By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
The choice of speakers is fitting, for these self-important convention delegates are the poster boys of political incorrectness within their own communities. They are members of Log Cabin Republicans, an organization of gay devotees to the GOP. These are the gay men from Mars, the pariahs condemned to a purgatory of constantly having to justify that they are not oxymorons. Among a majority of gay people and Republicans, Log Cabin members are considered political misfits and social outcasts, leading lives of contradiction and self-induced isolation. While defiantly challenging the gay civil-rights movement for leaning too far to the left, they meekly beg for table scraps from centrist-minded Republicans.
As a result, they often find themselves starved for both friends and attention.
"I've finally given up on trying to figure them out, because they make no sense," said state Representative Glen Maxey of Austin, who is gay and a Democrat -- and thinks being the first ought to always result in the second.
On this August weekend, those absent from Log Cabin's national convention are as conspicuous as those present. Among the missing are any left-leaning gay activists who could be there to support the organization's goals of promoting gay civil rights and taming the anti-gay fervor of the religious right. Also missing are any notable Republican officeholders or candidates who could be there to win political points by paying deference to a constituency.
A month before, at the Texas Republican Party state convention in Fort Worth, Log Cabin Republicans again stood alone. Then, a fringe of religious fanatics within the Texas GOP shouted down the Log Cabin members and wished them early entrance to hell during a rally the organization called to protest the party's decision to bar them from the convention exhibit hall. The organization spent about $60,000 on newspaper ads to promote the rally, yet gay activists opted not to travel to Fort Worth to help them in the cause. And despite the fact that thousands of delegates at the Republican convention were also vexed by the religious-conservative influence within the party, they opted not to walk a couple of blocks to join the rally.
"No one is in Log Cabin to win a popularity contest," said Steve Labinski, president of the Texas Log Cabin organization. What Log Cabin hopes to win is a place at the Republican Party table. But that is a contest with long odds in Texas, where the religious right's influence over the party is greater than anywhere in the country. Top Republican elected officials, such as Governor George W. Bush, are mute on the issue of gay civil rights, and Log Cabin members in Texas optimistically interpret the silence as support. They figure Republicans like Bush are reticent to publicly back them out of fear that the religious right will stir up a rowdy backlash.
But the neglect is not necessarily benign.
"I don't know of any Republican elected official who supports gay rights," said state Senator Jeff Wentworth, a San Antonio Republican whom Log Cabin members in Texas desperately but mistakenly list as their chief ally in the Texas Legislature. "I don't know of any allies they have, truthfully."
Log Cabin's Texas club officially organized on December 8, 1992, one month after President Bush lost his re-election bid and several months after the Republican National Convention in Houston spiraled into a gay-bashing forum for the religious right. The Log Cabin name, an homage to Abraham Lincoln that had been adopted by other gay Republican clubs across the country, gave a formal and public identity to an underground fraternity of Texas Republican Party activists who were gay. Texas Log Cabin does not disclose membership numbers, but local chapters are active in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Dallas was selected in May 1997 to host this year's national convention after putting in the best bid.
In explaining their partisan preference, Log Cabin Republicans list their desire for lower taxes and limited government and say the Log Cabin movement exists to return the party to those traditional values. But as they try to rid the party of a religious-inspired social conservatism that has targeted gay people, they pledge allegiance to a party platform in Texas that says this about homosexuality:
"The party believes that the practice of sodomy, which is illegal in Texas, tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit and leads to the spread of dangerous communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country's founders and shared by the majority of Texans. Accordingly, homosexuality should not be presented as an acceptable 'alternative' lifestyle in our public education and policy. We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, recognition or privileges, including, but not limited to, marriage between persons of the same sex, custody or adoption of children, spousal [partner] insurance or retirement benefits."
"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.
"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."
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.