An interview with Sarah Longwell '02
Sarah Longwell ’02 was elected in January to be the first female chairman of Log Cabin Republicans, the country’s most prominent organization for LGBT conservatives. Longwell, who was a political science major at Kenyon, lives in Washington, D.C., with her wife and son, and is a senior vice president and partner at the communications firm Berman and Company.
Q: How did you get involved with Log Cabin Republicans?
A: It was complete happenstance. I had a friend who was the political reporter for The Advocate here in D.C., and when [former Republican National Committee chairman] Ken Mehlman came out of the closet in 2010, she wanted to do a story profiling other LGBT Republicans. So, she profiled me and all of a sudden my phone started ringing with calls from people and organizations wanting to get me involved. I was surprised by the reaction, but there simply aren’t many lesbian Republicans and these groups were eager to add some diversity. It was new to me back then to talk about gay issues; I worked every day in politics and public policy but I had never been involved in anything specifically LGBT. At the time, the marriage equality conversation was approaching a tipping point, and I wanted to be a part of advocating for marriage — especially within Republican circles.
Q: Most people don’t associate the GOP with LGBT rights. Why is it important to you to be a Republican?
A: I believe in limited government, I prioritize the individual over the state, I favor lower taxes. Generally speaking, the principles of the Republican Party are more closely aligned to my own than those of the Democratic Party. But I think Republicans often fail to live up to their principles. For me, it’s about trying to find ways to encourage the Republican Party to be the best version of itself. I always thought the Republican opposition to gay marriage was not only irrational, but did not comport with actual conservative philosophy, which puts a premium on individual liberty. Kenyon gave me the intellectual confidence to say, “I’m not going to walk away from the Republican Party over the 20 percent I disagree with. I’m going to work within the party to advocate for change on those issues.”
There’s this [saying] in Washington: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” It’s important to me to be at the table. I think it’s a lot harder for Republicans and conservatives to be against gay marriage when there’s somebody who’s gay and has a family sitting with them in the room.
Q: What’s it like to be a conservative, LGBT Republican in D.C. during the Trump administration?
A: I take a lot more ﬂak from the LGBT community for being a Republican than I do from Republicans for being gay. Republicans in D.C. are increasingly supportive of LGBT issues. What’s harder today is being a moderate Republican — or a moderate Democrat. The current political climate is so polarized and the commonly held definitions of what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat seem to have been upended during the last election. I think everyone in D.C. is still trying to ﬁnd their bearings in a post-Bernie Sanders, post-Donald Trump political ecosystem.
Q: What’s your advice for Kenyon students who might want to work in D.C.?
A: Do it! D.C. is a fantastic town, even if you’re leery of the current administration. It’s a great place for young people. There are a lot of jobs, and it’s the kind of place where you can get an internship for a couple of months while you look for a full-time job. If you’re concerned about the state of politics then come to D.C. and be part of the solution. I love hiring Kenyon grads or passing on their resumes to friends around town. Regardless of political affiliation I’m always confident that a Kenyon graduate can get the job done.
Q: You recently returned to Gambier for your 15th reunion. Any other thoughts on Kenyon?
A: I love Kenyon. I loved introducing Kenyon to my son, Edward. I don’t have any tattoos, but if I got one, it would probably be of something Kenyon-related. Kenyon is a place where ideas come first. In the classroom you were expected to challenge each other and to be challenged by the professors, and I never felt like expressing more conservative ideas was something that was unwelcome. Even though we did have some pretty epic arguments.
Before we had a kid I used to come back to Kenyon to take Professor Jensen’s summer seminars. My colleagues think it’s a strange way to spend a week of vacation, but they can’t understand how special it is to get back to Kenyon as an adult and experience just a small taste of being back in the classroom.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.