February 22, 2012

Profiles in Liberty: Jimmy LaSalvia

By: Jacqueline Otto

Lee Doren Jimmy LaSalvia enjoys being one of the most successful provocateurs of the greater Tea Party movement. He is the executive director and co-founder of GOProud, a grassroots organization that represents gay conservatives.

After the 2008 presidential election, LaSalvia and GOProud co-founder Chris Barron, observed that only 28 percent of gay voters voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

We looked at that number and said, so many people think that gay voters are left-wing liberals and they are big government folks. The truth is that most gay people just want to be left alone. Most gay people think about all of the issues that every other American thinks about, and many of them are conservative.

LaSalvia and Barron started reaching out through social networks to talk about their observations and concerns. They found that there was a need for an “organization to represent gay conservatives and straight conservatives who understand how issues effect gay people.”

With the founding of GOProud in 2009, and the nation-wide Tea Party movement at that time, 31 percent of gay voters voted for the Republican in the 2010 House of Representatives elections.

Identity Politics should be good politics everyone can identify with.

One of the largest fallacies in politics is to think that gay voters only care about “gay” social issues. Another great fallacy is that only liberal policies benefit gay people.

“Second Amendment rights are gay rights,” LaSalvia is known for saying, as are all rights guaranteed in the Constitution. He also points out that gay people are hurt by bad, big-government fiscal policies that are holding back the economy just like every other American.

According to GOProud’s Federal Legislative Agenda,

The so-called “gay agenda” is defined by the left through a narrow prism of legislative goals. In contrast to the approach of the left, GOProud’s agenda emphasizes conservative and libertarian principles that will improve the daily lives of all Americans, but especially gay and lesbian Americans.

This is an example of what LaSalvia calls “the coalition of the right.”

It’s not identity politics when you take a policy that is good for everybody and telling a group of people why it is good for them. The identity politics of the left is “We are going to take this group, and we are going to create a special policy or carve-out for you. That’s why you are going to want it, and then these people over here are going to support your special policy because you are going to support theirs. That’s the coalition of the left. The coalition of the right is “We support these principles and policies because they are good for everybody.” But we never do a good enough job of talking about why they are good for different constituencies.

LaSalvia sees a need for conservatives to be reaching out to as many communities as possible, just as GOProud is reaching out to the gay community

We need more people doing outreach to specific communities. That’s important, and that’s a problem that [conservatives] have had. Conservatives have been afraid to go into communities and speak from their perspective. We shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge that some communities haven’t felt a part of the conservative movement. Or even welcome to it. Let’s acknowledge that, it’s the truth.

Learning from missed opportunities.

LaSalvia didn’t plan on working in grassroots activism when he was a young adult.  He even wonders, looking back, if he missed an opportunity.

I was 24 years old and in South Dakota. We had just lost a campaign I was working on, and someone looked at me and said, “Jimmy, it’s time for you to go to Washington.” When I looked at that transition, I didn’t know how I could afford to do it. I didn’t think I could. It was important for me to find a job, so I found a job raising money for an opera company.

And that is one of my biggest regrets, that I couldn’t just make it happen. Back then you could get a job on the hill making about $15-16k a year, and I thought there was no way I could live in Washington on what they pay. I saw a bunch of unpaid internships available, and I thought, there is no way I can go for no money. I regret not taking the chance, and I regret not packing my bags and getting on a bus to Washington, and getting a job waiting tables while I volunteered somewhere.

Interestingly, he learned many hard lessons through those regrets, which has contributed greatly to his current success.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30s until I made my way to Washington to follow my dream, and it has been a hard struggle… I’ve wondered to myself, would I have been willing to take the risk in starting this organization if I didn’t have that regret from my 20s. Would I have done it? I don’t know.

 As much as I regret not taking the risk and coming to Washington in my 20s, I’m thankful that I have that learning experience to know that sometimes you have to take a risk, for no money, and just do it.

Helping start GOProud was “something I couldn’t not do, because I so regretted not doing it when I was younger.”

Just take the risks.

A lot of young people make decisions based on where the money is, instead of doing what they love – and because they love it, do it well – so that it pays off eventually.

You may never know how or when it will pay off. That’s the most frustrating thing. There will be times when you ask, “How stupid was I to do this?”

LaSalvia remembers when it paid off for him and Barron.

We used our last $400, and we got on a train, and we went to a meeting with a wealthy person. I remember sitting in his living room, he had low chairs, so you kind of sat down, and I remember thinking, “don’t cross your legs, or he’ll be able to see the hole in the bottom of your shoe.” I was too poor to buy new shoes, and we had used almost all our money to go and see him. And thank God for that, because he ended up writing us a six-figure check. I’ll never forget that moment, or that person.

 Now I just have a tremendous sense of gratitude to those people who based on our pitch and our message, invested in us.

Learn your lessons first.

While LaSalvia strongly recommends taking risks at a young age it is important, he says, to remember that you are young and that you have a lot to learn.

Tweeting recently, LaSalvia said, “Washington has a funny little animal I don’t know the name for. It’s the people who think they can go straight from intern to Executive Director.”

It is important when you are young, to know that you are young… Sometimes when your boss sounds ridiculous and unreasonable, you are going to find out later that they knew exactly what they were talking about. There is a reason for everything, and you may not always know that reason, but you should recognize that there is a reason.

“Rule number one in life is,” he says, “you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Final Piece of Advice from Jimmy LaSalvia.

Just risk it. Just do it. Make it work, and somehow it will pay off. You’ll have all the nay-sayers telling you how you can’t do it. And you can have your success to answer them later.

For more insightful observations and to keep up with what GOProud is doing, follow Jimmy LaSalvia on twitter.



Jacqueline Otto’s shelves at home are lined with used-book store finds; just a few of her favorite authors include C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, H.G. Wells, Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Jules Verne, and George Orwell.

She first read F.A. Hayek and Frédéric Bastiat at 16. Her political affiliation on Facebook is “Freedom,” and she hopes to always be known as a lover of liberty.

Jacqueline is on Twitter at @jacque_otto.