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Coming Out Conservative

As a gay New Yorker, coming out conservative takes courage

Here I was on the “wrong” side of the debate and I was being demonized for it.

Peter PONY Clement // Photo by Denice Flores Almendares

By Peter PONY Clement

When I came out at age 15 I was like many young people at that stage in life. I had gotten up the courage to share that I was gay, taking a leap of faith in order to live my life openly. I was very fortunate to have family and friends who mostly encouraged me to embrace the person I was becoming, even if some weren’t ready to accept the news. I focused in on the love and support that I had in my life and naively went forward into young adulthood thinking I had now moved past sharing the most controversial thing about myself.

In my late teens I started taking an interest in politics but in a very superficial way. I consumed the media that was readily available from mainstream sources and I voted for Obama when he ran and won his first term. I didn’t vote for him because I knew much about him, other than his campaign was pulling off some very successful marketing. The image of his face emblazoned with the word “HOPE” by the artist Shepard Fairey combined with him being the first black American President was enough progress for me to blindly jump on board.

Over the course of the Obama years I didn’t pay attention to politics very much. I had moved from small town America to New York City and began a whirlwind life in my late teens and twenties that consisted of working in the fashion and nightlife industries as an artist and performer. I didn’t have much time for the world outside my creative bubble, but I considered myself a Democrat. How else would a gay artist from a good middle class family living in New York City vote?

After years of experimenting with my sexuality I came out as bisexual at the age of 27. No one really batted an eyelash, I was surrounded by lots of “tolerant” and “progressive” people who celebrated the evolution of my sexual identity. My family also calmly accepted it and there was not a lot said about it. Also around this time I started diving into alternative media sources. Facebook was the platform to be on at the time and the constant barrage of political media combined with lively discussions about social issues meant I was exposed to more and more outside perspectives. By the time Trump was looking very likely to be the next President, I, like many others in my set, watched from a distance in horror at the notion of a former reality TV star ascending to the White House. How could this happen? This is America, we have standards to maintain!

I sat out the 2016 election because I couldn’t bring myself to vote for Hillary Clinton, someone I flatly distrusted, but I also didn’t like the idea of Trump. He was gaudy and tacky and spent way too much time on Twitter. But as the media demonized him at every turn while pushing nothing but nauseatingly fawning praise for Hillary, something happened. I started to be suspicious that I wasn’t being told the full story. As the economy boomed in Trump’s first term and we saw the rise of the MAGA movement into the mainstream, I became curious as to what it was that made so many people love this man.

I voraciously began consuming podcasts and YouTube videos, from Joe Rogan, Tim Pool, Jordan Peterson, Debra Soh, and others from the so-called “intellectual dark web,” the type of people who don’t identify as conservatives but also don’t tow a biased political line on one side or the other. I stopped watching clips of Trump’s speeches and White House press briefings from major media outlets in favor of watching the full, unedited versions on C-SPAN. I wanted to hear from both sides of the aisle as I could see and feel we were becoming more and more polarized as a nation. I wanted moderate voices in my life to keep a healthy balance of opinions and this concept didn’t go down very well in my social circles.

I started questioning the mainstream political narrative on my social media. It began as posing questions and links that would provoke conversations and lively debates. While some people immediately denounced me as being brainwashed, I also garnered approval from others who were also figuring out that what we were being told by mainstream sources wasn’t actually what was going on.

It wasn’t a quick red pill moment. It took a couple years for me to fully realize that I was identifying more with the right than the left.

When I fully came out in support of Trump in 2018, I experienced what the party of tolerance and empathy was really about. I lost countless friends and acquaintances. I wasn’t very surprised by this time because it was becoming clear to me that the people who talked a lot about acceptance and diversity weren’t talking about diversity of thought or opinion, but rather of skin color and gender identity. As long as they still shared the same thoughts and opinions, acceptance was conditional of political alignment.  It was a big turn off. I had never judged my friends who had different opinions when it came to politics, I simply accepted it as not my personal view. And now here I was on the “wrong” side of the debate and I was being demonized for it. It was a tough time for me, especially living in Manhattan surrounded by liberals.

Even though I’m a registered Independent, I only have a handful of leftist friends these days, and it’s not from a lack of attempting to be friends with them. The ones that I’m close with now have agreed that our relationships aren’t built on our politics and are based on other things we share in common. This is not the norm, it seems. That rare level of acceptance is almost antiquated, something left over from the George W. Bush days before we as a nation became obsessed with focusing on our differences rather than our common ground as Americans.

