Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, a law-professors’ group blog, someone put up a link yesterday to a post by a guy who calls himself Gay Patriot West, saying that gay conservatives on campus get a warmer welcome from conservatives than they do from gays.

The comments thread on the Volokh post explored the issue from a few different angles, but it didn’t address one that I consider crucial — the historical context. Here’s the meat of my contribution to the discussion, posted just a little while ago:

Whatever ease gays have around conservatives exists only because of limitations on conservatives’ political power. 

Fifty years ago, you could be imprisoned or institutionalized for being gay or lesbian. You could be jailed for hanging out with gays. You could lose your business if that business catered to gay people. Forget having any job security, or any recognition for your relationships, or any social deference to your life choices except in the most anomalous subcultures. To be gay or lesbian in the United States fifty years ago was to live in fear of disclosure and persecution. 

Most of that has changed. But it has changed despite conservatives, not because of them. To a large degree it has changed over the vocal and forceful opposition of conservatives. It has changed because conservatives’ power has waned, because conservatives’ power has been constrained, and because conservatives have realized that most Americans don’t agree with their most anti-gay positions. And yes, it has changed because many conservatives have become less hostile to gays and lesbians, buoyed along by a broader cultural transformation that they did not initiate. 

To the extent that it is easy to be a gay person among conservatives today, that is because of the weakness of traditional conservative values in American society today. The idea of conservatives as second-class citizens, deprived of basic civil rights, is a right-wing fever dream. That of gays and lesbians being deprived of basic civil rights is a matter of historical record. 

The Gay Patriot has his ease because his side has been defeated in a thousand hard-fought struggles over the last half-century.

One other thing that I could have mentioned: The social and political climate for lesbians and gays in America has changed least in the last half-century in the parts of the country where conservatives remain strongest. It has changed the most in those places where conservatism is weakest. Gay Patriot West went to the University of Virginia law school. He lives in Los Angeles today. His experience of being a conservative gay man reflects those facts of his geography.