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Carpenter, now a Log Cabin regional director, said Republicans can be convinced to repeal the state's same-sex sodomy law by appealing to their belief that government should not make unreasonable intrusions into private lives. An employment-discrimination bill must not be couched in terms of adding gays and lesbians as a protected class, he said, but rather on the basis that all people in the workplace should be judged solely on the basis of merit. A hate-crimes law should be sold to Republicans as a tough anti-crime measure.
Bettie Naylor of Austin, who in 1979 was the first person to lobby for gay rights in the Texas Legislature, defends Hardy-Garcia as someone who has worked tirelessly to lobby Republicans -- to the extent they'll listen to her. Naylor predicts that Log Cabin will learn that legislators are not prejudiced against Hardy-Garcia, but rather against the issue she lobbies for. "Most Republicans in the Legislature are not going to vote with us no matter who lobbies for us," she said. "They'll vote against us because of the issue. I'm afraid Log Cabin will find out that the liberals are the only people we can count on to line up with us."
As Log Cabin tries to make friends in the more moderate Republican camps, one Republican political consultant said the organization is losing ground among moderates by picking fights with the religious right and publicly exposing party disunity. The Log Cabin rally dominated the news coverage at the state convention. Log Cabin had asked the party for the exhibit space after losing that battle in 1994 and again in 1996, when it took the issue as far as the Texas Supreme Court before the Texas GOP prevailed on legal grounds.
"I think moderates who might be sympathetic to that particular group felt that this was something they shouldn't be fighting because they weren't going to win it," said Mark Sanders, a Republican consultant in Austin. "Nobody likes a fight for the sake of a fight."
Log Cabin is undertaking the fight against the religious right virtually alone within the GOP, and has yet to establish a meaningful alliance with any other Republican group. In fact, the only other group publicly opposing the religious right in Texas is the left-leaning Texas Freedom Network, which like Log Cabin was denied exhibit space by the Texas GOP at the convention.
Wyatt Roberts, a political consultant and chairman of the American Family Association of Texas, says the state's social conservatives are not threatened by Log Cabin efforts to change the Republican Party.
"There just aren't that many Republicans who support special rights for homosexuals," said Roberts, of Canton, east of Dallas. "If they are going to ever achieve anything other than status as a fringe of the Republican Party, they will have to persuade candidates who support their issues, whoever they may be, to do so publicly and to vote for legislation that reflects their positions. If they can't do that, it doesn't matter how many candidates quietly and privately support them. It's irrelevant. Log Cabin is irrelevant."
At age 74, Fred Ebner has waited his entire life for this moment. "Fred! Fred! Fred!" About 125 men, a few with blue Ebner campaign bumper stickers plastered across their chests, are honoring his courage to run for the Texas Legislature as an openly gay Republican. The craggy Ebner regales the national convention's award-luncheon audience with comical tales from the campaign trail.
"When a voter asked me, 'Are you gay?' I said, 'Why? Do you want a date?' " he said. Or, how about this one: Prepared to order "flag blue" bumper stickers, he looked into the blue eyes of an enchanting Leonardo DiCaprio type working behind the counter at the print shop and ordered his stickers in "fag blue."
This is funny stuff. But this is also strange stuff. Carpenter hails Ebner to out-of-state Log Cabin members as "one of the stars in Texas." But in Austin, where Ebner is running for the Legislature, he has long been considered a political gadfly whose two campaigns to land a spot on the city council in the late 1980s ended in single-digit-percentage vote totals. And during his three-candidate Republican primary for the House, he never voluntarily discussed his sexual orientation.
"I preferred it not be written about, because for me, being gay is irrelevant," Ebner said. "I do not make a profession out of being gay, like Glen Maxey does."
Maxey, the only openly gay member of the Texas Legislature, is Ebner's opponent in November. In what is one of the most heavily Democratic House districts in Texas, Maxey is a shoo-in for re-election. But Log Cabin is backing Ebner, and not just because he is one of them. Log Cabin has a history of backing Republicans against Democrats who are solidly in favor of gay rights. They did it in 1996 in Dallas when Democratic state Representative Harryette Ehrhardt sought a second term against Ernest Leonard. Her Oak Lawn district, which has a high gay population, was also heavily Democratic, and Campbell, Log Cabin's Dallas club president, admits today that Log Cabin knew Ehrhardt would win. But the group's endorsement and money went to Leonard, who was treated to a Log Cabin-sponsored fundraiser.