DENVER (AP) — Organizers of a conservative conference in Denver this summer have told a gay Republican group it cannot have a booth at the event.
The Western Conservative Summit is scheduled for June in Denver, where thousands of conservative activists will gather to hear Republican presidential hopefuls like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Pennsylvania Sen Rick Santorum speak. The event is organized by The Centennial Institute, a think tank affiliated with Colorado Christian University.
On Wednesday, the president of the Centennial Institute, John Andrews, said his group had returned a $250 registration fee that the Log Cabin Republicans had sent in to secure a booth at the three-day summit.
Because the group advocates for gay marriage, it cannot have an official presence at an event that promotes traditional family structure, he said."We'd love to have them attend the summit and be in the discussion. But we have to draw the line at a formal relationship between two organizations with diametrically opposed policy beliefs," Andrews said.
It was the first time a gay Republican group had sought a booth at the annual gathering, he said.In the 1970s and '80s, the Democratic Party was no great shakes making gay Democrats welcome. Gays became a national security scapegoat during World War II; David K. Johnson's 2004 book, The Lavender Scare, documents North Carolina Senator Clyde R. Hoey's antigay counterpart to Joe McCarthy's anticommunist witchhunt in the 1950s.
Both parties sort of put up with gays, as long as they kept quiet and caused no trouble. Marvin Liebman's memoir, Coming Out Conservative, documented his work as a leading conservative activist with William F. Buckley, Jr.- Liebman came out in a letter to National Review- and as a Reagan era officeholder. Still, Republicans- back to the 1940s- periodically ran on the issue, and Democrats wished it would go away.
It never did. The closeted gay Senator in Allen Drury's 1960 best seller, Advise and Consent, was based on Wyoming Democrat Lester Hunt. Blackmailed by Wyaoming's Republican senator not to reun for re-election after his son was arrested in a cruisy DC park, Hunt shot himself in his Senate office in 1954. One of President Johnson's closest aides, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a Larry Craig moment in a Washington Bathroom in 1964. The National Organiaztion for Women read lesbians out of the feminist movement in 1970. The McGovern Commission, which restructured the Democratic Party, made it possible for the first gay delegates to their party convention and a failed antidiscrimination plank at their 1972 convention. Gay Democrats didn't give up on their party; they worked from the inside to change it.
Still, it was a victory long coming, and only yet partially won. Dan Bradley, president of the Legal Services Corporation under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, came out after leaving office; in interviews, he described a life of nightmarish complexity creating and maintaining a straight, faked, life to throw FBI vetters- and everyone else- off the trail. He often recalled his successful lobbying efforts to save LSC from abolition by the Reaganites, and having to pretend to be straight when arguing against Georgia Congressman Larry McDonald's bill to deny homosexuals representation by LSC lawyers in discrimination cases. Before going to DC, assigned to LSC's San Francisco office, Bradley felt his work situation required him to play it straight, even off duty, living in the middle of the Castro. One can only imagine the lengths such a strategy would require today.
As Florida's racetrack gambling commissioner, Bradley listened to his boss, Governor Reubin Askew, a much-talked-up Democratic presidential possibility, respond to Anita Bryant's 1977 antigay campaign by declaring he would never tolerate any gays in his administration. Civil rights author Taylor Branch published a heart-wrenching account of Bradley's life in government in the October, 1982 issue of Harper's; during the 1984 presidential campaign cycle, a pilgrimage to meet with Bradley became de rigueur for Democratic hopefuls (it was an easy gesture, the sort of thing Bill and Hillary Clinton perfected in their day).
In 1983, with the Moral Majority on the hunt, The Atlantic reported presidential candidate Walter Mondale's daring strategy for getting the Democratic nomination:
Another faction Mondale has his sights on is the homosexual vote. The 1984 election, according to many political strategists, will mark the emergence of homosexuals as an important force in national politics. Homosexuals tend to be middle- or upper-class; they have money to contribute, they follow politics, and a large percentage of them vote. "There must be 3 or 4 million of them out there," says Mondale, referring to homosexuals whom he believes can be relied on to vote as a bloc for whichever candidate wins their favor. Mondale is the early leader in that regard, having recently been the keynote speaker at a dinner sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Fund, a lobby for homosexual causes. Mondale has also met with Dan Bradley, who used to be the head of the Legal Services Corporation and who, since announcing his homosexuality in a New York Times article, has become the nation's most celebrated gay person. Obviously, this is a risky strategy; it could backfire on Mondale in the South and in blue-collar areas. Mondale has told political allies, "The trick is to say you're against discrimination without endorsing their lifestyle." For the record, he claims that his Human Rights Campaign Fund speech objecting to discrimination against homosexuals and others had no political purpose. "It's just a statement of philosophy I've wanted to make for some time," he says.Discrimination against government employees over security clearances was not banned until 1995; employment discrimination in federal service generally was legal until 1998. George W. Bush, followed Reagan's lead by remaining above the fray while his administration did its best to roll back protections, and make political hay, wherever they could.
I remember reading it and thinking, if this is what it's like among the Democrats, I might as well give up my long-held dream of getting into politics- from North Carolina, no less- on the GOP side. It took me another 21 years- including frustrating year on the Log Cabin Republicans board- to give up. You don't give up on the places you consider home. I admire the Log Cabin Republicans, but it's just not in the party's DNA to make a place for them at the table. It's time to give up and go, and leave the GOP to its fate as a rump, regional party based on fear, suspicion, exclusion, and ignorance.