At what point does personal intolerance disqualify someone from holding public office?
This question comes to mind after a recent post by Pennsylvania State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler) in a Facebook post in which he labeled Philly Democratic Rep. Brian Sims a "lying homosexual."
Metcalfe's use of the word homosexual – a term I view as a neutral descriptor of a person's sexuality – implies that he views being gay as an insult. Combined with his public outburst after having his arm touched by a male colleague in December ("I'm a heterosexual … I don't like men as you might"), Metcalfe's actions illustrate to me the significant difference between opposing policies that might benefit the LGBT community, and actually disliking gay human beings.
As the powerful chairman of the House Government Committee, Metcalfe has blocked legislation on LGBT nondiscrimination, which I've worked on from the Republican side. But that's not what offends me.
As a gay man and an open-minded person, I am offended that Metcalfe's words and actions support homophobia.
I have friends and family members who, for reasons of religion or cultural background, do not support LGBT-friendly policies. I am not in the business of smearing them as bigots as long as they respect me as a person.
As a political conservative who has worked professionally on LGBT nondiscrimination issues, I find it's more productive to try to meet people where they are and exercise openmindedness rather than judgment. This often changes hearts and minds, and it saves me from having to hate people whom I disagree with.
I understand that Butler County isn't Philadelphia, and it doesn't need to be. I don't expect Metcalfe to carry the rainbow flag at Cranberry Township Pride — but I do expect him to not belittle gay people as a whole.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party has blasted Metcalfe, and for good reason. Unfortunately, Democrats have overused the word bigot with such consistency and casualness as to dilute its meaning. Labeling antiabortion activists as misogynists, voters who oppose illegal immigration as xenophobes, and Christians who don't want to bake cakes for gay unions as homophobes may be a good way to shut down conversations. But in the long run, those terms lose their meaning.
Instead of just name-calling, it will take Republican action to solve this problem.
Ask any millennial about the Republican Party brand, and you will find out why it's so toxic: The GOP suffers from a lack of diversity and a perception that the party as a whole does not oppose bigotry – and even, in some cases, courts it. I've written about the issue in this very paper.
If the Republican Party wants to avoid sinking into the depths of thoughtless, reactionary know-nothingism, elected officials whose actions and rhetoric imply disdain not just for policies but for actual groups of people must head for the exits. By allowing these elected officials to stay in power, party leaders should recognize that they're shutting the door on minority voters.
I believe that Metcalfe's comments on sexuality demand action from the Pennsylvania Republican Party. He should be asked to step down.
It's easy to be a conservative in Butler County, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by almost 2-1. It is much harder to be one in left-leaning Philly's gayborhood. It's difficult to describe how lonely this work can be – only other minorities who identify as conservatives can truly "get it."
But I do what's hard because it's who I am, and because I believe in the future of the GOP.
I pray that party leaders are looking down from on high and thinking: Am I making life easier for those who are doing what's necessary to expand the party and carry us into the future? This includes gay and trans conservatives who speak out in our communities, black Republicans who carry the GOP banner into hostile terrain, and student activists who dare to voice dissent from a sea of campus leftism.
If the GOP wishes to survive, it must choose us, and to choose us it must reject bigotry when it appears.
Today, Republican leaders in Pennsylvania face an important decision. They can say yes to a diversity of opinion on LGBT issues, while saying no to flagrant homophobia. And they can tell Rep. Metcalfe that he's welcome to continue his hateful Facebook rants – as a private citizen.