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His first bullies arrived by bike, middle-schoolers.
“We’re gonna kick your ass you little faggot,” they yelled. “We’re gonna kick your ass when you get to this school.”
They called him a fairy. They smashed eggs on his head.
The taunts came day after day as he walked to and from school. His mother, fearing for her son, put him in a new school. He entered seventh grade with new classmates, but it didn’t get easier. This was Utah in the ‘90s.
From the time he was little, he loved Barbies and Disney princesses. In kindergarten, he chose dresses when playing dress-up.
“When I was like 8, and nobody was home, I would go in the closet and get the poofy part of my sister’s prom dress and just twirl around by myself and in the mirror,” he recalls. “And I definitely identified with what a culture calls female. And the great injustice for me, as someone who identifies with the feminine, is that this world says, a dress and makeup and sparkles are only for women.”
Mormon-raised in a house that did not support homosexuality, he desperately tried to suppress his attraction to boys. He went to Brigham Young University and served on a mission for two years in France. Still struggling after college, he put himself through anti-gay conversion therapy where he was promised a “normal” life. He started dating a best friend, a girl.
“Her father actually left her family because he’s gay,” he said. “And I watched that devastation. And I was like, I’m not doing that … She deserves a man who loves her, sexually and emotionally and physically and romantically, and I can’t do that.”
He took his chances. At age 22, he came out.
More than a decade later, Lady Maga USA makes her entrance into a throng clad in red T-shirts and hats.
“Trump is making America great again, whether you’re Black, White, Latino or a drag queen!” she says to the crowd in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The drag queen bit is not a joke. That’s actually Miss Maga herself. It’s been years since that closeted young Mormon from Utah broke up with his girlfriend and came out. Today, he’s a mini-celebrity among die-hard Trump supporters.
Miss Maga is wearing a “Make America Great Again” shirt and hat, looking out across a crowd of thousands chanting “USA! USA!” She wears white a “Lady Maga USA” sash across her chest. Her lips, like her shirt, are bright red. Her curls are perfectly curled and blonde.
This outfit, like all of her outfits, is strictly G-rated. When she first appeared as Lady Maga USA (always add the USA, lest Lady Gaga’s people get litigious), it was in an American flag bikini. Now, she aims to be a family-friendly drag queen, typically sporting jeans or a ball gown.
Miss Maga, who chooses to go by her stage name — she said she and her mother have received death threats because she supports Trump — used to be a Democrat. In the early 2000s, she met Al and Tipper Gore at a Human Rights Campaign dinner.
Back then, Republicans just weren’t accepting, she said. Even still, she voted for George W. Bush in 2004. She felt like the left was growing intolerable and unforgiving, unwilling to engage in difficult conversations.
For three years, her drag persona had been Ryanna Woods, a nod to the character Elle Woods from the film “Legally Blonde.” In 2019, she debuted Lady Maga USA. Friends she had for years through Utah’s drag bars stopped talking to her.
“As soon as I came out as a Trump supporter, for them it erased all the good qualities that I have, and they only focused on that, assuming that I’m some sort of monster,” she said. “I lost everything. I lost my performances. I lost my friends. I lost my sense of community.”
Her new community is made up of thousands of other LGBTQ+ people who back president Trump, she says. She almost always appears at rallies as Lady Maga USA, and this October she is fully booked. Her schedule has no less than eight Trump events — all unpaid — leading up to Election Day.
Miss Maga has drained her own finances on costumes, travel and hotels to show her support for the president.
Miss Maga’s top issues are not LGBTQ+ rights. She is a strong advocate for the Second Amendment and for free speech. She thinks that people have a right to say offensive things, even if they are hateful.
“I think that the LGBT mainstream community is pushing further and further trying to eliminate all discussion or questioning of their agenda,” she said. “And I think that’s dangerous because we could be next. Anyone can be next, and I believe that free speech is absolute.”
At the Albuquerque Trump rally, she gives hugs to fellow supporters. She speaks in Spanish and English. She stops for photos.
“God bless you,” a man says to her.
This is not the response she expected the first time she went to a Trump rally in drag last year.
“I was terrified to go to the Trump rally, because I thought I may be rejected, I may be yelled at, I may be kicked out for all I know,” Miss Maga told The 19th. “But the moment I arrived, the first thing that happened was a lady comes running up to me and asked for a picture and told me I was fabulous. And then I walked in my full drag into the rally past the line and people were just cheering and screaming and welcoming me.”