When I found new Republican and Independent friends, ones who didn’t care if we didn’t always agree on everything, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. All along these people were hiding in plain sight in a super liberal place like New York but I wasn’t aware of it, mostly because those who can be open about it are doing so quietly, and those who can’t be open at their jobs and to friends are completely closeted. Very few can be outspoken and vocal about their positions in the last few years because of the rise of cancel culture and the demonization of anything and anyone related to the “party of Trump.”

We have been told by the mainstream media, politicians, celebrities, and so-called experts across a wide spectrum of establishment institutions that we should reject people who disagree with us, that it’s social justice to make their lives uncomfortable in whatever ways we can. We are told that people who disagree with us make us “unsafe,” that is, if those people are not registered Democrats pushing the latest woke cause célèbre.

It’s not enough for the left to accept that others might not share their views, they have to destroy and remove such people from their lives, which means people are scared to lose their livelihoods, their careers, everything they’ve worked so hard to build, and are basically living behind a veil of silence.

Mainstream LGBT figures and media companies denounce anyone who isn’t openly pushing leftist talking points as homophobic and therefore must be shunned, making it doubly hard for gay Republicans to live openly. It is heartbreaking and shameful that people are being encouraged to step out of one closet, only to be shoved into another because the same people who encouraged them to accept themselves for who they are refuse to step out of their comfort zone to inform themselves of what’s really going on in the world.

I joined the New York Young Republicans in 2020 and then the New York Log Cabin Republicans in early 2021, becoming the Vice President of the latter shortly after. I wanted to put my community-building skills and experience from my years in nightlife to good use. I’ve always thought that if one has the opportunity to do something to make change, the best place to start is right in your own backyard. New York is a challenge as a very blue state, but I didn’t want to stand by silently and not at least try to encourage others to engage in the local political culture. I have shied away from sharing my story publicly til now for similar reasons that so many others have. It’s hard to go against culturally accepted narratives in order to do what’s right. It’s not easy dealing with the constant unknown threat that comes from having others hate you or want to destroy your life. But I refuse to live in fear.

I went to a Trump rally in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2020 along with tens of thousands of people, and I can say it was the most diverse group of people I have ever seen. There were people from all walks of life and socio-economic backgrounds, all races, and not once in the course of the day did I have a negative experience with any of them. There was none of the homophobic and racist attitude that I had been told was running rampant in his support base. Everyone was courteous and welcoming, and not only that, but at the end of the day, the city streets were clean, unlike many other types of large gatherings where trash is everywhere and public spaces are run roughshod and destroyed.

It used to be perfectly acceptable to have friends from both sides of the political spectrum and everywhere between. It wasn’t socially proper to discuss sex, politics, or religion at the dinner table, but we also didn’t alienate friends and neighbors for not sharing your echo-chamber over drinks after finishing dessert. We accepted that during election years we might see more than one candidate’s name on our neighbor’s lawn signs and we didn’t reject an invitation to come to the barbecue if their candidate’s name was different from ours. We’ve gotten to the point where having anything other than the “acceptable” opinion adopted by the mainstream authoritarian voices means you’re a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a transphobe, an Islamaphobe, a bigot. The label of “patriot” is a pejorative to many in our current culture.

The harsh labeling and “othering” is wreaking havoc on our social fabric and needs to stop. Humans are nuanced beings. We can hold multiple truths in our minds and hearts at the same time. We are complicated and we are allowed to contradict ourselves and change our minds, and we shouldn’t have to live in fear of what might happen if we do.

Standing up for what you believe is not easy, it requires courage. Every choice we make in life comes with consequences and risks. I don’t blame anyone for not coming forward and standing up for what’s right, but I encourage them to do so before we are so fractured as a society that we break apart and cease to exist.  Fortune favors the bold, so if you can find it in you, dig deep and make your presence known. We have strength in numbers, we just need to know each other exists. Find your voice and use it, share your story and inspire others to do the same, allowing us to counter the deep culture of division that’s taken root so we can grow more together, and less apart.

Now is a time to be brave.

Peter PONY Clement is a Manhattan-based historian, artist, and culture curator. He is currently Vice President of Log Cabin Republicans of New York. He can be found at peterponyclement.com or @peterponyclement on Instagram.

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