As soon as he sauntered in with his small, red 'Make America Great Again' T-shirt with Trump's name displayed boldly in front, I knew I was in trouble. It didn't help that my friend hosting last night's GOP debate viewing party indirectly warned me and another attendee about this gay Republican and his strident political beliefs, which he apparently splashes all over Facebook. My buddy swore, though, that all would be fine and that we were in for a very entertaining night. Hmmm.
Now, I'd like to think that I'm a pretty open-minded person. That's why I didn't immediately run for the door of my friend's swanky New York City apartment when 'Brandon,' as I'll call him, started cheering, very giddying I might add, upon Donald Trump's introduction at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif. And again when he loudly agreed with the reality star's first couple of responses. Instead I would watch Brandon and remind myself: "Not everyone thinks like you, and that's OK. Also, make sure you refill that wine glass because we aren't even through hour one of this epic event, and Brandon is charged."
I quickly made the observation that in a room of five gays, three of whom were white, I was probably the only one who didn't see my presidential candidate on stage. Or at least that was my very first impression—I could be wrong. Among those vying for our votes, there was the Evangelical former Arkansas governor who's elevated an insubordinate Kentucky county clerk to cult status; the ex-neurosurgeon who somehow thinks you become gay in prison; the Bush son who claims he meant Asians, not Mexicans, when talking about "anchor babies" in this country; and the multi-millionaire, self-proclaimed "three-month old politician" who feels a Mexican-funded wall is our best solution for illegal immigration. Just a reminder: That last one is Brandon's choice for our next commander-in-chief.
With the exception of an occasional eye-roll on my part (toward both Brandon and the "contestants," as Trump calls them), the discourse within the room was incredibly civil. We each groaned at Mike Huckabee’s defense of Kim Davis. "He’s rambling," Brandon muttered, before then saying that he partially agreed with Jeb Bush, who argued that we should accommodate the florists, bakers and other people of faith whose religious liberties are supposedly being challenged by those unwilling to fall victim to discrimination. When Brandon surveyed the room asking us if anyone else felt the same way, I noticed I received a text message that desperately needed answering. "Oh, hey, Mom."
I was probably on my second glass of red wine when CNN anchor Jake Tapper asked Trump about Jeb Bush’s use of Spanish as part of a much larger conversation about immigration. Brandon, who at this point was overpowering Trump in volume, said he believed that people living in this country should speak English if they want to be considered American. This is when I slowly began shifting my body weight between legs as a way to remain calm. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that you can be successful in the United States if you refuse to assimilate!” Brandon shouted, his arms flailing about as his Latino boyfriend sat quietly in the corner. I heard him say two words the entire night. “Am I wrong here? I just think that these people should learn English. This wouldn’t happen if we had a wall, like Trump says. We need a Wizard of Oz type wall that keeps these people out because we’re just not safe! Trump’s right—we have a huge problem!”
Now remember when I said that I consider myself to be a pretty open-minded person? Well, I’m also a brown one. I’m a brown gay boy who grew up on the Texas-Mexico border and whose life, both personal and professional, has been shaped by a great mixture of culture and experience. Donald Trump has not only vilified the people whose very heritage I share, but he has also emphatically labeled my home a hotbed for illicit activity that is allegedly putting our entire nation and its security in jeopardy. While I agree there’s both an immigration and drug problem that needs attention, I refuse to buy into the Right’s alarmist rhetoric, which I fundamentally believe is used specifically to muster up support among white, xenophobic Americans. So, needless to say, as a self-identified Tejano and militant Latino, I don’t agree with Trump, and now Brandon, on these sentiments.
Looking to my friend, our night’s host, Brandon asked: “Do you actually think we have a border? Come on—do you really think one exists? Of course not!” he said, answering his own question. My silence finally started annoying me.
“So you mean to tell me,” I said to Brandon, “that Spanish monolingual speakers can’t be successful here? That my grandmother, who only speaks Spanish and is an American citizen, failed?” Every head turned. “I’d like to think that it was her success that led me here to New York City actually.” Brandon decided he could no longer sit for our conversation and moved to about a few inches in front of me.
“I’m just saying that it’s different nowadays. Good for your grandmother, but that’s not the country we live in today. English should be spoken in America—it’s that simple. And you honestly don’t think we’re unsafe because of the situation at the border?” Brandon asked, a coy smile on his face. “No, I don’t. I grew up there and its demonization isn’t entirely fair. That’s what I personally know to be true,” I said, before downing the remainder of my Cabernet Sauvignon. Can y’all imagine if we met up during the night’s earlier debate when Sen. Lindsey Graham proclaimed that in his world “Hispanics are Americans.” I’ll give you a hint—we are. Brandon, your thoughts?
The tension in the room was palpable after that, but perhaps that’s what happens when you surround yourself with politically-passionate people, no matter their sexual orientation or race and ethnicity. Things did lighten up, though, when Brandon asked, “Who doesn’t like gay Republicans,” to which the room responded, “Republicans!”
As he was leaving, Brandon said he was pleased with Trump’s performance, even taking pictures of the TV screen during the front-runner’s follow-up interview with CNN. Once he left, though, Latino boyfriend in tow, I knew that I’d probably never see them again. And honestly, I’m okay with that. But Brandon definitely reminded me that we are each entitled to our opinion, one that is shaped by how we look and where we grew up.
My friend hugged me as I grabbed my bag to leave after a very long debate and said, “Yeah, I hope that was alright—he’s really an intense personality.” “That’s perfectly fine,” I said. “It’s always good to interact with people who are incredibly different from you.” You know why? Because that’s what makes America great.
Xorje Olivares is an on-air personality and a producer for SiriusXM Satellite Radio. His monthly OutQ show is titled "LGBT: Let's Get Busy Talking."