Miss Maga is among a rarely discussed voting bloc: LGBTQ+ Republicans. According to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, just 15 percent of LGBTQ+ people are Republicans, compared to 35 percent of the general population. It’s unclear what percentage of those Republicans will vote for President Donald Trump in this election. Before taking office, Trump vowed to be a friend to LGBTQ+ people. Many say he broke that promise.
LGBTQ+ media organization GLAAD has tallied at least 175 incidents of the Trump administration attacking the community, from substantial policy rollbacks to the transgender military ban to fighting against landmark LGBTQ+ workplace protections won at the Supreme Court in June. Jennifer Pritzker, transgender billionaire, backed Trump four years ago. This time around, she has funneled more than $100,000 into defeating him.
Conservative values have often been painted as antithetical to LGBTQ+ rights. But the people who encapsulate both of those groups present a different picture.
Chad Felix Greene describes a similar experience of being embraced by conservatives as an openly gay person. Greene grew up in West Virginia and Ohio, with no openly gay peers in school.
As he entered his teenage years, he wished desperately he could be a girl. He tried wearing women’s clothing, but none of it looked right on him.
“I felt a sense of despair that there did not seem to be an option for me,” he said.
In 1998, the same year as the Columbine High School shooting, Greene’s principal outed him to his parents in front of school counselors, he said. His father, who had only seen depictions of gay people because of the AIDS epidemic, was traumatized by the event, Green said. He was the first person in his high school to come out, and it made him a target of bullying. Adults in his life worried that like the Columbine shooters, Greene was an outcast.
“I had to go to a therapist and had to have a written statement that I was mentally fit, and I wasn’t dangerous to anybody,” he recalled.
He remembers sitting in high school science class one day next to a friend he’d had since kindergarten. Her eyes, crystal blue, reminded him so much of Ellen Degeneres’, which he’d seen on the cover of a book. He told her she had Ellen’s eyes.
“And remember that she instantaneously said, ‘Don’t ever compare me to that woman,’” Greene recalled.
The experience struck him so much that he drew into himself. Comparing anyone to a gay person was unforgivable — he was unforgivable. “I almost didn’t graduate,” he said. “I ended up graduating, I think second to last in my class. I just barely got by because I didn’t care any longer.”
In college, he took sociology and psychology classes, and the world started to open up. He became what he called an “aggressive liberal activist,” making pamphlets about gay rights that he left on cars and at churches.
But Greene found his liberal peers to be dismissive and unforgiving, he said. His first girlfriend in middle school, who he always idealized, had been Black. He remembers sharing with a college class that when he had a kid, he wanted to adopt a Black child.
“Several of the Black girls in the class told me that was the same as slavery,” he said. “They thought that I was purchasing a Black woman to be a symbol of pride for myself and that it was racism, and it was so startling to me to be called a racist.”
It was one of several incidents that pushed Greene away from progressive circles and toward conservative politics, he said. But it wasn’t until 2018 that he voted Republican, or voted at all. The confirmation process for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh pushed him over the edge. Greene did not believe allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh or concerns from LGBTQ+ advocacy groups that he posed a threat to equal rights.
“I thought he was brutally targeted by an intentional campaign to smear him as aggressively as possible with false allegations to try and thwart his nomination,” Greene said. “I’m a survivor of rape. What they did hurt me very personally.”
Today, Greene’s a prominent LGBTQ+ conservative voice. He has more than 45,000 Twitter followers and a new book out, “Without Context: Evaluating the Anti-LGBT Claims Against the Trump Administration.” He early voted in Ohio this year, his first presidential election.
Like Greene, Wyatt Torosian takes issue with identity politics. Torosian, a bisexual and mixed raced conservative, says he cares less about a person’s race or gender and more about their ideas.
“There has been an overemphasis on personal background and people’s identifiers as determining what their beliefs could be,” he said.
Torosian lives in Hollywood, a beacon of LGBTQ+ acceptance. His best friend is a “cis Jewish liberal socialist female,” he says. He grew up in what he describes as an apolitical family in Fresno. He came out as conservative in high school, long before he came out as bisexual, which was just four years ago. It’s hard to say which was more difficult, he said.
