Alex Earles was eight years old when he voted for Bob Dole for President. It was not a real ballot. Poll workers in Assaria made unofficial ballots for Earles, Salina sophomore, as a child because they knew he always came with his mother to vote.
We always talked about news and politics as a family, Earles said.
Earles told his friends and family last year that he was gay, turning the small town he grew up in on its head. But nothing about Earles really changed, not even his political affiliation with the Republican Party.
Earles high school senior class comprised the same 80 people he entered kindergarten with. Southeast Saline, a school southeast of Salina. is a K-12 school. Randee Platt went to school with Earles and said the school was in the middle of a cow pasture.
I would say 80 percent of the people we went to high school with were conservative Republicans and 95 percent of the community is, Platt said.
Earles said he decided to come out after coming to college and meeting other gay people.
When I first came out I thought I should change parties and become a Democrat, Earles said. But my views didnt change, I was still a moderate Republican. Ultimately, you have to follow what you believe in.
Earles refers to himself as a moderate Republican because he supports gay marriage, but that is the only issue he disagrees with the Republican Party on.
You dont base your political party on one thing, Earles said. Im not going to let a three-letter word, g-a-y, define who I am for everything.
Some people think it is odd to be both gay and Republican because traditionally minority groups vote more for the Democratic Party.
You dont see many people who are gay and even moderates, said Nick Harbert, Wichita sophomore and Earles friend. Its refreshing to see someone be who they are and not be afraid to be gay and Republican.
But Earles mother had fears when her son first came out.
Hes always wanted to be in politics and I thought, Oh no, now he cant, Robin Earles said. So I hope he still has a chance to do that and that people come around enough for that to happen for him because hed be so good at it.
Earles is a political science and communications major and worked for District 24 State Senator Pete Brungardt (R-Salina). He is also a Student Senator and ran for United Students for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences seat.
My future political ambitions held me back from coming out sooner, Earles said. Ive always wanted to run for office, but thought no open gay could.
Earles changed his mind after being out for a year.
Why cant I run? he said. If Im open and honest it shouldnt make a bit of difference. I still want to be a leader and part of being a good leader is taking chances and risks.
Edited by Jesse Temple