Regardless of where she was in the country, Edie DePoorter-Dixon has always made it a point to attend gay pride events. She’s done it now for nine years in a row. Born in Cuba to a conservative Catholic family and raised in small-town Nebraska, year-after-year, attending pride was always a priority for her.
This year, Edie, 30, attended Portland Pride with the same boldness that has characterized her previous visits. However, something was different.
In 2002, Edie came out as gay. In 2015, she came out as a transgender woman. And in 2017, Edie came out as a conservative — and a Donald Trump supporter.
At Portland Pride, Edie wore tight daisy dukes, a black Nirvana T-shirt and strutted arm-in-arm with her shirtless muscle-bound husband, Daniel DePoorter-Dixon. She topped off her platinum blonde hair with a red “Make America Great Again” hat — its audacity piercing through the sea of rainbow balloons and “Resist Trump” signs.
“I felt that this is the first time I walked through Pride as completely myself,” Edie tells Women in the World. “The M.A.G.A. hat wasn’t just a Trump hat, it represented freedom of political choice — something I felt like I had to hide from the gay community.”
Some stared in disbelief when Daniel hoisted Edie onto his shoulders like a trophy. The red Trump hat and its slogan now towered over attendees at Portland Pride.
Despite her laughter and jubilant behavior, Edie says the consequences of coming out as a transgender conservative woman have been severe. She has lost nearly all her friends and the local gay club, where she was a dance performer, canceled her shows. CC Slaughters, a popular Portland gay club where Edie used to regularly perform, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Coming out as L.G.B.T. may have been a little more ‘hands on,’” Edie explains, referring to the physical assaults she said she was subjected to while living as a gay male in Crawford, Nebraska. “But the wounds heal. I still had my friends, family, and support system. I lost all of that, including my career, for coming out conservative.”
Edie emphasizes that politically she is primarily a centrist but that in the L.G.B.T. community, that is now practically seen as a “hate crime.”
Bruce Ross, Edie’s former close friend who welcomes her expulsion from queer circles, accuses her of racism and Islamophobia, and suggests the collapse of those relationships was due to her intolerance. “I support the community 100 percent on any action that makes them feel safe against people who sympathize with oppression or discrimination,” Ross declares. He cites Edie’s backing for Trump’s travel ban against nationals from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as what he describes as an insensitivity toward people of color, as examples of her intolerance. “Hate isn’t a political view — sorry,” he says.
Edie dismisses accusations of racism and stands by her strident criticism of Islam and the Black Lives Matter movement, saying both are fueled by dogmatic ideologies.
Athena Brown, a 36 year-old transgender woman and new conservative, decided to skip Portland Pride this year. She is not acquainted with Edie but isn’t surprised by her story; she says many of the same things have happened to her.
Athena used to be a “far-left socialist” who admired Bernie Sanders. She says she once worked for Future PAC, a campaign committee for Oregon House Democrats.
In the summer of 2016, however, Athena joined the Multnomah County Republican Party after being “kicked out” of her left-wing bubble for expressing political dissent. She currently serves as the M.C.R.P. House District Captain of District 45.
Before her political transition, which she discusses at length in a video shot last summer, Athena says she began to be isolated one-by-one by friends after taking issue with the queer community’s collective response to the Orlando Pulse nightclub attack. Former friends accused her of racism, transphobia, and homophobia. “Every time I disagreed with somebody, their response is not to agree to disagree — their response is to block me,” she says.
As the presidential campaign narrowed and Donald Trump became the Republican front-runner, Athena became disillusioned by her friends’ behavior. She describes them as having been reactionary, over-the-top, and in lock-step.
Born and raised in Bastrop, Louisiana, Athena spent most of her adulthood in vagrancy. She ultimately found community connections in social justice activism but quickly experienced how fleeting those relationships were.
She began to question if everything she was told about conservatives was true.
Last summer, she approached the M.C.R.P. booth during the Montavilla Street Fair in east Portland. “Now if they showed horns and a tail and a pitchfork, then I’ll just turn around,” she recalls thinking to herself. “They were absolutely friendly, accepting, and loving.”
Athena says she never felt judged for being transgender, lesbian, and atheist — identities she was quick to disclose to the group.
Cheryl Bowen, secretary of the the M.C.R.P., has developed a close friendship with Athena over their time volunteering together. “When I first met Athena at the booth, I really didn’t think about the transgender part,” she says. “I agreed with what she was saying. I could tell she was well-read, educated, had a passion for politics. We had a lot in common.”
Religious differences inevitably come up but Bowen says it doesn’t affect their friendship. “When I get to heaven, I’m going to open the back door to let her in,” she promises.
James Buchal, chairman of the M.C.R.P., says Athena’s involvement has helped introduce him to L.G.B.T. issues. “I have learned to be more sensitive about using preferred pronouns,” he admits. “Most Republicans I know think that people’s sexual or identity preferences are their own choices, and not the government’s business.”
However, Buchal concedes that the Oregon Republican Party platform advocates for a narrow understanding of marriage and family. “A traditional family is formed through the marriage of one man and one woman,” the platform states. “This environment is optimal for raising children into responsible, self-sufficient, productive citizens.”
Although both Edie and Athena emphasize how welcoming the communities they’ve joined have been, what ultimately keeps them there are larger constitutionalist principles and values rather than devotion to the G.O.P.
“Whatever party I feel aligns more with [standing for] our constitutional rights is where my support and loyalty lies,” Edie says. She cites free speech and gun rights as issues the left has largely ceded to the right.
Individual responsibility and self-empowerment, which Athena views as conservative principles, have inspired her to take agency over her life. “I’m thankful for having food stamps and an ‘Obama phone,’ but my life became one thousand times better when I finally had a job and was able to earn my own money and spend it my own way,” she says.
Being transgender is an aspect of each of their identities, but the women say that forming political world views based on gender or sexual orientation is misguided. They both express a similar sentiment about feeling let down by queer communities and support organizations.
“Within our community, people need to realize that L.G.B.T. Republicans represent a fairly significant percentage of our population,” says Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative L.G.B.T. advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.
A 2014 Gallup poll found that one in five L.G.B.T. Americans identify as conservative. Angelo believes that number is even higher today.
“Our diversity transcends mere sexual orientation and gender identity, it encompasses our ideologies — our political philosophies,” Angelo says. “Supposed advocates of the L.G.B.T. community do not have its best interests at heart if they are trying to shut down anyone who disagrees with them. That is harmful to our ability to move toward a country where L.G.B.T. Americans have true equality.”
The alienation and rejection Edie and Athena say they’ve experienced have been deep sources of pain but they also see themselves as part of the vanguard of a new Republican Party. Both recognize the political legacy — and excesses — of the G.O.P. vis-a-vis L.G.B.T. issues, but believe the election of Trump signals a new era in American Conservatism.
Andy Ngo is a graduate student in political science at Portland State University, studying Islamism and its intersection with women’s issues. Follow him on Twitter here.