“People You Should Know” is a series of interviews with emerging players and creative talents who will help determine where American Politics, Media, Entertainment and Entrepreneurism heads in our future. After journeying to produce and distribute the politically-themed documentary FEAR OF A BLACK REPUBLICAN, I will be starting with some great, smart folks in our great country whom I have met along the way…
Jimmy LaSalvia is a political commentator, consultant and speaker based in Washington, DC. In 2009, Jimmy founded GOProud to represent gay conservatives and their allies; he served as its full-time executive director until 2013. Under his leadership, GOProud became one of the highest profile gay political organizations in the country. Jimmy helped to build the organization across the country and lobbied to pass legislation in numerous state capitols and in Washington, DC. A long- time conservative activist, Jimmy has held volunteer and professional staff positions in Republican campaigns and Party organizations in South Dakota and Kentucky. Jimmy has appeared on the FOX News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, and other media outlets. His public speaking engagements have included speeches at Columbia University, Princeton University, Tufts University, George Washington University, Smith College, and other colleges and universities. He is also a frequent speaker and panelist at conservative conferences and programs.
KW: You grew up as a Gen-Xer in Kentucky and came from a Military family. Can you tell us about how your upbringing influenced you into becoming involved in politics? How did you come to be a Republican?
JL: I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s in an Air Force family during the height of the Cold War. My dad’s job was to drop bombs out of B-52s, and then B-1’s. So that era and my proximity to the reality of it certainly influenced my opinions foreign affairs and national security. We moved to Ellsworth AFB in western South Dakota when I was 15, and I ended up spending about 10 years there. The mountain west libertarian conservatism – the pioneer spirit of individual liberty – really resonated with me and helped to shape my political thought. I got involved in local Republican politics there, and ended up working on campaigns, and for the governor.
KW: Why are you a Conservative? Where do you see the Conservative Movement headed in the coming years?
JL: I am a conservative because I believe that pro-growth, free market-based policies are better than government-based solutions. I believe in a strong national defense and an engaged foreign policy. I am a pro-life, social conservative too. I think that conservative principles, values, and policies are good for everyone – no matter who you are.
KW: You have written on your blog that you believe that our Country is in the midst of a political transformation. Can you go into some detail on this for our readers?
JL: I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’m not sure I have it all figured out but one thing is for sure, people know that our government has gotten too big and just want it to work. They are tired of all the bickering and fighting from both sides and want everyone to just do their jobs.
KW: As a fellow Gen-X Conservative, it is sometimes difficult to speak with younger voting-age Americans and not realize that there is a gulf between our generation and theirs on the effects of Socialism is and the Role/Size of Government. We grew up with the Soviet Union controlling half of Europe and the Berlin Wall. Fortunately, they didn’t. But, many of them have grown up believing that Socialism “isn’t really that bad” or that Conservatives are over-reacting to the growth of our Government. In your travels, have you encountered this also and if so… how do we as Conservatives combat this?
JL: I have seen some of that, but you know, I can’t say that I have experienced this as much as I’ve seen a growing libertarian sentiment among young people in America now. It’s especially evident with some of the recent scandals regarding abuse of power by government agencies, and the scope of the NSA surveillance program. While all Americans knew that online activity was being monitored by the government, I think most of us were shocked to see the scope of the surveillance. I think that’s a very prevalent sentiment among the younger tech-savy crowd. I think that the more we can point examples of what happens when we give the government more power, the more young people will understand that limited government solutions and a government that puts freedom first is better than a state centered approach. Just wait. It won’t be long before Obamacare kicks in, and then I think we will have all the evidence we need to show the younger generation what happens when you give the government too much power!
KW: There are many people, even on the Right, who may be surprised that there are Conservative Republicans who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered. Can you take a moment to explain how these concepts aren’t mutually-exclusive?
JL: My friend Ann Coulter frequently says, “Just because you’re born gay doesn’t mean that you are born liberal!” That’s the truth. I know that it’s true for me. Gay people are just like everyone else – we are small business people, we serve in the armed services, we are teachers, we are parents, we live in big cities and small towns. The gay community is as diverse as America itself. So of course, there are conservatives who happen to be gay – because conservative policies benefit everyone no matter who you are.
KW: What is harder to “come out” as… as a Conservative Republican in the LGBT Community or as a Conservative Republican in the LGBT Community?
JL: There is no group less “tolerant” to diverse opinions than the gay left! So it’s definitely more difficult to come out as a conservative in the LGBT community.
KW: LGBT Republicans receive a great deal of vitriol and scorn from some members of the LGBT Community. As a Republican Committeeperson with LGBT Republicans in my District, I can attest to this. Why are LGBT Conservatives/Republicans treated in such a way within their own Community? It would seem that the LGBT Movement would gain from having supporters, friends, allies, representatives from both sides of the political aisle.
