Rogue Elephant

Log Cabin Republicans want to be part of the GOP, which wants no part of them

"We're not saying the Republican Party is perfect," said James Campbell, president of Log Cabin's Dallas chapter. "People need to understand that what we're trying to do is change it."

But most gay Texans view the Republican Party in light of its insulting message, which also reverberates from Washington from party leaders such as House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Irving. Many gay Texans -- especially those active in the civil-rights movement -- are mystified when gay people devote themselves to the GOP, and some accuse them of being motivated by selfishness, elitism and even bigotry.

Maxey, for example, cannot restrain himself from psychoanalyzing the gay Republican. He recalls manning a voter-registration table at a preppie Austin gay bar in 1992 where a young man told him he planned to vote for all Republicans. Maxey responded that the young man's vote would be a death sentence for some of his gay brothers with HIV because Republicans were supporting regressive AIDS policies.

"The kid looked at me and said, 'I don't care about any of those people. I care about my pocketbook,' " Maxey recalled. "People were dying because they were unable to get HIV medications, and he says, 'Not my problem.' So when I hear gay people say they are Republicans because of fiscal policy, what I really hear them saying is, 'I'm a Republican because it's good for me.' It's greed. The day a group of upper-middle-class white boys want me to put their economic good ahead of the needs of PWAs [people with AIDS] who can't get their medicines, well, I say, 'Fuck 'em.' For them, it's about whether they can continue to afford their vacations and their boy toys."

Dianne Hardy-Garcia, director of the Lesbian-Gay Rights Lobby of Texas, said she has tried to live a peaceful co-existence with Log Cabin Republicans -- but her patience is wearing thin. Dale Carpenter, the bomb-throwing and media-savvy past president of Log Cabin's Texas club, has waged an assault on Hardy-Garcia's group for aligning itself too closely with liberal groups such as the Rainbow Coalition, the National Organization for Women and the Texas Abortion & Reproductive Rights Action League.

"In Texas, it's a mistake for the gay civil-rights movement to align itself with liberalism and progressive politics," said Carpenter, 31, a lawyer with the prestigious Houston personal-injury defense firm Vinson & Elkins. "We further marginalize ourselves by associating only with the Democratic Party, because clearly that party is on the decline in Texas."

Hardy-Garcia says building coalitions is necessary if the movement is to win any battles at the Capitol. And the reality is that Democrats and liberal groups have been the only ones willing to join hands with the gay activists in Texas.

Carpenter's missives aimed at the gay civil-rights movement, along with Log Cabin's declaration that it plans to hire a lobbyist of its own, next legislative session -- separate from Hardy-Garcia -- have only compounded hostilities.

"What I wonder sometimes, with Log Cabin, is why they choose to alienate themselves so much within the gay community," Hardy-Garcia said. "And I wonder if they feel they don't have much in common with the diversity that is the gay community. We are a community of many different races, classes and, in some respects, genders. I think sometimes that Log Cabin is trying to create its own place for a certain type of gay people."

That type would be male, white and financially secure. At the national Log Cabin convention, chairmen of different clubs across the country described embarrassingly low lesbian memberships of 10 or 15 percent in bragging terms. The number of minorities at the convention was few, yet typical of a Republican gathering.

Log Cabin Republicans challenge the notion that they are just a bunch of rich white boys. Just as they do not think it proper to generalize all gay people as liberal Democrats, they believe characterizing Log Cabin as a monolith is equally wrong. For every Log Cabin stereotype, there is someone to break it. Carpenter, although now a successful attorney, grew up in a Corpus Christi housing project. Labinski, 29, who owns a web design firm in Austin, grew up in what he describes as a middle-class suburban household in Arlington. Gary Van Ooteghem, chairman of Log Cabin's Houston chapter, is a longtime gay civil-rights activist who helped found the Houston Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus in the mid-1970s. At age 56, he is living with AIDS.

"I switched parties because of the religious right," he said. "I hope I fight them until I die. At least I can say for sure they won't silence me until I die."

Marion Coleman, a lesbian who owns a print shop in Houston's Montrose neighborhood, despises government intrusion into her business affairs. She said gay people who can't understand how she can be a Republican would, if they, too, owned a small business.

"In my lifestyle, I have never gone out and waved a flag and said, 'I'm gay! I'm gay!' " she said.

Although Log Cabin Republicans pine for publicity, they speak derisively of elements within the gay community that make spectacles of themselves.

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