It's official. And it's too late to go back. On this day of the Oregon deadline I changed my political affiliation. After a brief stint as a non-affiliated voter, I have finally transitioned into what I never -- in my worst nightmares as a Republican -- imagined I could: A Democrat. It feels a bit awkward to say it out loud but now I feel like I can breath easier. My political affiliation isn't something I feel the need to hide anymore. I feel like a nice person for once. For the first time in my life I don't feel ashamed for empathizing with the poor, the weak, the different and the less fortunate.
I was raised in a conservative Christian household in a rural Oregon town. When I realized I was gay, I chose to squeeze my gay self into a conservative mold instead of allowing who I was to steer my values. It was tough, but I, like my mother, am as stubborn as a mule. To this day I wonder if my parents would still be married if I hadn't, as an innocent child, asked my mom what my dad meant when he told me she was bull-headed. Oops. But I digress. The sad reality is, if I could've forced myself to be hetero, and believe me, I tried, I would have. It was the one thing I could not change about myself.
Fast-forward to my 30's when I joined the Log Cabin (gay) Republicans of Oregon and became president of the organization, still under the naive assumption that there was a place for people in the GOP who aren't white, heterosexual and Christian. I truly felt like I had found my place. This contrived sense of belonging and brand new confidence were the drugs that would propel me into a primary race for a seat in the Oregon State Legislature. I lost.
But what I learned was incredibly eye-opening. The Republican Party is full of vile people. No, not the average voter who votes for and is registered as a Republican, but the individuals who operate the organization. Many are legitimately frightening people. I marched deep into the belly of the beast and I can tell you it is as disgusting as it sounds. I know, this comes across like the rant of a sore loser bashing the party because he lost. And fine, it kind of is. But as I transitioned from an R to a D these past two years, several things occurred to me that never would have if I wasn't different.
The tipping point was this: some of my Democrat friends and family supported me. They made phone calls for me, donated money to my campaign and let me put signs in their yards. Why? Because what they saw was a friend, a loved one, not an opponent. I began to ask myself if I would support them in a hypothetical race. The answer was no, I wouldn't. And I HATED that answer. The problem is is that that is the only answer good enough for a Rush Limbaugh-worshipping, welfare-hating, bible-toting, Climate Change-denying member of the GOP.
But the rift between what I knew to be true as an R and what I felt as a free-thinking person grew deep and fast. With every new question I challenged myself on came a new crack in the foundation I always thought to be unshakeable. Observations I would have scoffed at before became fascinating absurdities that I now gave myself permission to question. For instance, why are red states the largest recipients of the very welfare they fight against, why do red states have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, why are they the least educated and more comical (or perhaps, disturbing), why the correlation between conservative Christian states and where the largest consumption of gay porn takes place? It's a paradox that is conveniently ignored (or rather hidden) by conservative leaders like Ted Cruz. But, by god, they've got the lowest corporate tax rates. Oh wait, not really.
As my crimson-colored lenses dissolved into a clear set of spectacles with a new prescription I began to notice the gaps in logic I had somehow managed to debate away when arguing with an "evil" progressive. Now, don't get me wrong, the Democrat ideology is not perfect. Not even close. But what has become strikingly clear to me is this: if you're able, for a moment, to put yourself in someone else's shoes, challenge your current perspective or give someone the benefit of the doubt -- you have no business being registered as a Republican. It was a long and ugly journey but I made it. It is today I will look back on with pride as I watch President Sanders or President Clinton swear in next January.