Rogue Elephant

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

Ehrhardt, who was honored as "Freshman Legislator of the Year" in 1995 by the Lesbian-Gay Rights Lobby, said Log Cabin's support of her opponent "came as quite a surprise to me and others, including some Republicans, who felt it an inappropriate gesture. Log Cabin kept telling me, 'It's nothing personal.' I kept saying, 'It's personal to me.' "

Smith, the former Log Cabin national vice president, said the organization seems more interested in attacking gay and gay-friendly Democrats than in challenging the religious right.

"Why waste time and energies trying to defeat someone who is there with me on the issue of gay civil rights?" Smith said.

It's unavoidable, Labinski said, because in areas like Montrose and Oak Lawn, Republicans who run likely will be either gay or gay-friendly. And Log Cabin will not abandon its principle of backing Republicans who oppose discrimination against gays and lesbians.

"It would be terrible for us to take a Republican who is courageous like that and leave him in the lurch," Labinski said.

Yet the practice further alienates Log Cabin within the gay-rights movement and provides ammunition for its critics that Log Cabin is a study in contradiction. During the national convention, Log Cabin members expressed criticism that gay Democrats were refusing to back Republicans who support gay civil rights, such as Whitman or Giuliani. Yet they booed and hissed when the names of liberal but gay-friendly Democrats such as U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota were uttered.

Labinski, who is as mild-mannered as Carpenter is hotheaded, was vilified in gay newspapers over a letter he wrote in 1996 to the vice chairman of the Travis County Republican Party offering to help defeat Maxey. Labinski was president of the Austin Log Cabin chapter at the time. The party vice chairman, James Randall, has loyalties to the religious right, and gays and lesbians viewed Labinski's letter as proof of Log Cabin's willingness to lie with the devil in order to be welcomed into the Republican fold.

Labinski said he did not know Randall's proclivities when he wrote him. "I just wanted to open a discussion with the Travis County party," Labinski said. "The religious right would never work with me, and I would never work with the religious right."

But an even more negative perception of Log Cabin was created. And Carpenter, with his steady stream of criticisms against the gay-rights movement, has put it over the top.

"I have no desire to be liked by anyone," Carpenter said. He has criticized the movement for taking stands on issues such as abortion. Although Hardy-Garcia and others consider it a privacy issue that correlates with gay rights, Carpenter considers it outside the realm. Yet he opined in a gay publication in support of Houston's failed referendum to stamp out the city's affirmative-action policies, arguing that it relates to gay rights.

During the convention in Dallas, Log Cabin reaffirmed its position renouncing affirmative action as a social policy. A resolution adopted by delegates describes affirmative action as "openly and covertly practiced racial and ethnic discrimination." Log Cabin members say their position is consistent with their philosophy that all Americans should be afforded equal rights -- including gays and lesbians. At the convention, the national group honored Connerly, the California affirmative-action abolitionist, with its highest award -- and has been criticized for it.

Connerly, as a University of California regent, voted for domestic partnership benefits for university employees. But he is best known for one thing: his opposition to affirmative action.

"So why is Log Cabin honoring him, except to irritate liberal gays?" Smith said. "It's just another example of Log Cabin picking a fight within the gay community."

Houston City Councilwoman Annise Parker, a lesbian who professes a Democratic Party preference, said Log Cabin raises valid points about the gay-rights movement aligning itself too closely with Democrats. She said the organization can serve an important role in educating Republicans about gay issues. But for Log Cabin to be effective, the fighting within the community must cease.

"We need to form a coalition of the left and the right to work together," she said. "If we are working for the same goal, and we say we are, how do we expect to win when we divide up and throw rocks at each other?

"I think the Log Cabin Republicans have a lot of growing up to do. I think they have a responsibility first to themselves and their community and then to the Republican Party. That is the same challenge I give to all of my Democratic friends, too. To blindly follow partisan labels is always a disservice."

E-mail Stuart Eskenazi at eskenazi@ibm.net.

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