Rogue Elephant

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

Labinski said the state organization would never back a Republican who is anti-gay but would consider endorsing someone like Bush, who stays silent on gay issues. When the Texas GOP denied Log Cabin a booth in the exhibit hall during the state convention, the party's spokesman (a 28-year-old former aide to Armey) fanned the flames by telling the Associated Press: "The Republican Party is not going to allow individuals like the Log Cabins or the KKK or any other hate group that are in direct conflict with our philosophy a forum to spread their hateful message. We don't allow pedophiles, transvestites or cross-dressers either."

Bush's office responded to the furor by issuing a brief statement through his spokeswoman, Karen Hughes, that said: "Governor Bush believes all individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. While he differs with the Log Cabin Republicans on issues such as gay marriage, he does not condone name-calling. Governor Bush urges all Republicans to focus on our common goal of electing Republicans based on our conservative philosophy."

Smith said Bush was simply throwing Log Cabin a bone. But Log Cabin members are chomping on it like it comes from Ruth's Chris. They have lauded Bush for speaking up, noting that he just as easily could have said nothing. "We've never seen Governor Bush ever rise to the occasion to gay-bait," Labinski said.

That kind of attitude rankles Smith and von Wupperfeld, who say they expect more from candidates wanting their votes and their money. "My self-respect is high enough that I don't want somebody to simply not vilify me," von Wupperfeld said. "I want them to actually support me."

It is easy to understand why Log Cabin Republicans across the country view their peers in Texas as the pluckiest of the lot.

"In Texas, people scream 'faggot' or 'pervert' at you during a public rally," Tafel said. "And those are the party people."

At the national convention, presidents of different chapters across the country reported making inroads with key GOP officials in their area. In New Jersey, for example, Governor Christine Whitman has not only accepted Log Cabin's endorsement, she has publicly endorsed the group. In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani marches with Log Cabin during the city's gay-pride parades.

In California, two Republican candidates vying for a U.S. Senate nomination actively pursued Log Cabin support, one going as far as whispering in Log Cabin's ear that the other was making backroom promises to the religious right.

In Texas, Log Cabin members are hard-pressed to name a true ally. "We need a leader, and we don't have one," Brown said.

One gay Republican holding public office, Dallas city councilman John Loza, accepted an "LCR Leadership Award" from the national organization during the convention. But the low-key Loza said he is not interested in being ordained as Texas Log Cabin's leader.

"That's going to be a tough role for any Republican officeholder in this state to take," he said.

Log Cabin Republicans in Texas mention Wentworth, the state senator from San Antonio who doesn't consider himself their ally, as their chief ally. Wentworth is pictured on the club's World Wide Web site, posing with Mike McGowan, president of the San Antonio chapter. McGowan said the photo was taken a couple of years ago at a Bexar County Republican Party fundraiser, not at a Log Cabin event.

"Jeff Wentworth generally has been very supportive of the type of civil rights we are after in Log Cabin Republicans, and we just feel like he's a good guy," McGowan said. "He has his own political life to run, and we respect that."

When struggling to name an ally, Log Cabin members also mention state Senator Bill Ratliff, the influential chairman of the Finance Committee, based on his vote in 1995 for a bill that would have amended the state's hate-crime law to specifically include gays and lesbians. But Log Cabin Republicans have a short and selective memory as far as Ratliff is concerned.

While campaigning for Bush in the gubernatorial race against incumbent Ann Richards in 1994, Ratliff criticized the Democratic governor for appointing four openly gay people to state boards and commissions.

"I'm concerned about the message we send to our youth with the appointment of an avowed homosexual to a state board," said Ratliff, adding that his constituents in East Texas were concerned about the issue. He predicted it could cost Richards support in the region. "It is simply part of their [East Texans'] culture and, frankly, part of mine, that [homosexuality] is not something we encourage, reward or acknowledge as an acceptable situation."

Hardly the words of a champion of gay rights. But Van Ooteghem, the Houston Log Cabin president, said any Republican who has taken any stand for equality and civil rights tends to become a champion of Log Cabin by default, "mainly because there are so few of them within the party."

And those are the minds that Log Cabin will set out to change when the Legislature convenes in January 1999. The state organization is trying to raise enough money to hire a lobbyist for the session who can do what they say Hardy-Garcia of the Lesbian-Gay Rights Lobby cannot -- talk to Republicans about gay rights in terms that Republicans can understand.

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