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If being a gay man in the Republican Party sounds like hell, well, being a Republican in the LGBT community is no day at Fire Island, either.
That might be part of the reason just two of 7,383 lawmakers elected to serve in statehouses across the country are that living, legislating oxymoron known the Gay Republican.
State Rep. Tim Brown, elected to his first term last fall from a northwestern Ohio district that includes Bowling Green, makes up half that national caucus and navigates both camps with a smile – and an admonition.
He describes House Speaker William Batchelder, who campaigned in 2012 with anti-gay GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, as “extremely accepting and welcoming,” but he readily admits: “I want to see my party change.”
And he has attended several LGBT community events since serving in Columbus, but he says the LGBT community needs to work a little on open-mindedness, too.
“There are differences within the gay community. The gay community tends to be a little bit slow at respecting diversity within its own family.”
Brown has long balanced politics and the personal.
On being gay, he said: “It’s how I’m wired. … It’s part of who I am.”
And he’s been a Republican almost as long.
Born on an Air Force base in Nebraska, Brown grew up south of Dayton in Miamisburg. He had a Richard Nixon poster as a child. He watched presidential press conferences and state of the union speeches. He read history books.
“I can out-nerd you,” he said with a laugh.
Like many in his age group, though, he was drawn into the conservative ideology and the Republican Party by Ronald Reagan, who campaigned at many colleges during his 1984 re-election campaign.
Brown was a student then at Bowling Green State University and got the chance to meet the president during a stop on campus. A photo is on his desk today in the Riffe Building.
Before his election to the Ohio House, Brown served 15 years as a Wood County commissioner. He said he had long been out to family, friends and party leaders, but he refers to 2007 blog posts and newspaper stories in Bowling Green and Toledo as his “outing.”
Brown was considering a run for Congress at the time and said he decided “not to run from that or hide from it” if the subject of his sexual orientation came up. When an anonymous comment on a political blog brought calls from newspaper reporters, he came out publicly.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was scared to death about what this was going to mean for me,” he said.
He didn’t enter that congressional race, citing the cost and an overcrowded field, and he didn’t face re-election as a county commissioner until 2010. In conservative Wood County – “even the gay people there are Republican,” a Toledo Blade columnist joked – Brown won 60 percent of the vote in a three-way race.
“I was nervous up until the votes started coming in. Were people being nice to me and then they’d do something behind my back? But that was very gratifying. The voters chose someone not based on their sexual orientation but on the job they had done.”
He won his legislative race last fall with just 51 percent of the vote, although he points out that Democrats on the ballot, President Obama and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, carried his district.
In the Ohio House, Brown is a reliable Republican vote on most issues. He voted for the two-year state budget and received endorsements from the National Rifle Association, Ohio Right to Life and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.
But he also is a cosponsor of the Equal Housing and Employment Act, a bill that would ban discrimination against LGBT Ohioans. Brown supports marriage equality and was elected to the legislature with an endorsement – and a $500 donation – from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a national group that backs LGBT candidates.
“It is refreshing to have Representative Brown in the House,” said Elyzabeth Holford, executive director of Equality Ohio. “He represents his district well, and he has been very supportive.”
Like former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro, who endorsed a potential 2014 ballot measure on marriage equality, Brown argues that his fellow Republicans should embrace the issue as a matter of freedom and economics.
Based on that position alone, he has been invited more than once to change teams – politically, that is.
But he’s not budging in that part of his life, either.
“[Democrats] would be as angry with me on some issues as Republicans are.”