Konrad Juengling is a 31-year-old activist born in Oregon and currently living in Idaho. He holds a Master’s degree in social work and has been using it for good.
Juengling is a gay man who also identifies as a feminist, a Democrat, and an Atheist.
GSN spoke with Juengling about his life, his activism, and why ‘coming out’ as an Atheist means so much to him.
‘My activism usually focuses on equal rights for LGBTQ people, repealing the blood ban on gay men, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and non-discrimination ordinances,’ Juengling says.
Back in 2016, before the election, Juengling thought Jeb Bush would be a frontrunner in the race. To combat Bush’s anti-LGBTI beliefs, Juengling published a children’s book called Jeb’s ABCs.
The satirical book critiques Bush’s policies regarding rights for LGBTI people, women, poor people, people of color, and environmental protections. Though marketed as kid-friendly, the book is really more for adults.
Bush isn’t the only candidate Juengling openly criticized during the 2016 election.
‘During that same election, I made an Amazon wish list with LGBT-related items for people to buy which would be sent to Ted Cruz’s office,’ Juengling says. ‘People did purchase items off the list, and he ostensibly received them. They were gay educational items, and items related to gay rights in general, to remind Cruz he has LGBT constituents as well. For example, there were unicorn blow up pool toys, etc.’
‘Unfortunately, I did not predict Donald Trump would clinch the nomination and — against all odds — become president,’ Juengling says in retrospect.
Anti-Religious Freedom Bills
But Juengling has been making big, pro-LGBTI statements even before the election.
Back in 2015, to protest a ‘Religious Freedom’ bill which would allow discrimination against LGBTI people, he bought the domain names of the Indiana lawmakers who voted to pass such a bill.
‘I wanted those lawmakers to learn a little bit about the people they were hurting by passing anti-LGBT legislation,’ Juengling explains. ‘I sent those URLs to the Human Rights Campaign’s youth statistics page.’
‘It’s important to engage in online activism because it allows one to reach a large audience, and the target of the activism can be aware of it quickly,’ Juengling says, adding that he also participates in marches, letter writing, and city council meetings.
When The Huffington Post covered Juengling’s internet activism, he received some backlash — mainly from straight men.
‘I received a lot of nasty messages after the Huffington Post article came out,’ Juengling recalls.
‘People (only men, funnily enough) messaged me on Facebook and told me what a “f*ggot” I was, how I was holding the URLs hostage, and just general abusive messages.’
Juengling didn’t respond to these messages, simply deleted them.
‘I also got a lot of positive feedback from friends who had seen the story online,’ he adds. ‘I try not to read the comments section of articles of which I’m a part, but it’s too tempting sometimes.
Unfortunately, Juengling hasn’t seen any positive change from the lawmakers he’s engaged with.
‘But that’s not particularly surprising, as they tend to be very anti-LGBT just by the fact I’m writing about them,’ he says.
Recent Political Activism
More recently, Juengling endorsed Paulette Jordan, a Native American woman, to become Idaho’s next governor. If successful in her campaign, Jordan could become the nation’s first Native governor. She would also become the first female governor of Idaho.
‘One reason it’s important for Jordan to become Governor because Native Americans are sorely underrepresented when it comes to statewide politics,’ Juengling explains.
‘Jordan might actually be the first Native American governor, and the first woman governor in Idaho. That’s incredibly exciting. I endorsed Jordan because of her views on LGBTQ people, Medicaid expansion, clean energy, and abortion rights.’
However, Juengling disagrees with some of Jordan’s policies.
‘I do not agree with her on gun rights, as I am firmly in the gun control camp. I think Americans have an unhealthy fascination and obsession with firearms.’
Regardless, Juengling believes it’s time Idaho has a governor who is a supporter of LGBTI rights.
Juengling recalls a debate where Jordan said, ‘As governor, I would not challenge the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality. Marriage is a fundamental right for all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or geographic location. No one’s home state should preclude them from accessing the same rights and freedoms as their fellow citizens in a neighboring state.’
‘Idahoans deserve a Governor who is strong, cares about the state, will fight for them, and wants everyone to have equal protections,’ Juengling says.
Opposing Mayor Tammy de Weerd
Moreover, Juengling is incredibly critical of Tammy de Weerd, the Mayor of Meridian, Idaho. Mayor de Weerd recently announced she would not be voting on any non-discrimination ordinances that protect LGBTI people.
So, Juengling wrote opinion pieces in local papers to express his disappointment.
‘Non-discrimination ordinances are incredibly important for protecting LGBTQ people. Most every other minority class is protected – even ones that people can choose, like religion’ Juengling tells GSN. ‘LGBTQ people deserve full access to public accommodations, housing, and employment.’
‘In response to my op-ed, Mayor de Weerd stated she does not vote in policy making decisions. Politicians in positions of power (like de Weerd) should take a stand when it comes to protecting minority populations in their constituency.’
‘The fact the de Weerd won’t take a position about LGBTQ people in her community is a dog whistle to conservatives she doesn’t agree with LGBTQ rights. Or, if she does support them, why not make that known? I think it is an abrogation of her position to not lead the community. It’s important that the NDO passed, but it was not because of any help from de Weerd.’
‘Unfortunately, Idaho is not progressive when it comes to LGBTQ rights. The legislature has refused to update the books to reflect that marriage equality is the law of the land. And there is no statewide non-discrimination policy in housing or employment. There is still a long way to go when it comes to LGBTQ rights here.’
Love is Love is Love
Speaking of marriage equality, Juengling and his husband were the first same-sex couple to get married in Oregon’s Silver Falls Lodge.
Juengling and his partner, Robert Peterson, tied the knot on 20 August, 2016.
‘Coming out’ Atheist
Now, Juengling wants to publicly ‘come out’ as an Atheist.
‘Coming out as an atheist means to publicly acknowledge it. That’s something I haven’t done before,’ he tells GSN.
‘I realize, just like with coming out of the closet as gay, that representation is important. It shows others it’s perfectly acceptable to not practice a religion. And it shows religious people that atheists are their friends, neighbors, and members of their community. And just like everyone else, I want respect with my religious beliefs — or lack thereof.’
Juengling was raised as a Mormon. Like many other LGBTI Mormons, he has since left the Church.
‘It was very disappointing to my parents that I didn’t serve a mission and ended up leaving the church,’ he says. ‘I left around age 21, when I moved to Portland and got out on my own. I had such guilt and anger when I was younger about being gay, but in accepting that, I also realized I could no longer be a member of the church.’
Juengling sent his official resignation letter to the church that year.
‘I didn’t even want to passively support the church by being counted as a member,’ he says. ‘The church does do some good, but it also is archaic in how it treats women and LGBTQ people.’
Juengling points to a 2017 Pew Research study that shows the majority of Americans view Atheism ‘cooly.’
‘Representation matters,’ he says. ‘If more people came out of the atheist closet, we can show people we’re more alike than we are different, and atheism is nothing to be scared of.’
‘I do feel there’s a parallel between my atheism and my gayness,’ he continues. ‘Both are things I was initially ashamed of, but now I’m confident and proud of who I am. It took a long time to get there, however.’
‘I’m everything I despised as a teenager: liberal, gay, atheist, and sometimes-vegan.’