After 15 years, it’s time to move on.
by Dale Carpenter
In the span of a human life, 15 years is a long time. I’ve decided it’s more than long enough to write a regular column for a magazine. This one, number 182, will be the last one I write for OutSmart.
Fifteen years ago, I was 27. I had recently moved to Houston after graduating from law school, had clerked for a conservative federal appellate court judge, and had begun working for a big law firm.
I was also just getting started in gay-rights activism. I had been to my first March on Washington and had attended my first couple of Pride parades. I had joined the Houston Gay & Lesbian Political Caucus, as it was known then, and was elected to its board. I had recently learned of a group called the Log Cabin Republicans, which combined a belief in equality for gay people with conservative political ideals. I was full of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm.
President Clinton and Congress had just given us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” About 20 states, including Texas, criminalized gay sex. The state Republican Party was bad and getting worse (it’s still terrible). I had already lost a couple of friends to AIDS. There was no gay marriage anywhere in the world.
There were also few gay conservative writers. There was Andrew Sullivan. Bruce Bawer had written A Place at the Table. That was about it. It was assumed that to be gay was to be politically liberal on everything from abortion to taxes to national security. My friends and I knew better, but these were the days before the Internet, and it was simply harder to connect with like-minded people.
OutSmart was getting started. One could see from its first issue in February 1994 that this was not to be just another bar rag. It seemed a possible outlet for a burst of new thinking about gay politics, culture, and life.
So I wrote a piece and sent it in to Greg Jeu, the magazine’s visionary and tireless publisher, for the March 1994 issue. Entitled “Why Out Is Right,” it basically argued that coming out of the closet was an important step in changing the world. Not exactly an original idea, even then. The magazine put a big picture of me in the middle of the page, which was a fine idea back in 1994. Not so good now.
I was hooked and started sending in columns every month. For some reason, the magazine kept publishing them.
It was only a few months later, after sharp criticisms of President Clinton and a series of columns on gay conservatism, that the viewpoint of the column became clear. Within a couple of years, OutSmart added “LeftOut” (a column title I suggested) as a balance to OutRight. LeftOut always seemed superfluous to me, even though I respected the writer and enjoyed the columns. Everything written for gay magazines back then was LeftOut.
I was pretty provocative, opposing trans inclusion in the gay movement, using “gay women” to refer to lesbians, whacking the Democrats and suggesting the Republican Congress would not pass much antigay legislation, chronicling the fights we were having within the state GOP, and so on.
Liberal readers, seemingly the only ones, started sending in highly critical letters. But only once in 15 years has OutSmart refused to publish OutRight based on its content—a column in which I suggested that the annual Pride parades should be discontinued.
I liked the reader feedback, especially the critical kind. But the moments that stick with me are the private notes and words of encouragement I occasionally got from closeted people who said some column I had written helped them come to terms with being gay.
My life’s changed a lot in 15 years, in ways predictable (gray in the temples) and not so predictable (teaching law school in Minneapolis). I left Houston 10 years ago, though I still visit often and love the city. I’m not in grassroots politics anymore, either as a Republican or in gay-rights groups. The Republican Party of Joe the Plumber doesn’t do much for me. And I haven’t quite gotten the hang of GLBTQQTSIA.
The country has changed a lot, too, and for the better. Sodomy laws are history, thanks in large part to some brave people in Houston. We have gay marriage in several states and more are coming.
But we still have a long way to go. Barring Supreme Court intervention, we are decades away from nationwide gay marriage. Shamefully, gay soldiers are still being fired from military service. It’s still not possible for gay couples to walk down the street hand-in-hand in most places without derogatory comments, ugly stares, and much worse. Gay kids still grow up ashamed, lonely, and afraid.
In many ways I’ve grown up as a gay man writing this column. It both reflected and shaped the way I thought of myself and the way I looked at the world. I’ll miss it.
But I’ve moved on. I remain dedicated to equality for gays and lesbians and will continue to press for it in other ways. I’m now devoting a lot of time to my academic writing and to writing for blogs (www.indegayforum.com and www.volokh.com.)
There are many gay conservatives out there now. No single perspective speaks for gay people now. That’s healthy.
Finally, I want to thank Greg and all of the OutSmart editors over the years for publishing this column. They took a lot of heat. But they stuck by it, a testament to their maturity and dedication to debate within the community. I hope this column has served that community in some small way.
Writing from the conservative side, Dale Carpenter began his column for OutSmart in 1994, when he lived in Houston. Now residing in Minneapolis, Carpenter is a University of Minnesota Law School professor.