An Interview with Charlie Brandt, A Gay Conservative Navigating Life in D.C.
Washington D.C. is the beating heart of the American government, and here political identity shapes everything. People of all racial, cultural, political and sexual identities call this city home, including a niche, but vocal, group of gay conservatives. Although gay conservatives are a minority within a minority across the country, they’ve made their presence known in this city though groups like the Log Cabin Republicans and political figures like Guy Benson and Richard Grennel.
I wanted to learn more about this community so I talked with Charlie Brandt, a student at The George Washington University School of Law. Charlie is an intelligent, humorous, and openly gay man participating in a right-leaning summer law fellowship through The Fund for American Studies. Sitting in front of a Starbucks in humid D.C. summer weather, I learn from Charlie the importance of nuance in political discourse and how gay identity and conservative values can be reconciled.
Charlie grew up in Olney, Maryland with parents he calls “Rockefeller Republicans” because of their liberal social values and conservative economic beliefs. While his Dad has since liberalized, Charlie laughs describing how he used to put up George W. Bush campaign signs throughout their neighborhood at night. His parents were supportive when Charlie came out as gay in his early college years.
Charlie describes his earlier self as a “half-hearted, disinterested liberal.” It felt like the default position for a gay man to “pull the lever for the democratic party” given how many GOP platforms stand for traditional marriage. However, he fell in love with the principled and unemotional writing in the conservative-learning Wall Street Journal. After boomeranging between registering as a democrat and an independent, Charlie decided he was a conservative “especially in regard to economic affairs and fiscal policy, and to a lesser extent with the social sphere.” Now, he proudly votes Republican.
Even some of Charlie’s social beliefs would make liberals squirm. He thinks there is an issue with indoctrination in public education with critical race theory and gender ideology. He thinks transgender Americans have valid identities and should have a right to transition, (although the taxpayers shouldn’t have to pick up the dime,) but he doesn’t believe children can be transgender. He tells me passionately, “I don’t think if your seven year old says, “hey Daddy, I’m a girl” or “hey Daddy I’m a boy,” that you should start puberty blockers or chop off their breasts or their testes, because that’s really just insane.”
He also takes a more conservative stance on transgender athletes competing, “If people aren’t willing to accept that the two sexes have different physical capabilities, and that that matters in the realm of professional sports, and that its transphobic to call a spade a spade, then I guess I’m transphobic.”
Charlie has a countercultural and intellectually bold stance on the Supreme Court case that llegalized gay marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges. While he says there should be a right to same-sex marriage, he thinks the case was wrongly decided. He calls himself an “aspiring originalist,” which is a traditionally conservative position that promotes interpreting the Constitution by its original public meaning. Looking at the text, there is no right to same sex marriage, or right to marriage at all, in the Constitution.
Leaning back in his chair, Charlie explains, “Things can be homophobic and morally wrong, but constitutionally proper… if the states were to revisit Obergefell because their voters wanted to attack that precedent, so be it.” Even though his own rights as a gay person are at stake, he believes in the democratic process that would allow evolving public opinion on gay marriage to change the law. He says gay people shouldn’t “hide behind nebulous constitutional rights that don’t exist, but… take the issue to the voters and persuade them that we are right.”
I keep looking over my shoulder while Charlie and I talk. Most of what he says is unpopular. When I ask how liberals perceive him, he pauses and says, “When you let the left know that you don’t agree with them, they take away your minority status… For the liberal straights, I think my being gay sometimes shuts them up. They’re like, ‘I don’t have the ethos to speak on this, I’m not gay.’ I feel like a gay person, however, would get upset about it.”
Charlie thinks that, like Donald Trump and other Republicans, liberals would label him as a bigot or transphobe as a way to not engage with him seriously. People like Charlie prevent the Democrats from having a “monopoly on gays,” and rather than being concerned about internalized homophobia, would probably resent him.
Despite this, Charlie proudly shares his beliefs and adds nuance to the conservative and gay communities. The message he shares about the gay voter is one every political candidate should hear: “To think that gays are single issue voters is really where people are wrong headed. They pay gas just like any other American, they watch the television and see Putin invade Ukraine. The fact that they kiss a man on the cheek as opposed to a woman… I don’t know that that is as game changing as even Joe Biden himself might think.”
America is deeply polarized, and sometimes liberals and conservatives feel like two separate, single voices. However social nuance is here in the form of people like Charlie Brandt, and it’s about time that we embrace it.