[The Stories of America editors: This article is part of the Week One Pairing. To read the other story, click here.]
U.S. Army veteran Matthew Shuman has been the odd one in the room almost all of his life.
As a gay, pro-gun Republican, Shuman is no stranger to people asking questions about his political identity and choices.
“When people hear those words mashed together, they go: ‘Wait, what?’” Shuman said.
Raised by two lesbian mothers in Scottsdale, Arizona, Shuman was different from an early age.
In high school, Shuman came out as gay in junior year and started a gay and straight alliance with a group of other students. He was an active, social student and was also president of a Republican group at the school.
“I was a jock and people didn’t really screw with me,” Shuman said about those times.
But once he enlisted in the U.S. Army right after school, Shuman had to go back into the closet — the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which barred openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people from military service, wasn’t repealed then.
Shuman was in the Army for four years and served as a militant police officer and an honor guard. He said it was tough to conceal who he really was from other people in the Army, but he preferred to concentrate on the bigger picture of why he and others were there: to train and fight from the country if necessary.
“For me, it sucked,” Shuman said. “I was part of this group, and you get to be best friends with these guys, and they would be talking about their kids and wives, and then there was me.”
But Shuman said he knew the times were changing.
After his time in the Army, Shuman went to college, graduated and moved to D.C., where he has lived for the past five years.
In the summer of 2015, Shuman found himself outside the Supreme Court building, awaiting the court’s verdict on gay marriage among thousands of people.
Shuman remembers expecting the worst. As he stood in the crowd, he ran into a former conservative congressman he worked for. He told him: “I hope it’s good news for you.”
“It was so nice to hear that,” Shuman said. “And then to have gay marriage recognized constitutionally moments later…It was amazing.”
Another issue Shuman is passionate about is the right to bear arms, which the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees to its people.
“In my view, my Second Amendment rights protect everything else I have,” Shuman said.
As a kid, Shuman liked to play with toy guns, and when he was 12 or 13, one of his mothers, who is also pro-gun, took him to a shooting range for the first time. He has been passionate about guns ever since.
Now, Shuman goes to shooting ranges from time to time and likes to encourage some of his other friends, who have different opinions on guns, to come out with him.
“I just think it’s fun,” Shuman said. “I love exercising my rights and being knowledgeable about them.”
Shuman believes that the government should do more when it comes to mental health services. But banning guns isn’t the answer, he said.
“I think once we start debating whether the Second Amendment should be repealed, the whole Constitution is debatable,” Shuman said.
Shuman, who is now 28, has been lobbying for several years on behalf of the interests of veterans, and he loves what he does.
“People who defend our country make our country great,” Shuman said. “And I get to sit down with members of Congress and staff to mold language to better the lives of veterans.”
As a young gay Republican, he still stands out on the Capitol Hill — including for his decision to vote for President-Elect Donald Trump — but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
He proudly dons bow ties and wears tailored suits. When he talks to congressmen about issues he cares about, like veteran rights, he likes to casually mention his boyfriend in passing.
“I love the opportunity to break their stereotype of what a gay person is supposed to be,” Shuman said. “I am not what they’ve envisioned, and I like breaking that. I like to see it shatter in their face.”