JL: Guilt by association. I always talk about how I am conservative because of the policies not the people. There are some conservatives who demonize gay people to the point that they have stained all conservatives with their bigotry. So, many gay people detest the fact that we would even associate with those people. It would be great if we were able to do more outreach to the gay community to show how conservative policies benefit them, but the rhetoric of many conservatives makes much of the gay community unreachable.
KW: As a leader of a national political organization, GOProud, which has seen some controversy… what lessons did you learn from managing such a group at a high-level in Washington, D.C.?
JL: Certainly everything someone in my position does is watched and criticized. Every tweet and Facebook post, every email, and YouTube video is scrutinized. I have learned that lesson that the hard way! I’ve also learned to try not to take everything personally, but that’s hard when you are dealing with issues that are so personal and so emotionally charged. It’s definitely sometimes hard to leave my work at the office.
KW: A lot of people may not have heard of GOProud before or since the CPAC controversies that occurred. What would you like them to know about GOProud and the people (such as Andrew Breitbart and Ann Coulter) who supported your organization?
JL: We set out to prove a couple of things when we started four and a half years ago. First, we wanted to show that not all gays are left-wing liberals. Second, we wanted to demonstrate that not all straight conservatives are anti-gay homophobes. Friends such as Ann Coulter and the late Andrew Breitbart have helped us to successfully do that. It’s more than that though – we represent gay conservatives on every issue. We aren’t an organization that just touts a traditional “gay agenda,” because we think that every issue is a gay issue and conservative policies are better for everyone – including gay people.
KW: What impact do you think that the Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage decision will have on the Republican and Democratic Parties?
JL: Support for gay marriage has reached the tipping point in this country. As with any issue, once you reach the tipping point, then the outcome is determined. The only question is how will we get to the point when civil marriage for gay couples is legal across the country. The Supreme Court decisions will certainly add clarity to that, but I think it will be some time before we get to full marriage equality in every state. For most Republicans, they have to do a better job of engaging on the issue. The “don’t say gay marriage” strategy that they have employed recently only serves to make them look out of touch with the majority of Americans. They have to do a better job of showing that they are comfortable discussing the issue. For Democrats, they are in danger of losing a great fundraising issue for them. While they will likely maintain a strong percentage of the gay vote for decades, it will be increasingly harder for them to count on the LGBT community as their ATM.
KW: What advice would you give to the Republican National Committee or individual Republican candidates on increasing their inclusion of LGBT people while maintaining their strong base of support from Social Conservatives?JL: Look, social conservatives are important to the conservative coalition. I happen to be one. We cannot, however, tolerate anti-gay bigotry. Those who oppose homosexuality and demonize gay people do way more harm to our coalition than benefit it. Let me be clear, they are a very small minority, but they have been allowed to taint all social conservatives with their rhetoric. The truth is most social conservatives, especially the young ones, have gay people in their lives who they want to include in the Republican party too. Republican candidates and the Party in general need to publicly engage with the gay community. Show America that those loud voices of intolerance don’t represent them. It takes pro-active public engagement. That’s something that too many Republicans have been afraid to do before now.
KW: Same-Sex Marriage is an important issue and it has been getting most of the Media’s attention for a very long time. What other issues are important to LGBT Americans that Conservative beliefs and policies can appeal to and win on? Are there any statistics on the number of LGBT Republicans or Conservatives?
JL: As I said before, every issue is a gay issue. Issues such as entitlement reform, tax reform, and rolling back the size and scope of government all resonate with our members. Another big issue is 2nd Amendment rights. It’s no secret that LGBT people are often the target of violent crimes simply because of who they are. Ensuring that folks can lawfully defend themselves before they become victims is a big issue for us. Approximately a quarter of the gay Americans routinely vote Republican. That’s a lot of votes nationally – over 1.5 million. In the “Tea Party Election” of 2010, 31% of gay voters reported voting for the Republican candidate for Congress in their districts. That year the message of the Tea Party, of cutting the spending and shrinking the size of government resonated with everyone – including gay voters.
KW: What does the future hold for Jimmy LaSalvia? Will you stay involved in Politics?
JL: I am committed to helping to build a modern conservative coalition that can win elections, and everything I do in the future will help to further that cause. You haven’t heard the last from me. I’ve got some exciting things planned that I’ll announce in the coming months. I’ll be doing some writing, consulting, and other things in order to make a living!
KW: What advice would you offer someone, young or old, on perseverance and getting involved in Politics?
JL: Twenty years ago I really wanted to move to Washington to start working in national politics. I didn’t do it then because I didn’t have any money or a job. I regretted for years, until I finally just did it. By then I was in my mid 30s just getting started in Washington. I wish I had gotten that start in my 20s. So the moral of the story is that if you have a dream, just do it…now. No matter what your dream is in the political arena, find a path (or make one like I did) and take it.
Other “People You Should Know” Interviews:
- People You Should Know – Kevin James, Part 2
People You Should Know – Kevin James, Part 1
- People You Should Know – Bob Wheelock, Al Jazeera Americas
- People You Should Know – Chris Stigall
- People You Should Know – Crystal Wright