By: Madeline Coffey
In looking forward to the GOP Convention, maintaining my cool in the face of adversity is my dominant concern. Over the past few months, I’ve grown more open minded, more tolerant, and more accepting of the personal convictions of my republican peers. This comes after a complete rejection and utter distaste for the GOP after being constantly ostracized for my support of marginalized communities in my small, rural hometown. For years, I watched my friends who were openly LGBTQ be abused and mistreated as I stood comfortably in the closet, only speaking about my concern for them. I reasoned that I had too much to lose. After all, I was valedictorian, president of FCCLA (the organization formerly called Future Homemakers of America), and a volunteer at numerous Christian organizations. I rejected my sexuality; I wasn’t like my queer friends. I was successful. I couldn’t be queer.
When I entered Wake Forest, it took time for me to grow to accept my sexuality. I have often attributed my gradual coming out to the support of the LGBTQ community at Wake Forest, but it was actually much more than that. At Wake Forest, I encountered republican people who accepted LGBTQ people. They made it clear that most of them weren’t opposed to marriage equality. Even those who were opposed seemed much more tolerant than the folks in my hometown. It was progress, I thought.
It wasn’t until 2016 that I began to grow wary once more of the republican stance on LGBTQ issues. After all, my republican friends weren’t so bad. Even after Obergefell v. Hodges, I never heard any complaints from my Wake Forest cohorts. Then everything changed. Earlier this year, NC republicans passed House Bill 2, which allows local businesses to discriminate against members of the queer community and prohibits transgender and non binary folks from using the restroom that they feel most comfortable in. I expected my republican peers to speak out for our community and to condemn the party for its actions. There was only silence.
For now, there is only speculation, but the New York Times reported earlier this week that the GOP is expected to add some pretty serious anti-LGBTQ policy to their 2016 platform by the end of the Convention this week. We all knew the GOP was cooking up a plan to overturn Obergefell v. Hodges; I had moved past it. However, the new proposals go much further. Not only is the Republican Party advocating for marriage inequality yet again, they’re now rolling out plans for religious freedom laws allowing businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people, proposing laws that would prohibit transgender people from changing their sex on their birth certificate post-operation, and advocating for conversion therapy. Yikes.
Yet again, I am waiting for my republican peers who are, “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” to come to my defense. So far, it doesn’t look pretty. It seems that many GOPers are blaming Trump while ignoring that these policies are a part of the national party platform. For this reason, I am anxious. Does this mean that many of my peers agree with these proposal but aren’t saying so because they don’t want to seem like a bigot? Maybe. Who knows? But more importantly, how do I communicate with delegates and staffers of the RNC knowing that they are actively advocating for a platform that doesn’t just hurt people in my community but kills many of them? I’m struggling with this. I’ve heard that telling your story will help for people to empathize and humanize the queer community. I personally believed I was seeing good results from this strategy when I told my less liberally-minded friends, but I am growing more unsure.
The silence is deafening. I can’t take it anymore. Every time I talk with a staunch republican now, my mind is clouded with memories of the horrifying effects of these proposals that many of my friends have personally faced. Emotions from my adolescence come flooding back, and once again, I don’t know how to deal. The Republican National Convention will thrust me into situations full of folks who do believe that my middle school best friend who wanted to commit suicide was rightfully placed in conversion therapy that continues to affect him today. I’m crushed, I’m frustrated, I’m horrified, I’m confused. I want to have these conversations, but how can I begin to engage when I am so afraid?