Smith (pictured) is a registered Democrat and was raised in a liberal working-class family in Ohio, but said the outrage culture he has experienced on the left has led him to become conservative
A black, gay Army veteran has ‘come out’ as conservative because of the ‘outrage culture’ he said he has experienced within the Democratic Party.
Rob Smith, author of a 2017 book about being a gay man in the military during the ‘don’t’ ask, don’t’ tell’ era, is a registered Democrat and was raised in a liberal working-class family in Ohio. But he said that over the past couple of years what he considers to be left-wing outrage culture has pushed him to become conservative.
He did not vote in the 2016 election but wants to buck what he said is a stereotype that African Americans and LGBTQ people are always liberal Democrats.
Smith, who lives with his husband in New York City, is ‘coming out’ publicly, prompted in part by Kanye West being roundly lambasted for his support of President Donald Trump.
He said: ‘For me, as a gay man and a black man, I have to… Somebody has to start the conversation, specifically with LGBTQ people, to say being a Democrat is not a sign of morality and being a Republican is not a sign of evil. We can work on both sides to advance this idea of LGBTQ equality, we just have to figure out what that is.’
He agrees that Kanye was soundly and rightly criticized for his comments that slavery was a choice, describing such a statement as ‘indefensible’, but Smith said that doesn’t mean the rapper’s general political opinions should be dismissed or judged.
He asked: ‘How much has Kanye West done for black culture in entertainment?
‘If you have somebody with that much power that has done that much for the culture and they can get torn down within days for saying that they support the President or for saying that they may not subscribe to what the Democratic Party has been telling black people that we need to think? … And I just looked at this whole thing and I just said, well if it can happen to Kanye, it can happen to anybody. What am I supposed to be, afraid to have different ideas?’
‘Those comments [on slavery] were terrible. They just don’t make any sense. And it was actually very right of a lot of people to denounce that.
‘I think that it was very easy for people to hop on those comments and focus on those comments to completely discredit everything else that he had said before.’
Smith (pictured around 2000) was in the Army from 2000 to 2005 and served in two Middle East tours – one in Kuwait and one in Iraq. It was during his time in the military when he realized he was gay, despite the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy for the armed services
In November 2010, Smith and 12 other activists (pictured), both military and civilian, handcuffed themselves to the White House fence to protest ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ and were arrested
A year after the protest and his arrest (pictured), Smith was invited to meet then-President Obama and attend the ceremony where the policy was repealed
Smith served two tours of duty – one in Kuwait and one in Iraq – during his five years in the Army from 2000 to 2005. It was during this time that he realized he was gay despite ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ – a policy preventing LGBTQ soldiers making their sexual orientation public without risk of being discharged.
In November 2010, five years after he had left the military, Smith and 12 other activists, both military and civilian, handcuffed themselves to the White House fence to protest ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’. They were arrested. A year later they were invited to meet then-President Obama and attend the ceremony where the policy was repealed. That was one of Smith’s first major steps into LGBTQ activism, which he continues today.
Smith is hardly the first to be African American or gay and conservative. On the long list of conservative African Americans in recent years alone have included Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, Clueless actress Stacey Dash and former secretaries of state under President George W Bush Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.
New York City journalist Chadwick Moore, who became conservative after getting backlash from a neutral profile he wrote about Milo Yiannopoulos in 2016, and political commentator Guy Benson are among the most well-known gay conservatives who have also ‘come out’ in the last couple of years.
One of the biggest influences on Smith making a public statement about his conservative political beliefs was the way Kanye West has been treated for his public support of President Donald Trump. The two are pictured at Trump Tower in December 2016. In April, Kanye tweeted about his support for Trump, which sparked anger on social media
Smith’s personal shift from left to right hasn’t been an easy one.
Though his husband is more liberal than he is, they’ve been able to have civil political discussions. Outside of that, he added: ‘Being a conservative and living in New York City can be a very isolating thing.
I do believe in strong borders, I do believe that we need to start having real conversations about the illegal immigration situation in this country. And when you say that, you are excommunicated. You are called a racist, you are called all sorts of different things that detract from ideas.
‘I mean, I just talked to my mother about it last week and she says she just doesn’t understand it. She literally said she’s going to come up to New York and kick my a**.’
Some of his friends have even distanced themselves from him as he has told them about his changing political beliefs, he said. Meanwhile, people online are vicious with name calling. In person people tend to be more civil, he said, though they’re often still accusatory.
‘They’ll tell me what they think I’m supposed to think or say or believe, just because of the color of my skin,’ he said. ‘For white men, the idea is that whatever political decision they’ve come to was informed by whatever their individual thoughts, feelings and experiences are. And that’s fine… but when you take the white maleness out of the equation, we like to tell black people how they should think. We like to tell gay people how they should think. We like to tell women how they should think.’
