It was the late 1990s, and I went up to Rolling Stone on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan to say hello to my old friend Bobby Love who was the longtime managing editor. I had worked at Rolling Stone for a short while many years before and had made many friends and drinking buddies, including Bobby and some other editors and art directors.
Sitting in the lobby, waiting for Bobby, up came Nikki, a tall flame-haired editor I had not seen in a long time.
“What are you up to these days?” she asked.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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“I am running a UN NGO.”
“Oh!” the admiration pouring from her. “What do you work on?”
This would have been roughly in 1997, a time when the abortion issue was even more controversial than it is now, if that can be imagined.
Already tall, Nikki seemed to grow in height, like a cobra ready to strike, and she said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
With that, she turned on her heel and stormed so violently down the hallway that I swear the framed guitar hanging on the wall, the one that Jimi burned at Monterey, nearly fell.
A few hours later I was walking along Columbus Avenue near my apartment on the Upper West Side when I bumped into another woman I had not seen in a long time, and a nearly identical conversation occurred except that when she asked what we worked on at the UN, I answered, “Human rights.” Her eyes brightened, her heart warmed and swelled with admiration, and she said, “Let’s have lunch!”
What woes would have befallen me had we gone to lunch under false pretenses for, of course, I did not work on human rights, not from her point of view anyway; rather, I worked on blocking women’s “human rights,” a whole other and a much smellier kettle of fish.
I experienced a double conversion not long after college. I had come “thisclose” to working for Teddy Kennedy upon graduation. The Kennedy operation had offered me a job but, for some reason, I turned it down and went into the magazine business. I remember vividly reading the very serious New Republic in those days. But, in the back, in the classifieds, was a thumbprint ad with a quotation that consisted of no more than one or two screamingly funny sentences accompanied by the tagline, “From the current issue of National Review.” The New Republic, then and certainly now, is a desert of seriousness and no laughs to speak of. So, I picked up National Review. My first thought was, “does anyone else know about this?” It seemed produced for me and me alone.
But, living first in Washington, D.C., and then New York, it was dangerous to be seen reading National Review. I would bend the cover back and not let anyone see what I was reading. I recall going to the Strand Bookstore and finding someone had sold their entire collection of Bill Buckley books which I snapped up and still possess.
Among my friends at Rolling Stone, it was not a capital crime—more of an amusement really—to be a conservative, though I was little more than an anti-communist conservative at the time.
I began dating Mindy when we both worked at the Discovery Channel, me on the magazine, she in research at the network. Since we were becoming exclusive, I felt an obligation to tell her my politics, i.e., to come out of the closet. It was only fair.
While having a burger at JG Melon’s on the East Side, I turned to her and said portentously—I was so nervous—“I have something I need to tell you.”
She paused for a long time. Did she think I was going to propose?
“I. Am. A. Conservative.”
“How. Conservative. Are. You?”
I paused for the longest time. How to put this? I had not thought that far along. So I blurted out, “I oppose federal funding for the arts.”
Mindy burst out laughing. “Is that all?”
I do not remember when I told her the entire ugly truth, but for the moment that was all I could come up with.
It was much more comfortable in those days. There was no Internet. There were no Twitter wars, no Facebook. You could keep your poisonous politics pretty much to yourself. It was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” time.
By this time, I had also converted to the Catholic Church but had almost immediately fallen away in practice—not because I opposed Church teaching in anything, but for the reason that I was not ready to clean up my room, so to speak.
In May 1993, I broke up with Mindy, went to confession, and started going to Mass every day. A few years later, we founded C-Fam, a pro-life lobbying group at the UN. It was then that coming out became messy, as you can see from my encounter with Nikki at Rolling Stone. And along came the issue of homosexual marriage, and the Internet, and even if I had wanted to keep my politics to myself, it was no longer possible. Everything became poison.
There are friends from those days before I came so thoroughly out of the closet who no longer speak to me. There is Blake, one of my closest friends in Washington, D.C., and now a big deal in Hollywood. He won’t even talk to me.
I tracked down Mitch, a political mentor in leftist politics from university and Washington DC days, and he told me, “Don’t ever contact me again.” He was the one who taught me never to make politics personal.
My former boss at Fortune Magazine said much the same thing. I cannot tell you the number of friends I have lost because of my beliefs. My boss at Fortune noted what must be on the minds of many ex-friends: “What the hell happened to you?”
Homosexuals are celebrated when they come out of the closet. There is a National Coming Out Day. They are brave. But, I ask, how brave is it to turn toward the applause? Those who come out conservative—and more than that, those who come out socially conservative, pro-life, or pro-family—are the brave ones. They lose social standing, some lose jobs, and all lose friends.
Please know I am not whining. I have no regrets in doing the work I do, holding and expressing the beliefs I hold. The social left wants to drive us into the closet; they practically demand that we feel socially isolated, all alone. People will do nearly anything not to be alone. This is a page right out of Soviet propaganda and mind control.
Hats off to some of my friends from those olden days who knew me as a liberal and stayed my friend as I moved right: David LaGesse from high school and college who became a very successful journalist; Bobby Love, long-ago managing editor of Rolling Stone, now running the AARP Magazine; and Scott Clarkson, a federal judge with whom I cut my political teeth in high school. All are on the left, and all remain good friends of mine.
To all those who remain in the closet, to you, I say, come out. It may cost you, but the closet is a lonely place, and, after all, your treasure is someplace else. You will save lives. You will save your country. And the soul you save may be your own.