"I'm still conservative, absolutely," said openly gay Jimmy LaSalvia. "I have traditional, conservative values." La Salvia is a co-founder of GOProud, a political action organization for gay Republicans. GOProud was formed in part because LaSalvia felt that Log Cabin Republicans, the older and more traditional gay conservative group, was leaning a bit too far to the left.
Many eyebrows were raised when LaSalvia renounced his affiliation with the Republican Party in early 2014. No longer GOProud's executive director, he's now registered as an independent. "With all the attention it got you'd think the Pope announced he was Jewish," he said. "It struck a nerve."
LaSalvia is a supporter of gay marriage, which many Republican lawmakers oppose.
LaSalvia explained his decision to SFGN. "The Republican Party is out of touch with life in America," he said. "They will never win another presidential election. The cultural disconnect among Republican leaders is so severe it's beyond repair. Real life in America today includes everyone. It's hard for people to come to terms with change. Republicans are loud and vocal in their opposition to change, and it's driving them to their demise."
LaSalvia is now registered as an independent. "So many people have reached out and said you're right," he said. "I think that my announcement has struck a nerve among Republicans who feel that neither party represents them. I've always worked within the system to make change. I've determined that the system is so dysfunctional that we need a new innovative approach."
He claims that 42 percent of Americans feel as he does.
Liberal LGBT people have accused LaSalvia of "selling out" or supporting bigotry. Many took issue with LaSalvia's friendship with conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who was a headliner at Homocon, GOProud's 2012 convention. Coulter often receives sharp criticism for her views.
“I not only want 'don't ask, don't tell' for the military, I want 'don't ask, don't tell' for society,” she once told an interviewer. “Just give me a week where we're not talking about the gays."
"I do not tolerate bigotry," LaSalvia said. "Coulter is not an anti-gay homophobe. Think of Ann's audience — it's not the gay left. She stood up for gay people, she welcomes gays into the conservative movement." He admits that he considers Coulter to be wrong on a number of issues and that they often disagree.
"The political landscape has been us vs. them," LaSalvia said. "I've tried to erase that mindset when it comes to gays and conservatives. Ann and I are trying to show that straight conservatives and gay people have more in common than not. That's the message that conservatives need to hear. I'm proud of the progress I've made to that end."
LaSalvia asks that people not be so quick to judge him.
"I have been criticized for some of my tactics, but no one should question my motives," he said. "I want everyone to have equal opportunity in everything. Everything I've done in my career has been to that end. I want everyone to realize the American dream."
What does the future hold for the ex-Republican?
"It's time to broaden the scope of my work," he said. "I'm doing consulting work on different projects — I consulted with the ACLU on their marriage initiative."
He's also looking beyond the borders of the U.S. "I want to help gay people in other countries," he said. "I may start to do more work in that area."
He mentioned the Iranian Queer Railroad as a cause he was interested in. Headquartered in Toronto, the Iranian Queer Railroad offers assistance to Iranian LGBT people seeking asylum from the harsh Iranian regime. Financial and housing assistance are among the services offered. Homosexuality is a capital crime in Iran. The news media has reported on public floggings, hangings, and other forms of execution to those in Iran who've been found "guilty" of homosexuality.
"I want to remain involved in helping gay people," LaSalvia said. "America is a beacon of freedom."