Rogue Elephant

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

"Most of us in Log Cabin don't identify with people who run down the street wearing a leather thong during a gay-pride parade," Carpenter said. "We don't think the gay civil-rights movement should be a Mardi Gras parade."

And while Log Cabin bristles at being stereotyped, it sometimes falls into the same trap. Rich Tafel, executive director of Log Cabin's national organization, spoke disparagingly of a "very stereotypical-looking [gay] activist" he encountered on the street in Washington (the activist called Tafel a "fucking Republican"), without explaining what a gay activist stereotypically looks like.

"The irony," Tafel said, "is that the real radical element in the gay community is the gay Republican. No, we don't charge into a church and attack communion. But going to a Republican fundraiser in a suit and tie as an open gay person is a radical move -- much more radical and much more courageous than moving to a gay neighborhood and kvetching about how horrible everyone is."

Labinski said one of Log Cabin's appeals is as a social club where conservative gay people can meet others of like mind. But in the last couple of years, the Texas group has not been a happy family. Two of the group's original officers, along with a founder of Texas's gay Republican movement, have all distanced themselves from Log Cabin.

Current members discount the discord as a personality conflict. But at its core, the conflict is over philosophy and illustrates the internal struggle that every Log Cabin member in Texas must face: Are they gay first or Republican first?

"From my point of view, we should be gay Republicans, not Republican gays," said Andy Smith, a national vice president for Log Cabin from 1992 to 1994 and president of the Austin chapter from 1992 to 1995. Smith, who is no longer associated with Log Cabin, now lives in Dallas.

Paul von Wupperfeld, Log Cabin's first Texas club president, said he left the group because "the organization made a transition from one that truly wanted to make a change in the Republican Party to one that wanted to have a place at the table within the Republican Party. I don't want to be at the same table with Ralph Reed or Pat Robertson. I wanted to be part of a party that is good for gay and lesbian people."

The national organization's decision to endorse Bob Dole for president in 1996 turned off a lot of its members. Tafel, the national director, said supporting Dole helped Log Cabin gain credibility with the Republican National Committee, Speaker Newt Gingrich and other top GOP officials. If Log Cabin is to succeed in its goal of changing the party, it must have credibility with the Republican establishment, he said.

"If people are ignorant on the gay issue, we have a responsibility to educate them, not write them off and demonize them," Tafel said.

But others viewed the Dole endorsement as Log Cabin compromising itself.
"I believe the current leadership of Log Cabin at both the state and federal level is very frequently more concerned with their own political career aspirations than what might be best for the gay community," said von Wupperfeld, of Dallas. "Surely, when the organization endorsed Bob Dole for president in 1996, it was considering something other than what is best for gays and lesbians."

In Texas, where no Republican officeholders publicly support gay civil rights, Log Cabin soon will face a similar dilemma of whether to endorse any GOP candidates for statewide office or the Legislature. The predicament Texas Log Cabin members face is this: They lose credibility as gay-rights activists if they support Republicans who do not back gay rights. And they can't be considered loyal Republicans if they don't support any Republicans for office.

The state club has sent a questionnaire to all Republican statewide and legislative candidates that asks, for example, whether they "believe that sexual conduct between consenting adults in the privacy of the home is beyond the bounds of the appropriate concerns of government." The questionnaire does not, however, directly ask if they support the repeal of Texas's same-sex sodomy law or, for that matter, passage of a law to prohibit the firing of gay and lesbian public employees because of their sexual orientation. It is as if Texas Log Cabin does not want to ask direct questions because it is afraid of the answers.

One key question it does ask, though, is whether the candidate wants a Log Cabin endorsement. Many candidates will not, viewing it as a scarlet letter within the GOP. Those who do not return the questionnaire or decline an endorsement make life easy on Log Cabin, which then does not have to make the difficult decision whether to back a candidate who does not explicitly support gay rights.

Robert Brown of Texarkana, the father of the Texas gay Republican movement, who has separated himself from Log Cabin, said he sympathizes with Smith and von Wupperfeld's philosophical quandary. "You can't be in a position of leadership with Log Cabin in Texas and maintain your sanity, because the reality of the Republican Party's nuttiness in this state comes home to roost," he said. "How do you endorse people who may be in favor of tax issues but who are anti-gay? And the point is, you can't, even if that means you cannot endorse a single Republican. If you do endorse someone like that, you have no credibility with anyone in the real world. And you shouldn't."

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