Neil J. Young, "Coming Out Republican: A History of the Gay Right" (U Chicago Press, 2024)


Coming Out Republican: A History of the Gay Right (U Chicago Press, 2024) is a fascinating and engaging historical tour of those who were gay and active in Republican and conservative politics over the course of the last 80 years. Neil J. Young has written an accessible and deeply sources book that brings forward stories about those in the closet, those out of the closet, and in some cases, the move to come out as gay in Republican politics and in conservative activism. Young explains early on that part of the impetus for the book is the contemporary question: why would anyone be a gay Republican? But the discussion is far from simple, and the book traces more than eight decades of history focusing on the evolution and changing ideology of the Republican Party while also exploring different factions within the party, in a variety of places and regions in the United States. All of this is woven together to provide a lively history. Young himself is part of this history, as he explains his own political evolution and his personal story.

One of the points that becomes clear in Coming Out Republican is that there are distinctions between conservativism and Republican politics. It is also undeniable from the research and the history that the individuals who are gay Republicans, either in the 1950s or in the 1980s or in the 2020s, are generally middle- or upper-class white men. The book starts in the 1950s in Washington, D.C., where a number of closeted gay men were instrumental in fundraising and political activism for both the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Young also notes that Washington, D.C. at this time had a lively gay community. What is fascinating with this starting point is that these gay men were adamantly anti-Communist, as Young explains it, they were essentially creating a kind of closet for themselves that protected them from many of the homophobic attacks that were made during the McCarthy era. Moving through historical periods and back and forth across the country, Young traces the different kinds of activists and the causes within the Republican party that animated them—personal freedom and liberty, bodily autonomy, fiscal conservativism, anti-statism, etc.—alongside the evolution of the Republican Party itself, which integrates white Evangelical voters, especially from the South, during this same time period. 

Coming Out Republican provides the reader with essentially two historical accounts, focusing on the role and place of gay Republicans and conservatives within the party and the conservative movement as a whole, while also delineating the shifts in the conversative movement towards the New Right, and a Republican Party that highlights socially conservative policy, which tends to be more limiting of individual freedom and bodily autonomy. Coming Out Republican: A History of the Gay Right also outlines the other side of the LGBTQ movement, teasing out how those on the left were or were not engaged in the quest for equal rights and full citizenship for LGBTQ individuals. This is a really interesting assessment, since it pulls out competing approaches to rights advocacy and political advocacy, and also spotlights the places and times when advocacy was absent.

Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-host of the New Books in Political Science channel at the New Books Network. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012). She can be reached

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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