The White House ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ protest (pictured) was one of Smith’s first major steps into LGBTQ activism, which he continues today
Smith (pictured in March 2013) has written a book about being black and gay in the military during the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ era that was published in 2017
There were several incidents over the past few years that influenced Smith’s switch to becoming conservative. He said he was ‘infuriated’ and ‘felt let down’ when in June 2016 LGBTQ leaders failed to condemn the Pulse nightclub attack as terror and instead they ‘couldn’t find anything better to do than to finger wag against Islamophobia and to indulge these conspiracy theories about what the terrorist attacker’s motivations were’.
He has also been frustrated by the way that LGBTQ youth have been taught to use ‘victimhood’ as a way to get more attention. As an LGBTQ activist who gives lectures on college campuses around the country, his message focuses instead on the strength of the students, not the ways they have been victimized.
Smith’s switch to becoming conservative was influenced by the way leaders on the left have handled certain events as well as Marco Rubio’s book American Dreams, which details his ideas for restoring the US economy – ideas Smith believes can be brought to the black community, but aren’t being discussed on the left
Another big leap into the conservative realm for Smith was when he read Marco Rubio’s book, American Dreams, last year. The book explains some of Rubio’s ideas for restoring the economy and changing some of the current systems in the United States away from a strong federal government.
‘I had never read anything or even encountered a conservative that actually had real ideas about how to change some of these systems and still help people,’ Smith said. ‘For me as a black person, these ideas of empowering and uplifting the black community, these ideas of fighting for LGBTQ rights, these are not ideas that need to be subscribed to any political party. These are ideas that exist within us. And these are ideas that I’m just not finding in the Democratic Party right now.’
He added: ‘You cannot have any of these conversations within the Democratic Party right now without poking the outrage bear, without people calling you a racist, without people telling me that I hate black people and I hate myself and I hate LGBT people and all of these things…’
Smith said that it even got to the point in Democratic circles where there is an expectation for black or LGBTQ people to have all the same opinions on issues like undocumented immigration, the military and Palestine.
‘In order to adhere to [some] principles and believe in these principles, I have to believe in everything else and I don’t believe in everything else,’ he said. ‘I do believe in strong borders, I do believe that we need to start having real conversations about the illegal immigration situation in this country. And when you say that, you are excommunicated. You are called a racist, you are called all sorts of different things that detract from ideas… I believe that we can have a conversation about illegal immigration that is not filled with hatred, but it has to be a real conversation and it can’t be a conversation that somebody shuts down just by saying racist.’
In 2016, Smith chose not to vote at all, for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump because he ‘didn’t believe that either one of these people deserved my vote’. By now, however, he is fully conservative, though he says he isn’t a die-hard Trump supporter. He just agrees with some of the policies the President supports
In 2016, Smith chose not to vote at all, for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump because he ‘didn’t believe that either one of these people deserved my vote’. And now that he actually identifies as a conservative, he said his opinions fall largely under fiscal conservatism, though his opinions are also ‘informed by the Republican stance on terrorism, the Republican stance on illegal immigration and the Republican stance on building a strong military and reforming the VA’.
But just because his politics are conservative doesn’t make Smith any less interested in the helping both the African American and LGBTQ communities.
They’ll tell me what they think I’m supposed to think or say or believe, just because of the color of my skin.
‘We have said, as black people, for decades that we can be anything, that we can think anything, that we can do anything. And yet the people in power still want to keep us in this box of the Democratic Party. Just because I am black does not mean I have to be a Democrat and just because I am a black person who identifies as conservative does not mean that I am uninterested in any ideas that are intended to uplift the black community.
‘It just means that for me, I think that Democrats’ ideas about how to uplift the community are outdated. They don’t make any sense and I think they serve to further a narrative of black people as poor [and] as victims.’
As far as ‘coming out’ as conservative goes, Smith said he just wants to be open about his political beliefs in the hopes that more conversation will help steer people away from demonizing others who have different opinions.
‘For me, it’s about, you have to fight against the simplistic nature of this outrage culture that we’re living in. The simplistic nature of the outrage culture that we’re living in says everybody who voted for Donald Trump is racist and that everybody who voted for Hillary Clinton is an angel. And I think that it’s quite obvious that real life has a lot more shades of gray to it.’
He added: ‘I think that it’s a national conversation that is really just starting. And what I hope is that somebody that’s black and gay and conservative is normal… But you have to understand that I am not the first black, gay Republican. I’m just the one that’s going to take the heat for saying it publicly.’