Republican presidential hopeful Fred Karger is known for the fact that he’s gay, and likewise, he has some progressive positions on social issues. Karger owns his gay identity, and has used it to help people remember who he is. For better or worse, his media coverage has largely been about this aspect of his candidacy. On the rare occasion that he is interviewed about other issues like the economy or health care, he sounds like quite the legitimate Republican candidate. But despite his success at achieving poll numbers comparable to other contenders like Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Newt Gingrich, he was excluded from the recent Fox News debate and is now being prevented from participating in the California state GOP convention next month.
But as conservatives argue that his exclusion has nothing to do with his sexuality, they manage to prove the very opposite. Jimmy LaSalvia of the gay Republican group GOProud epitomized this point as he tried to downplay Karger’s legitimacy as a candidate:
LASALVIA: Fred Karger is not a credible candidate. I would love for there to be an openly gay, credible candidate for president who was out there making a case for why they would be better than Barack Obama. Unfortunately, Fred Karger is playing a stunt, and his stunt has run its course. His whole schtick is … running around the country with a rainbow flag, saying ‘I’m the gay guy.” But he hasn’t made a case about why he should be president of the United States.
This is a catch-22 for the tokenized Karger: being “the gay Republican presidential candidate” has helped him gain notoriety, but now it seems to be the only aspect of his campaign conservatives are willing to mention. They dismiss him as “just the gay guy,” but simultaneously deny him any opportunity to engage with the other candidates about other issues in his platform. It’s political homophobia in action. Conservatives say they aren’t discriminating against him — he’s just not a “credible” candidate. But they don’t hesitate to say they think he’s not credible because he’s gay. If that’s not the reason he continually has to fight to be included in debates and conventions, what is?
Maybe it’s unrealistic for Fred Karger to win the Republican primary or beat President Obama in 2012, but he is surely not the only candidate who fits that description. We need to call out anti-gay discrimination when we see it, and that’s exactly what Karger is facing in his candidacy.