Gay Republicans Battle Back

PlanetOut News
February 17, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

SUMMARY: It's "no more Mr/Ms Nice GOP" for Log Cabin and other moderates, who intend to confront the party's powerful religious-right.

The Republican National Committee has launched a new project of outreach to Hispanics and African-Americans, the New Majority Council, whose national vice chair Faye Anderson joined the national gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans executive director Rich Tafel and Republicans for Choice spokesperson Ann Stone for a joint press conference on February 16. Log Cabin Republicans last month announced their Strategy 2000, "to educate Republicans who want an inclusive party and confront those who don't," in the words of national Board Chair Robert Stears -- and with Presidential hopefuls already lining up, the struggle to shift the national party away from the anti-gay positions of the religious right is already well underway.

Tafel says the "hateful and frightening face" of the party grew out of the "Southern strategy" that Richard Nixon called "positive polarization," the use of fear-mongering against a minority to mobilize a majority. He blames that approach for "ushering in spates of gay-bashing, intolerance toward legal immigrants and declarations of 'a Christian nation,' essentially telling Jews and those outside of fundamentalist Christianity to get lost."

To Tafel and many others, the 1998 election results are the handwriting on the wall that the Republican Party must become more inclusive, particularly on social issues, to have any hope of future victories. At the press conference, Tafel said the party's "rank and file are so depressed by the state of the party that they might bring back Newt Gingrich." He said the party's impeachment campaign had both given it the image of the "anti-everything party" and made it vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy, using as an example Representative Bob Barr's introduction of a "defense of marriage" bill while himself on his third marriage.

National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Representative Tom Davis (R-VA) last month became the first high-ranking Republican Congressmember to address a chapter of Log Cabin, signaling hope for a new level of acceptance for the oft-rejected group. He told the Northern Virginia chapter on January 20 that, "If we are to be a majority party ... if we are to step ahead, we need to be a party of inclusion," and specifically mentioned the need to welcome more gays and lesbians into the ranks. Northern Virginia Log Cabin Republicans President Daniel Blatt, who believes there should be room in the Republican Party for both Log Cabin Republicans and the religious right, said, "Our agenda with the Republican Party is very small: Let us in the party and don't bash us."

Strategy 2000, announced January 20, calls for Log Cabin Republicans action on an unprecedented scale "to educate every Republican Presidential candidate for the 2000 GOP nomination on a basic set of core inclusive principles" including "non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, continued support of GOP AIDS funding priorities and no anti-gay speeches or signs at the 2000 GOP Convention" -- and to "work aggressively to inform the voting public on the positions of every GOP Presidential candidate on these core principles" and "publicly expose and confront all those who use gay-bashing as a platform in their campaigns." Log Cabin Republicans also plans a series of trainings in how to combat the anti-gay extreme right at the grass-roots level, as well as training openly gay Republicans to run for elected office at every level and within the party. The overall plan requires raising over $1,000,000, the greatest financial challenge of the organization's history. By February 10, Presidential hopeful Gary Bauer in his Family Research Council's "Culture Facts" was already declaring that, "Homosexual activists within the Republican Party are seeking to short-circuit free speech at the 2000 GOP Convention" and seeking "to silence opponents of the homosexual special rights agenda."

What's different about this approach is the aggressive preparation to publicly confront anti-gay tactics. By and large Log Cabin Republicans members have struggled to be good team players in the party, despite such insults as Presidential candidate Bob Dole's return of their campaign contribution and the Republican Party of Texas denying them entry to the annual statewide convention. But with the 1998 election results they believe back up their position, the group is ready to fight back. Log Cabin Republicans also commissioned a poll in November which found that a majority of voters would be "more likely" to support a Republican Presidential candidate in 2000 who "confronted the religious right rather than pandered to them."

The pro-inclusion position of Log Cabin Republicans and other moderate Republicans was bolstered last week, when that leader of the now-defunct Moral Majority Jerry Falwell undertook to "out" the Tinky Winky character of the children's TV show "Teletubbies." Tafel's response, in a statement that also pointed to Pat Robertson's taking over from Donald Hodel as president of the Christian Coalition as evidence of the religious right's "self-destruction," was, "How much more embarrassment will it take for the Republican leadership to move away from these people? I have advice for all the Republican officials who were shaking their heads when they read about this today. How about you stop inviting Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to speak at our conventions from now on?" Moderate Republican New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman also said this week, "We have to get away from the perception that all we care about is whether or not Teletubbies are gay." Republican strategist, pundit and consultant Mary Matalin promised on NBC's "Meet the Press" on February 14 that she "will demonize Republicans that gay bash in 2000. I'm not going to be officially working for anybody. But if we don't get off of that, we don't deserve to be a majority party, that's for sure."

However, the right is unquestionably still powerful. In early February, a half-dozen Republican Presidential hopefuls met with the Committee for the Restoration of American Values, an umbrella group of religious right organizations, to undergo "litmus testing" on 79 points in search of the group's campaign support. Among those points were civil rights for gays and lesbians, which of course the Committee expected its candidate to vigorously oppose. Bauer was there, along with Senator Bob Smith (R-NH), Representative John Kasich (R-OH), 1996 candidate Steve Forbes, pundit Alan Keyes, and by phone former Vice President Dan Quayle. Of them, Tafel said, "This was nothing more than a ceremony of kowtowing to a group that is dragging the Republican Party down in the eyes of the voting public. It was just a beauty contest to see which Republican Presidential candidate could win the prize as the most unelectable." Tafel also praised those candidates who missed the meeting: Texas Governor George Bush, former Tennessee Governor Lamar Alexander and Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Elizabeth Dole, wife of the 1996 GOP candidate who may throw her own hat into the ring next time, was not invited to attend.