First Openly Gay Republican to Speak at Convention

July 24, 2000 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

(ABC News) – Rep. Jim Kolbe of Arizona is set to make history next Tuesday when he will become the first openly gay member of Congress to address a Republican convention.

The Arizona congressman will have a prime-time speaking slot, addressing the GOP on trade issues for three minutes between 8 and 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Kolbe, first elected in 1984, is the most senior openly gay member of Congress and is the only openly gay Republican in the House.

Having Kolbe speak at the convention was an idea first raised by Washington city councilman David Catania in April, when the Log Cabin Republicans, the most prominent gay GOP organization, met with presidential candidate George W. Bush.

Bush met with the group, a first for a candidate preparing to pick up the GOP presidential nomination, despite his opposition to many of the its issues, including gay marriage.

Log Cabin Republicans Pleased

Members of the Log Cabin Republicans are delighted by Kolbe's place in the convention lineup – especially considering that he backed Bush's rival, Sen. John McCain, during the primary season.

According to the group, this is the first time a well-known openly gay person has gone to the podium at the GOP national convention. In 1996, a little-known Log Cabin Republican member from California, Steve Fong, gave a low-profile, one-minute speech amid little fanfare.

But some socially conservative Republicans, who are opposed to gay rights and have warned Bush about reaching out to the gay community, are unhappy with the prospect of having Kolbe speak.

One leading [unidentified] conservative Republican told ABCNEWS he was "flabbergasted" by the decision, and called it a "shock."

"It is not going to be a happy time," said the Republican. "I think it is a really bad decision."

Kolbe is a founding member of the National Advisory Board of the Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's most prominent gay GOP group. In 1997, he gave the keynote address at the Log Cabin Republicans convention. Kolbe was a strong proponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement.