This past “Pride Month” saw a slew of articles, ad campaigns, and influencer tweets from figures within and without the LGBTQ movement. Seen as progressive by some, as excessive by others, and omnipresent to all during those 30 days, Pride Month is a cultural touchstone. However, for all the ink spilled in June, little was written and said about the schisms and contradictory elements within the LGBTQ coalition. National Review’s Luther Ray Abel sat down with Eric Lyons, 53, of North Carolina, a self-described Christian, conservative, and gay man who retired recently from teaching, to discuss what he has seen change, often for the worse, in the gay-rights movement during his 30 years being “out” — as well as how Republicans can make inroads with the individuals in this group.
Luther Ray Abel: How did you come to be conservative?
Eric Lyons: I think my family was conservative. That was probably the beginning, but I did not start out that way. When I did come out as gay in the late ’80s, I got caught up in a lot of that LGBTQ [stuff] for a while — I don’t use that term [LGBTQ] anymore. I don’t even like the word gay for myself. It’s a private matter. As LGBTQ has made a hard left turn into this transgender area [and] intersectionality, it just doesn’t ring true for me. I’m a conservative because of the big picture. Even though there has been some bias — many gay people think Republicans don’t like them, or they don’t belong in the Republican Party. But when I look at the Democratic platform, there’s very little that I find elevating for the country [while I approve of the] basic things that the Republican Party stands for — like protecting the First Amendment and the promotion of liberty. My biggest contention with LGBTQ [activism] is the Equality Act. I’m very concerned about the threat to religious liberty — compelling others to go against their beliefs. The Colorado-baker episodes could have been avoided by the plaintiffs’ simply choosing another baker. These are opportunistic people in my view, such that I don’t want to be affiliated politically [with them] any longer.
LRA: You mentioned this leftward shift in the LGBTQ movement. How would you explain that evolution, or how did it appear to you?
EL: I think this has happened since the gay-marriage ruling in 2015; I was comfortable with that. I thought that was a great achievement that I didn’t think would happen in my lifetime. I’m 53 and came out when I was 26 in 1988. I was always thinking, well, it might be civil unions, which to me seemed adequate. I just never really felt discriminated [against], even though I’ve worked for many years in a variety of positions in finance and most recently in teaching. I retired as a public-school teacher. I’ve never felt this sense of discrimination that is always drummed up over and over [by LGBTQ activists]. So when I started listening to this group called Southern Equality, they said, “Where do we go from here?” And I started thinking, why do we need to go anywhere? It just became this ongoing, nonstop trip. Even when the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of job protections, I thought that was magnificent . . . but most gay people I’ve talked to, they don’t even mention that as positive. It’s always “we are discriminated against,” and I am just so tired of that narrative.
LRA: Is there an inherent tension between being conservative and being gay? That might seem like a silly question, but I’d like your thoughts on it.
EL: There is a big tension. It has been for me because it’s, it sets me apart socially. My conservatism is very difficult to reveal, and I’ve lost some friends over it. I don’t usually bring up politics, but I’m the one that’s supposed to sit there and hear progressive viewpoints. But then, when I try to inject a question or something different, that’s just not allowed. I find the progressives very intolerant on this and in many [other] areas.
LRA: And what do you think the basis is of their intolerance? Is it your viewpoint or is it your sexuality and your viewpoint in that they think that a gay individual should only be thinking one way?
EL: There’s definitely a tribal mentality. If you’re gay, you just don’t belong if you’re not also voting Democrat. . . . There are those of us conservatives who are attracted to the same sex. It seems to be a very silent group right now.
LRA: How could conservatives do better in their outreach to LGBTQ Americans?
EL: First of all, recognizing that there are people in this category that are conservative and try to address that in some way and not assume that we’re all the same — not assume we’re all pushing for the same things. There is a fracture in LGBTQ because, like I said, I’m not interested in transgender [activism]. That’s not the same thing as orientation, to me. The addition of the brown and black stripes on the [Pride] flag ended up racializing the movement. To me, that doesn’t make sense. What can Republicans do? Just realize we are there.
LRA: How do LGBTQ activists misrepresent the interests of the larger group?
EL: There’s an unending, insatiable appetite for power. I have never seen anyone on our side critiquing ourselves. They’ve swept into transgender acceptance, but then I don’t hear anyone ever talking about the impact on children in the schools and what the ramifications are of going through those reassignment surgeries and the difficulties of girls’ sports.
LRA: You had spoken about being Christian, some folks might kind of raise an eyebrow at that. There’s this well-established thought that Christianity and homosexuality don’t really mesh. How have you come to terms with that?
EL: Well, you’re right. In scripture, it’s clear that homosexuality is not accepted. There’s a bunch of contemporary academics [who have tried] to whitewash that and say, “Well, that’s not what [the writers of the Bible] meant.” I’m thinking, “No, they really do mean what they say.” The way around it for me is Ephesians 2:8, “I’m saved by grace through faith.” And the other one is John 3:16, “Whosoever believes shall have eternal life.” So there are some outs, there are some escape hatches; it’s not condemnation forever. But I don’t like to whitewash what scripture says [about homosexuality], either.
LRA: How does a Christian conservative who sees homosexuality as a sin come alongside a gay conservative and have peace? These are strongly held beliefs, and I don’t want to be dismissive of that.
EL: I have some Bible literalists and fundamentalists in my family. They’ll say, well, we love the sinner and hate the sin. I’ve heard that a long time. For me, it’s about character. The things that unite us would be the way we live with each other, our Christian character, the fruit of the spirit — generosity, caring, and kindness. Looking inside the heart of people . . . That ought to be a unifying picture that shouldn’t frighten religious conservatives away, in my opinion. [Even] if we leave the politics out of it, we’re one under Christ.