When Army veteran Rob Smith came out as gay, it was a personal moment reserved for his family and close friends.
The shooting may have been a “turning point” for Smith, but his decision to make a public declaration about his newfound political beliefs took a little more time.
Eventually, Smith’s desire to live an honest life, open about his beliefs, overpowered his fear of what people would say or the consequences he would face.
“When I came out as a gay veteran and I was fighting for ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ repeal, I was doing it because I knew there was a future that would include lesbian, gay, bisexual soldiers in the military being open and honest about who they are and they wouldn’t care,” Smith explained.
“I know that five, 10, 20, 25 years from now, me being out as an openly gay conservative, an openly gay and black conservative will open doors for this to not be as shocking and surprising to people,” Smith explained.
Since he started expressing his conservative beliefs, Smith said he’s received multiple text messages from people he once socialized with hoping he “gets well” from the illness causing him to support Republican policies.
Given that his “coming out” as a conservative was a public affair, Smith had to navigate a social media fallout that included being on the receiving end of racial slurs.
One Twitter user, who appeared to be white, called him an “Uncle Tom,” and Smith noticed that five people, who appeared to be black, retweeted it.
Smith has also seen people who are black hurling racial slurs at other people who are black over divergent opinions, which he sees having consequences that transcend one political disagreement.
The attacks, along with sending the message that someone who is black has to think a certain way, rubbed Smith the wrong way because of the message it sent about mental illness.
“When you have that messaging being disseminating across the media, it makes it safe for people to stigmatize mental illness and to put that stigma on other people just because they think differently,” Smith said.
At the root of the problem, according to Smith, is the belief that some people hold that if you’re black and hold divergent political views, you’re the “enemy” and should be “excommunicated.”
As an Army veteran and a gay, black man, Smith has several identities and he said he’s proud of every one.
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