GOP to gays: Butt out

Inside a dimly lit banquet room in a tony downtown Dallas hotel, about 250 Americans who consider themselves brave soldiers for civil rights sit around tables adorned with pots of plump pink and red roses.

Almost all of them men, they enthusiastically devour their entrees of beef medallions and celebrate the culmination of an inspiring day of self-congratulation. The puffing-up marathon continues with encouraging words from speakers Arianna Huffington, a conservative political satirist best known for her appearances on the TV show Politically Incorrect, and Ward Connerly, an African-American who has been demonized by other blacks for leading a crusade against affirmative action in California.

The choice of speakers is fitting, for these self-important convention delegates are the poster boys of political incorrectness within their own communities. They are members of Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay devotees to the GOP. These are the gay men from Mars, the pariahs condemned to a purgatory of constantly having to prove that they are not oxymorons. Among a majority of gay people and Republicans, Log Cabin members are considered political misfits and social outcasts, leading lives of contradiction and self-induced isolation. While defiantly challenging the gay civil rights movement for leaning too far to the left, they meekly beg for table scraps from centrist-minded Republicans.

As a result, they often find themselves starved for both friends and attention.

"I've finally given up on trying to figure them out, because they make no sense," says state Rep. Glen Maxey of Austin, who is gay and a Democrat--and who thinks being the first ought always to result in the second.

On this August weekend, those absent from Log Cabin's national convention are as conspicuous as those present. Among the missing are any left-leaning gay activists who could be there to support the organization's goals of promoting gay civil rights and taming the anti-gay fervor of the religious right. Also missing are any notable Republican officeholders or candidates who could be there to win political points by paying deference to a constituency.

A month before, at the Texas Republican party state convention in Fort Worth, Log Cabin Republicans again stood alone. Then, a fringe of religious fanatics within the Texas GOP shouted down the Log Cabin members and wished them early entrance to hell during a rally the organization called to protest the party's decision to bar them from the convention exhibit hall. The organization spent about $60,000 on newspaper ads to promote the rally, yet gay activists opted not to travel to Fort Worth to help them in the cause. And despite the fact that thousands of delegates at the Republican convention were also vexed by the religious-conservative influence within the party, they opted not to walk a couple of blocks to join the rally.

"No one is in Log Cabin to win a popularity contest," says Steve Labinski, president of the Texas Log Cabin organization. What Log Cabin hopes to win is a place at the Republican party table. But that is a contest with long odds in Texas, where the religious right's influence over the party is greater than anywhere in the country. Top Republican elected officials, such as Gov. George W. Bush, are mute on the issue of gay civil rights, and Log Cabin members in Texas optimistically interpret the silence as support. They figure Republicans like Bush are reluctant to back them publicly out of fear that the religious right will stir up a rowdy backlash.

But the neglect is not necessarily benign.
"I don't know of any Republican elected official who supports gay rights," says state Senator Jeff Wentworth, a San Antonio Republican whom Log Cabin members in Texas desperately but mistakenly list as their chief ally in the Texas Legislature. "I don't know of any allies they have, truthfully."

Log Cabin's Texas club officially organized on December 8, 1992, one month after President George Bush lost his re-election bid and several months after the Republican National Convention in Houston spiraled into a gay-bashing forum for the religious right.

The Log Cabin name, an homage to Abraham Lincoln that had been adopted by other gay Republican clubs across the country, gave a formal and public identity to an underground fraternity of Texas Republican party activists who were gay. Texas Log Cabin does not disclose membership numbers, but local chapters are active in Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Dallas was selected in May 1997 to host this year's national convention after putting in the best bid.

In explaining their partisan preference, Log Cabin Republicans list their desire for lower taxes and limited government and say their movement exists to return the party to those traditional values. But as they try to rid the Republican party of a religious-inspired social conservatism that has targeted gay people, they pledge allegiance to a party platform in Texas that has this to say about homosexuality:

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Stuart Eskenazi