The openly gay doctor is the vice chair of the city’s Second Ward Republican Executive Committee and is serving as an alternate delegate to this year’s Republican National Convention.
While most LGBTs tend to vote Democrat, being openly gay and a member of the Republican party are not mutually exclusive, Kaufer said.
“I don’t know how they could be incompatible. I find it a little insulting for someone to say I can’t be both these things.”
Kaufer, 32, grew up in Kingston, near Wilkes-Barre, which he described as a small, blue-collar coal town. It was not, however, a town conducive to coming out.
“Where I grew up and when I grew up, it was not a really open or even accepting environment,” he said. “There were no openly gay people in my high school. It was a long process for me of accepting myself and becoming comfortable enough to come out. Everyone does it in their own time frame but you have to have enough confidence in yourself to say, ‘This is me, take it or leave it.’”
Kaufer came out in his mid-20s, around the time he moved to Philadelphia after earning his degree from Lafayette College.
He attained his medical degree from Drexel University and completed his residency at Hahnemann.
His passion for medicine grew from his own bouts with gastrointestinal problems as a child.
“Being on that side of the patient/doctor relationship, I was really impressed by my physicians. They helped me and so I saw them like heroes,” Kaufer said. “I saw when I was young how the best health-care association in the world, the American Health Care Association, developed medications that made a world of difference in my life. It opened my eyes as a youngster to what a huge difference this field can make on someone’s life.”
Kaufer said he also has a “scientific” mind that drew him to medicine: While he enjoys research, he said he couldn’t sustain a lab-based career because he was eager to incorporate his people skills into his profession.
His interest in politics also was sparked early, during a ninth-grade class project.
“Our teacher inspired us to get involved — interview candidates, volunteer for campaigns. It was 1994 and that was the year of the ‘Republican Revolution,’ when the Republicans took back the House and Senate for the first time in many years, and I got really caught up in the campaign,” Kaufer said. “That’s when I realized I was a conservative person who believed in the Republican philosophy. Since then I’ve been working on campaigns for local, state and national races and just getting involved wherever I can.”
Kaufer said he hasn’t had a negative experience with a fellow Republican because of his orientation.
The discrimination, he said, has come instead from those who criticize him for belonging to both the Republican and LGBT communities.
“Everyone has their own frame of reference, comes from different places and believes in different things. Calling black Republicans ‘Uncle Toms’ and gay Republicans ‘homocons’ — it’s insulting,” he said. “I’ve worked hard to prove myself, and I want to be judged on my merits, and I have been. Growing up where I did, it wasn’t OK to be gay and, now that that’s more accepted, it seems like being a Republican in Philadelphia is the new thing that’s frowned upon.”
The notion that Republicans are all antigay is a misconception, Kaufer said. He suggested that those attitudes are more skewed along the generational divide, which stretches across all parties.
He said he believes that most elected Republican officials can see the value in commonsense LGBT equality issues.
“Equal visitation rights for gay and straight partners, adoption equality, job security, financial equality in terms of no tax penalties for gay couples and the ability to inherit from a partner — I think these are all things that both sides can agree upon that need to be done now,” he said. “Politics sometimes gets in the way because Democrats want to turn out their voters, and Republicans want to turn out their voters. I’m a practical person, though, and I think that these issues are all really no-brainers and, in a couple years — no matter who is in control — can be accomplished. People get caught up in marriage, but there is a lot of the generational stuff involved with that, and I think we need to focus on the individual things that can be reconciled right now.”
While Kaufer said a number of other issues should take precedence over LGBT-rights efforts, out members of the GOP can encourage movement on some of those issues within his party.
“This isn’t my No. 1 issue by any means, but I think being a gay person is helpful,” he said. “We need gay candidates and gay people involved, both Republicans and Democrats. It’s just like having gay family members and friends: When you have gay colleagues, it’s easier to be more open-minded.”
However, Kaufer doesn’t anticipate trading the hospital for the halls of a government building.
“I see myself as a physician more than anything else,” he said. “Politics is the fun, side hobby that I do when I have the free time, but my profession is first. I don’t have much free time as it is, but I’m going to continue to be involved in politics. If you find two things you love to do so much, you can find the time for both.”