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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Ethan: With Pride month upon us, and you being a Republican who is pretty reasonable on LGBTQ issues, I thought we could dedicate this column to understanding why Republicans are so scared of gay people?
Phil: Very funny. May I remind you that it was Bill Clinton who instituted Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, that 150 Democrats in Congress voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and it was President Barack Obama who had to “evolve” on gay marriage?
Ethan: You definitely don’t need to remind me. But the difference, of course, is that support of such discriminatory policies was nearly universal on your side. At least some of my people “evolved” as you say.
Phil: Or maybe your party leaders simply saw a deep pool of campaign donations?
Ethan: So, tell me, why is your party still almost universally opposed to what you figured out 30 years ago?
Phil: I wouldn’t characterize it as “almost universal,” but my support of LGBTQ rights back in the 1990s came easily. As a human being and a Christian, I always believed that we should treat others as we would want to be treated.
Ethan: You are such a radical.
Phil: I know. And, as a Republican, a basic tenet of my ideology is that the government should stay out of our bedrooms and our personal choices. Didn’t make me popular among some of my colleagues, but I believe that this is the foundation of what Republicans should stand for.
Ethan: “Let me pray to my God, own my guns and let gays live!” That sounds like a winning platform. How do you feel about the non-discrimination bill that passed the U.S. House?
Phil: I’d vote for it. No one should be fired or denied housing simply because they are gay.
Ethan: Could you call your colleagues in the U.S. Senate and ask them to stop blocking the bill?
Phil: What’s your obsession with partisanship in this column? We are attempting to celebrate Pride Month (by the way, I also think a “Veterans Month” is worthy, but we can dedicate a column to that later).
Ethan: I guess I am infinitely frustrated that while a majority of this country has embraced the legal rights of the LGBTQ community, your party is still stuck in the Dark Ages. I mean five fewer Republicans voted for the House bill this year than did two years prior. It seems like your colleagues are going backwards and I am hoping you can offer some insight.
Phil: Lots of things come into play in politics. Your loudest supporters and donors can often hold much more sway than they should. And perhaps that is the moment we are in with Republican leadership right now.
Ethan: That is fair. And certainly I can’t pretend that my party became enlightened simply from purity of heart. I remember well the days when many in my party would whisper quietly in private, “I’m with you in my heart.” But then in public vote the wrong way. As you allude to, the LGBTQ community was smart, organized and resourced. The swift change in our country was built by people who had morality on their side, but also knew how to influence and leverage politicians
Phil: Politics is a grand experiment. Always more going on than meets the eye.
Ethan: And always more than any politician wants you to understand. So where do we go from here?
Phil: It comes down to personal responsibility in how we treat each other. Tolerance to let your neighbor live the life they want to live, as long as they aren’t infringing on your rights to do the same.
Ethan: I appreciate the sentiment, but I still think there is a lot of work needed to protect people against hate crimes and discrimination. Plus, we need to do so much more to educate people, before the tolerance you seek can be achieved.
Phil: Well, now that Caitlyn Jenner is likely to be the leading Republican nominee for governor in California’s recall election, perhaps you’ll realize my side is actually more tolerant than you thought.
Ethan: If her running gets Republicans to be more accepting of transgender rights, I am all for it! Anyway, Happy Pride my friend.
Phil: You too.