Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Republican. Presbyterian. Male. Proud Parent of Lesbian.

Every so often, you see something that shows there is hope for the GOP. The Des Moines Register profiled a businessman that has been described as the stereotypical Republican with one execption: he is a tireless campaigner for gay equality. Here's a sample of Ted Coppack's life:

A longstanding membership in the Republican Party, a career in insurance and ages-old religious affiliations and understandings of right and wrong had not prepared him for this phone conversation with his daughter.

Valerie, 30 at the time, divorced and living in the Washington, D.C., area, was planning for her parents' visit at Thanksgiving. She wanted them to know beforehand that she was in an intimate relationship. With a woman.

In that moment, Coppock, now 70, had to discard a lifetime of accrued images and expectations. As Valerie spoke, he was thinking about these two guys he used to know in his jock days at North High, who everyone assumed were "homos." They were straight-A students and on the student government, but Coppock and the other jocks made fun of them - right to their faces. "All I could think," says Coppock of listening to his daughter speak, "was what an a------ I was in school."

He had a lot of thinking to do that day. He had to get past wondering whether they had somehow raised her wrong to understanding that Valerie could no more choose to be gay than choose to be deaf, which she also is.

After coming to terms with his daughter's sexuality, Coppack became an activist for gay rights:

Coppock, who calls himself a citizen lobbyist, has played that role before. Sharing his own story, he's lobbied members of his party to expand the state's civil-rights law to protect gays and lesbians. In his church, Westminster Presbyterian, he's president of the Gay Lesbian Affirmation Small Group. He's been active in the bid to get the entire Presbyterian Church to change its stance that homosexuality is not in line with its beliefs, and to drop the requirement of chastity or heterosexual marriage to be ordained as a minister, deacon or elder.

He has found that the best way to resolve differences is to talk personally and share life experiences. He did that with Pat Ward, his West Des Moines senator, when the Legislature was debating a bill to outlaw school bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation. Republicans were in the majority. Ward, a Republican, thought the anti-bullying policy at Valley High was good enough. But from Coppock and other constituents, she says, "I learned that even though a school may have a policy, it's important that state law backs up the policy." She supported the bill, and it became law.

"He had something affect him very personally in his real life," says Ward of Coppock. "Because he's a businessman he knows how to communicate in a very articulate and non-threatening way.... He's not the guy that comes out with the banners and posters and protests."

Another lawmaker Coppock approached told him he believes homosexuality is wrong, and that he had not spoken to a gay sister in years because of that. Coppock urged the lawmaker to consider calling his sister - which he says happened.

Mr. Coppack is a hero in my book. This man is the perfect textbook Republican who is also making sure that his daughter and others like her are able to live as equals in this place we call America.

I've said it once, and I will say it again: as important as it is for gay Republicans to come forward and fight for equality, it is just as important that the Republican parents, siblings and friends of gay and lesbian persons also come forward and work for equality. The more Meghan McCains and Ted Coppacks we have in the GOP, the more the Republican party can shake off the shackles of bigotry.

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