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October 5, 2012

He’s Here. He’s Queer. And He’s A Black Republican.

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Written by: Rachel Huggins

Robert Turner is the president of Washington, D.C.’s chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Photo by Timagnus D. Traylor.

who was infamously overweight and undeniably at the peak of his career.

An hour into the game, an opponent started calling him Big Pappa and refused to deal Turner his cards.  “I was like, ‘Dude, give me your cards.’  By the third time, I was trying to get his attention and said, ‘Little bitch, give Big Pappa his cards.’ “ Turner says he growled  and the surprised room exploded into a thunderous roar of laughter. From that moment on, the nickname Big Pappa stuck. He’s adopted it as his online identity,  blogging and tweeting unapologetically honest musings on pop culture, politics and life as a gay, black conservative under the moniker.

Coming Out as a Black, Gay Republican

Growing up he could never be this open.

Raised Missionary Baptist by his god-fearing grandmother in Austin, Texas, Turner realized around sixth grade that something was different about him.

“I didn’t want Jessie’s girl,” he pauses with a Kool-Aid smile, “I wanted Jessie.”

When he was around 12  years-old, his best friend’s name was Jessie and all his friends jammed to Rick Springfield’s 1981 hit, “Jessie’s Girl.” Letting out a deep, belly laugh as he recalls his Aha! moment, his octave drops and gets dead serious.

 “I knew I couldn’t say anything. It was just obvious. That’s the time boys are attracted to girls and vice-versa. It seemed odd to say anything. So I didn’t.”

Plus, he practically lived in a church where homosexuality wasn’t tolerated or talked about.  Sundays were jam-packed with Sunday school and worship service; Tuesday nights included hours of usher practice and Thursdays were choir rehearsal. On any given day, his grandmother could be found going toe-to-toe with Jehovah’s Witnesses who tried to challenge her on the Word. She always had a bible within arm’s reach, he recalls.

It wasn’t until sophomore year in high school that he started meeting classmates who were open—but not out—about being gay. After seeing how badly they were treated in the halls, he told himself, “You’re not going to do that to me.”

Turner says gay bullying is rooted in the human tendency to form cliques. Cliques aren’t bad in and of themselves, but they becomes unhealthy when they ostracize or taunt outsiders. Children will always make fun of something they perceive as different – fat, tall, freckles, red hair, poor, gay. You can’t legislate children on the playground.  But you can help educate teachers and parents that words have meaning, he says.

He encourages gay youth who feel rejected to join support groups as, Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. They do amazing work striving to assure that students across the country are valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, he says.

When Richard Grenell, Mitt Romney’s former foreign policy spokesman, resigned after drawing criticism from some social conservatives for being openly gay, Turner understood. It sucks for the campaign but it’s better for his peace of mind, he says solemnly.

Turner’s circle of family and friends were overwhelmingly supportive when he came out 11 years ago, a secret he’d been holding onto most of his life. He said releasing the weight felt liberating.

Eleven years prior, he had dropped the bomb that he was a Republican.

“Huh? What the hell?!” He jerks his head back in a dramatic re-enactment of the responses of his friends and family.

When asked how he can be a gay Republican, he simply points to a rainbow flag and echoes the mantra “strength through diversity.”

His confidence as a conservative has grown ten-fold since growing up in one of the most liberal counties in


About the Author

Rachel Huggins
Rachel Huggins
Rachel Huggins is a USA TODAY online editor and freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter @HugginsRachel to see her trail of digital breadcrumbs.


Photo Courtesy of Flickr/takasci75

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