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A local D.C. man’s Twitter thread detailing a conversation in which he convinced his 94-year-old Republican grandmother to vote for Joe Biden and other Democrats because of the GOP’s anti-LGBTQ policies has gone viral.
Brennan Suen tweeted that his grandmother has “always voted Republican,” but after two Supreme Court justices said they wanted to overturn marriage equality, he called her crying and said that “Republicans are trying to take away our right to marry, adopt, access health care.”
“I told her a vote for Republicans was a vote that would harm me and my future. I told her I was scared,” he wrote. “And today, my grandmother promised me she would vote for Joe Biden…. She told me that I’m the love of her life and that she would not break her promise.”
Suen, an employee of a left-leaning media advocacy organization, told Metro Weekly in an interview that he had been reticent about approaching his grandmother, who lives in Arkansas, about her political affiliation.
But after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and watching a Facebook Live video from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Suen decided he needed to have a potentially difficult conversation with his grandmother.
“I remember [Ocasio-Cortez] saying that we all have someone that only we can get to,” he recalls. “I have a very close relationship with my grandmother, and I always have. She’s always been extremely supportive of me, but the one thing that has always upset me is knowing she votes Republican. And she’s from the kind of generation where you don’t necessarily talk about politics or controversial stuff like that.”
Suen says that while his grandmother is not a devout Trump follower or outright hostile to Democrats, she is used to voting Republican out of habit.
“I don’t talk to her about politics much,” he says. “I’ve just seen the RNC letters come to her, and I assume she’s a Republican because of the economy — and, though I’ve never talked to her about Reagan — one of those people who glorifies the Reagan days. But she is a wonderful person. She’s never done anything but support me. But that was my fear, going into our conversation, that she’s just done something one way for so long that it would be hard to change.”
Suen says he worried about damaging his relationship with his grandmother, who was accepting of him when he came out.
“When I was younger, I had told her I was going to name my kids after her. And when I came out to her, she grabbed my hands and said, ‘Well, I hope you’re still naming your kid after me,'” he recalls. “I had to go to the bathroom because we were at a restaurant, and I was crying because it was so thoughtful. She is a wonderful woman. She is not a [social] conservative, but I think she just doesn’t get a ton of information, and has just always voted Republican.”
Realizing that absentee and mail-in ballots were being sent out to voters ahead of November’s election, after several false starts, Suen eventually broached the topic of the election with his grandmother.
“The entire conversation moved very quickly, because I just got very emotional. Professionally, I’m an LGBTQ advocate, and I just see the negative aspects of what the administration and the Right have been doing over the last four years,” he says. “She asked me how work was, and I started talking to her about how hard it’s been to work at this time, and I talked to her specifically about Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito intending to overturn the Obergefell decision,” he says, referring to the 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
“I said, ‘I know that you have your beliefs and that you always vote Republican. But I want you to know what it means for me.’ And I told her that the Republican platform says that they want to appoint judges who will overturn marriage equality and roll back LGBTQ rights. I told her what the administration has been doing to combat access to health care for LGBTQ people and that they’re trying to make it worth legal to discriminate against LGBTQ people. And I was crying.”
Suen says his grandmother quickly tried to comfort him, and listened to his concerns.
“I wasn’t ever planning to give her an ultimatum. I told her, ‘I understand that you might be doing differently, but I want you to know that it will hurt me. And it does hurt me to know that you could vote that way.’ She said, ‘I won’t vote for them…. I will not vote for the Republicans, I promise you.'”
Suen clarified that his grandmother was promising to vote for Joe Biden for president and Joyce Elliott, a Democrat from the Little Rock area, in a local congressional race. He was touched by the fact that she would consider the impact her vote could have on him. He later shared his story on Twitter, which was retweeted by Ocasio-Cortez.
After RBG died, I listened to @AOC say, there is someone in your life who only you can get to in this election, and it is your job to get to them.
Since then, I have been filled with anxiety knowing what I needed to do. For me, that's my 94 year old grandmother.
— Brennan Suen (@brennansuen) October 7, 2020
Suen says that the Twitter thread recounting his conversation got a lot of replies, particularly after Ocasio-Cortez — who has more than 9 million followers — retweeted it, commenting: “What a beautiful story.”
While some conservatives criticized him for manipulating his grandmother or mocked him for being so emotional, he also received a significant amount of positive reactions to his story.
“I talked to my grandmother, because I want to explain to her what happened and how the story resonated with people,” Suen says. “And I needed to tell her because the response was completely unexpected and overwhelming, I’ve never had anything like that happen to me before, and so many hundreds of people commented just saying, ‘I’m proud of you, I’m proud of your grandmother.’
“I could hear her smiling through the phone, and I could hear how proud she was,” he adds. “And she was proud of herself, too. And she literally said to me, ‘I have my loyalty. But my number one loyalty is to my grandson,’ which made me cry all over again.”
Calling AOC’s retweet “the best compliment I could get” besides his grandmother’s unwavering support, Suen says he feels “privileged” and “lucky” that the conversation went so well, because many other LGBTQ people with conservative relatives have not fared as well when they’ve attempted to start similar conversations.
Despite criticism from conservatives, Suen says it’s important to stress that the re-election of Donald Trump, and Republican control of the U.S. Senate “will harm queer people” and other vulnerable populations. He says he realizes that can be difficult for people whose relatives are less accepting.
“I think my advice to others would be not to give an ultimatum and say, ‘You have to do this.’ But to say, ‘if you do this, I want you to know how it will affect me. This is the context you need to know when you’re making that decision,’ because I don’t think that every single voter is thinking about all of that,” says Suen. “I think personalizing the context and how it will impact you and your future, at least for me, was successful and meaningful.
“I think we have an ability to change our loved ones’ hearts that we sometimes take for granted,” he adds. “I think it’s worth at least having that conversation if you can, especially with those people who might not have all the information.”
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