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Republican and Lesbian, and Fighting for Acceptance of Both Identities

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The New York Times
|
November 26, 2012

In 1996, Kathryn Lehman was a soon-to-be married lawyer working for Republicans in the House of Representatives. One of her major accomplishments: helping to write the law that bans federal recognition of same-sex marriages.

Today, Ms. Lehman, 53, no longer has a husband, and no longer identifies as straight. And she is a lobbyist for Freedom to Marry, which is devoted to overturning the very law she helped write, the Defense of Marriage Act.

But Ms. Lehman is still a fervent Republican.

“I’m trying to break the stereotype that all gays and lesbians, especially lesbians, are Democrats,” she said.

Although the Republican Party has long drawn gay men who believe in the party’s message of small government and a strong military, Republican lesbians are a rare political breed.

“Oh, we’re like unicorns,” said Erin Simpson, 51, who cites “personal liberty” as a fundamental value and teaches firearms safety in Tucson. Ms. Simpson, who came out in February, was “very disheartened” by Mitt Romney’s loss — one fueled, in part, by overwhelming gay support for President Obama.

There is no way to measure the true numbers, but gay activists say that in many cases, these “unicorns” were Republicans before they were gay — driven by conservative upbringings, economic issues and libertarian principles. They often did not acknowledge their sexual orientation, even to themselves, until middle age.

In interviews, these Republicans said they often feel like the odd women out, in their party and among other lesbians. But they are beginning to make their presence known, said Casey Pick, a program director and the first woman on the staff of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay-rights group.