Torosian believes in limited government and strong national defense. Social issues are low on his list. He concedes that it might be a privilege to look at this election and not see the outcome as life or death for him or the people that he loves, but he also thinks that people overstate that worry to bully people into voting with them.
“If you’re on dialysis, and your health care coverage protects that, and then the next occupant [of the White House] might alter that health care coverage that could be a life or death situation, that is the person I want to hear from,” he said.
LGBTQ+ conservatives interviewed tend to value the same things as as other conservatives: They believe in small government, have an “America-first” mindset, and are anti-abortion. They see Trump’s rollback of LGBTQ+ rights as part of a larger deregulation campaign to limit the powers of the federal government, not as a targeted attack on gay and transgender rights.
Straight Republicans have welcomed LGBTQ+ people, they say. New data from the Human Rights Campaign suggests that Trump voters in swing states largely support LGBTQ+ equality. In Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, Trump voters were more likely than not to support marriage equality, adoption rights and transgender military service. At least 60 percent in each state said trans people should be able to live freely and openly, and 87 percent or more backed trans access to medical care.
However, this doesn’t translate to support for transgender rights across the board. In fact, many gay, lesbian and bisexual conservatives openly question the validity of transgender people, even to a transgender reporter. Miss Maga and Greene have digested far right beliefs about transgender people, believing that transgender people will forever be “biologically” the gender they were assigned at birth.
“I’m not going to tell a person who is transgender that they are not who they feel they are,” Greene said. “But I also don’t think that I’m obligated to believe them, or agree with them based on just what they tell me, either.”
Greene cites his own teenage desires to be a girl as proof that it’s possible for people to outgrow gender dysphoria. He desperately wanted to be female, but he’s perfectly happy presenting as male now — though his gender is complicated, he says.
“I feel like it’s similar to somebody who believes they’re psychic,” he said. “From an objective point of view, I cannot I can’t say that they aren’t, but I also can’t believe that they are. I feel the same way that if you are biologically male, you’re a physical male, and you say ‘I feel like I am female,’ what you’re doing is you are imagining what that must be like based on what you know, a female is.”
Miss Maga, too, always longed to put on dresses and sparkle, like a Disney princess. But she’s very clear that when the dress comes off, so does the lady. She wants people to use male pronouns when she’s out of drag.
Torosian differs here. While he says there is a difference between gender identity and sexual orientation, he sees trans issues as inherently connected to lesbian, gay and bisexual issues.
“I don’t get into the conversation where people want to get into the semantics of what trans is and everything like that,” he said. “I think that it’s a personal experience for each individual.”
Like many conservatives, Torosian, Greene and Miss Maga all oppose gender-affirming health care for transgender children.
Transgender children who experience gender dysphoria can be prescribed puberty blockers, temporary injections that pause puberty until a young person is old enough to make an informed decision about whether or not they want to medically transition.
The American Medical Association, states that the importance of puberty blockers “cannot be overstated,” adding that once kids start development of the “‘wrong’ sex,” their psychological well being substantially deteriorates and they are at-risk for suicide. A Harvard Medical School study earlier this year found that puberty blockers lowered suicide risk in transgender children by 15 percent.
But many LGBTQ+ conservatives think that kids are too young to socially transition, and they discount consensus among major medical organizations that state puberty blockers are reversible, safe and necessary, favoring controversial, often debunked studies.
But for Miss Maga, the argument is simple. She feels like she grew up a lot like Elsa, heroine of Disney’s “Frozen,” who is forced to wear gloves because she can’t control her ability to turn everything into ice with a wave of her hand.
“That’s how I felt as an Eagle Scout,” Miss Maga said. Playing into masculinity felt like keeping gloves on, keeping some magical power hidden, she said.
When “Frozen” came out in 2013, Miss Maga realized that boys could be sparkly and beautiful. Boys could wear dresses and heels. A person doesn’t need to transition to do that, she feels. To her that feels like gender essentialism. Lost in this discussion is the difference between gender identity, who you are at the core, and gender expression — some of us wear pants and some of us wear skirts.
“What makes me different, is actually beautiful,” she said. “It’s actually amazing, and I have something to offer the world. Watch me build a castle. Watch me sparkle.”
And now, thousands of people do. At Trump rallies.