues that I care about, then I would happily support either a particular Democratic candidate or even the Democratic Party at large. For now, though, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
MW: You were famously one of the “Never Trump” Republicans during the last campaign. Do you feel Donald Trump is a conservative, or is he just a Republican?
LECOUNTE: Well, he’s definitely Republican. I think, more than anything, the president is a populist. He wants to do what the American people really want, and especially the things that they want that run counter to elite opinion.
For example, elites love trade deals. A lot of voters don’t, so Trump wants to represent the voters who don’t like those. Similarly, with immigration or other issues. I think his goal and the way he sees himself is to represent the folks whose voices aren’t usually heard. Sometimes, that veers him towards the conservative direction. He favors tax cuts and he has appointed a conservative, libertarian-leaning Supreme Court justice. But sometimes that leans in a complete other direction, like with protectionism, for example. Conservatives are generally very anti-protectionist. We don’t like tariffs, and we’re generally very fond of trade deals.
MW: Have you changed your mind about Trump from how you viewed him during last year’s campaign?
LECOUNTE: I think the campaign is one thing, and the administration is another. I sort of take a similar approach to Trump that I did to President Obama. When President Trump does things I agree with, I’m going to praise him, and when he does things I disagree with, I’m going to oppose him. I’m just taking it issue by issue, trying to influence him to do the things I support the way I would any other president.
MW: Based on what you’ve seen so far, do you largely agree or disagree with his actions as president?
LECOUNTE: It’s a bit of a mixed bag. I think he’s done some encouraging things. He’s done some frustrating things. Mostly, though, he hasn’t done much yet.
MW: What’s the best thing you think he’s done?
LECOUNTE: The Gorsuch pick, by a mile. I’m very excited about the Gorsuch pick. That is the happiest I’ve been about politics since November 2014.
MW: What’s the worst thing you think he’s done?
LECOUNTE: Probably the travel ban, or whatever we’re calling that. I have a very Christian perspective about refugees and taking care of the victims of horrific situations around the world, especially in a situation where we had a hand in why it’s that bad. Seeing that translators who worked with us in Iraq who finally got their visas are now being turned away at the airport is very frustrating.
The administration does seem to be figuring out some of the things that work, and figuring out some of the things that they should be doing differently, and so I hope that’s one of the things where cooler heads will prevail, but I guess we’ll see.
MW: Do you think the LGBTQ community has been overreacting to some of the actions taken by the Trump administration?
LECOUNTE: There was an article — I think it was in The Washington Post — that said something to the effect of “Not every Trump outrage is outrageous.” I think a lot of folks are inclined to think the worst of the new administration, and so every time they hear a whiff of rumor of something awful, they’ll dial it up to 11 immediately, even if the rumor was never credible or it wasn’t clear where it was going to go, or whatever.
I think a more productive approach that a lot of conservatives are taking is: “Relax, let’s wait and see what’s going to happen. Let’s actually find out if this thing is actually unprecedented or if it’s just an ordinary thing.”
MW: Do you think that people should take Trump at his word when he promises to do things like signing the First Amendment Defense Act, or fulfill other promises that he’s made to social conservatives, or is that just pandering for political reasons?
LECOUNTE: I think candidate Trump was trying to get those people to feel like their concerns were heard, without necessarily giving them everything they want. Because candidate Trump made a point of saying like, “I’m going to be pro-LGBT.” The quote was “You can expect forward motion on LGBT rights in this administration.”
To the extent that he’s not actually done anything to undermine LGBT rights in any meaningful way — maintaining the order, saying that, for him, same-sex marriage is a solved issue — LGBT rights groups, as well as LGBT voters, should keep their powder dry. If he actually promoted the First Amendment Defense Act to undo the anti-discrimination laws, then that’s a reason to get up in arms, but for now he doesn’t seem to be pushing that at all. I’m not aware of any serious push within Congress. I think that last session, they didn’t even get it out of the House. It’s definitely not getting out of the Senate. So it’s never going to get to his desk to sign or veto.
MW: How do you feel about Mike Pence?
LECOUNTE: I would love to meet him in person. He seems like he would be a very, very Midwestern guy, in the most salt-of-the-earth, folksy, down-home sort of way. I get the sense that he doesn’t actually want to be controversial. When the Indiana fight happened over the original Religious Freedom Rights Act, [critics] came out and they said this is awful for these reasons. Mike Pence went back and said, “All right, change the law.” And they changed the law, and he signed it.
I think he doesn’t get enough credit for the fact that he did call for the law to be changed and he did sign to change the law, which he didn’t have to do. Again, that’s something folks like [North Carolina Gov.] Pat McCrory just didn’t do. That has to count for something.
MW: How do you respond to people who say, “You’re young, gay, African-American, and Republican. Why are you a Republican?” Do you have an elevator speech or any explanation that you would give to them?
LECOUNTE: I really should work on an elevator speech. I’ve been thinking about ways to do that. It’s really context-specific. Sometimes, to be honest, I’ll just ignore the question if I don’t feel like answering it.
But when I am in the mood to answer the question, the simple version is I am a young, black, gay man who was mugged by reality, and I don’t want that to happen again. I’m a guy who gets a paycheck and I want to keep more of my paycheck. I’m a guy whose family is in the military, and I want to know that our military’s keeping us safe and that we’re looking out for our military. I’m a guy who’s mom was a military police officer, and I want to know that our policies around law enforcement are productive and fair for both suspects and the accused, as well as safe and fair for law enforcement.
I’m a gun owner who wants to make sure that my gun rights are being protected. I’m a person of faith who cares that religious liberty continues to exist in this country. I’m a person who cares deeply about education policy, and I want to know that my kids, if or when I have any, will be able to go to good schools and that we will have a serious degree of choice in terms of being able to make sure they’re well-educated.
On a lot of those issues, the Republicans in general and conservatives have the right ideas about how to move forward, whereas Democrats are off in the wrong direction. Democrats are, obviously, not at all pro-gun anymore. A lot of them oppose school choice. They have various opinions about the military that I’m a little bit skeptical of. While, yes, I might disagree with where the Republican Party stands on LGBT issues right now, as far as being black and young, the Republican Party has loads to offer me that I think the Democratic Party does not.
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