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To My Pro-Trump Republican Family Members: How Can We Continue Speaking?

AP Photo/Don Ryan

Be known. Make noise. Let the people in your life hear you.

A few years ago, I attended a screening of a documentary about queer people who work within the GOP. It was at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, where the very idea that gay Republicans could even exist seemed like an uproarious joke--at least, at first. After a few minutes of giggling at the frosted-tipped man holding a "Bush/Cheney" sign and graphics of pink elephants, an uncomfortable reality settled over the crowd.

"Over one million gays voted for Bush," said the narrator, and somewhere in the dark, I heard a man whisper, "Jesus."

I can only imagine how that man responded to the victory of Donald Trump, abetted by 14 percent of LGBT voters. And beyond just the queer people who voted Republican, we are now burdened with the uncomfortable knowledge that many of the straight people in our lives did the same. Hillary had a detailed point-by-point plan to improve lives for LGBT people; Trump barely acknowledged the community's existence, and now that his tribe has begun swarming the White House, we have yet to see a single official--just one--say that we deserve equal rights.

So what are we to do with those relatives, coworkers, and acquaintances who mention offhand that they voted for Trump? Well, your response may depend on your tolerance for intolerance. Perhaps you would like to keep politics out of your conversation and simply coexist, to agree to disagree. "Can't you put politics aside?" someone recently asked me.

That's a great question, and one that I encourage gay Republicans to pose to all the queer youth who engage in self-harm after being forced into the ex-gay camps the GOP defends in its platform. Trans people beaten up for using the restroom may also be encouraged to put politics aside. As well as queer Iranians, imprisoned under laws that Mike Pence defended, and survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic who lost countless friends while the Reagan administration laughed about gay cancer. Imagine you've lost your home, your job, your student loan, and custody of your kids because of policies enacted or defended by Republicans. At that point, will putting politics aside provide any comfort?

There's a harmful ideology now creeping through all three branches of government, and we have a duty to make sure everyone knows about the threats in the GOP party platform, about Trump's opposition to marriage equality, about the GOP's eagerness to rescind executive actions that protect queers, and about Pence's attempts to defund HIV programs.

Some experiences are integral to queerness, like the time-honored practice of engaging in a self-defensive quarantine of unpleasant relatives. As a people, we've learned to erect protective barriers against family who would do us harm, and to let them know that the responsibility for dismantling those walls rests with them.

"I'd like to have you in my life," we say to homophobic relatives, "but not if this is how you're going to treat me. Let me know when you've cleaned up your act."

Isolation is an important self-defensive measure when you are under threat. But when interacting with Republicans in a safe context, you don't need to be an isolationist. In fact, if you're in a position to do so, it's probably better not to withhold interaction. I'm not urging that we all offer a friendly olive branch to those who would do us harm, but maintaining contact is the best way to let them know-- repeatedly--how dangerous their actions are.

When cutting off homophobic relatives, a key step is explaining the harm that they do. If your goal is for Republican family and friends to stop acting against you, you can't simply ignore their existence or stop listening to them. Instead, you can let them know what they've done. You can tell them that they've hurt you. And you can resist the urge to let that hurt become normal, accepted, tolerable, and unspoken.

Let them know and keep letting them know every time an executive action is repealed that protected someone's job, and whenever a White House official calls queer people diseased, and every time Republicans boost foreign aid to countries that abridge the rights of LGBT people. Make it constant. Make noise. Make sure the people in your life hear you.

Speaking out in isolation is of course very difficult. I can barely muster up the courage to ask for more ketchup packets at McDonald's, let alone dive into politics with someone at a bar. That's why now is a particularly important time to stand together with allies. Community organizers often speak of the power of coalitions, and while they may be referring to nationwide movements, the same holds true for individuals working up the nerve to confront family and friends. In the same way that labor, people of color, and veterans are stronger together, we can all find the strength to speak up for ourselves by encouraging each other.

This constant engagement will surely become very annoying for you. It'll become annoying for the Republicans in your life. The next four years are going to be at best annoying, and at worst catastrophic for everyone. Letting them know the impact of what someone has done may cost you his or her friendship; your dates may end abruptly when you accuse a suitor of being complicit in normalizing ex-gay abuse. Challenging the people in your life is deeply uncomfortable. But the wave of homophobia about to crash upon the White House presents you with a choice: which matters more, your dignity and freedom, or avoiding conflict with people who have acted to rob you of both?

Last month I attended a drag show called Sweet Like Candy, hosted by the stupendous Seattle performer Mama Tits. She sang some glorious old standards about celebrating your worth, like "If I Can't Sell it, I'll Sit on it" and "Feeling Good." Her songs were punctuated by reflections only available to men who tuck their penises between their butt cheeks for a living. Regarding the man that Republicans have chosen to represent the country, Mama Tits could only shake her head: "He's shed a light on all the bullshit," she said. "So I thank him for that."

Matt Baume is a writer and storyteller based in Seattle. He's the author of the bookDefining Marriage, which chronicles the 40-year fight for marriage equality, and he's the host of the podcastThe Sewers of Paris, in which gay men share revealing personal stories about how entertainment has changed their lives. Follow him @mattbaume.
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Matt Baume