GOProud to Go Proudly Right Out of CPAC ’12?

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday February 15, 2011

A number of anti-gay groups did not attend this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Now, a religious web site claims that the so-called "boycott" of the event means gay conservative group GOProud will not be allowed to co-sponsor the annual event in 2012.

Although GOProud is seen by GLBT advocacy organizations as not promoting an overtly gay "agenda," the leadership role assumed by the group in both the 2010 and 2011 editions of CPAC infuriated elements of the extreme rightward fringe, some of whom had decided independently of the role GOProud played not at attend this year's three-day event. Even so, the absence of groups such as Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council was touted as evidence of a wide-spread and crippling "boycott" aimed at the event out of protest over GOProud's co-sponsorship status.

The National Review Online reported that at least two anti-gay conservative groups--the Family Research Council and the Heritage Foundation--weren't going to be in attendance at the 2011 CPAC anyway. Nonetheless, reports in the "boycott" insisting that important organizations and political figures were shunning the event due to GOProud's participation implied that those organizations had stayed away due to a gay presence.

Anti-gay groups also lambasted CPAC's primary sponsor, the board of the American Conservative Union, for alleged financial irregularities. The departure of the group's leader, David Keene, and replacement by Al Cardenas was similarly spun by anti-gay site WorldNetDaily as evidence of the anti-gay elements' clout.

WND reported that Cardenas had assured conservatives that the participants in next year's CPAC would be subjected to a "comprehensive vetting process"--words that, together with the supposedly leaked news that no gays will be allowed in 2012, formed the basis of the site's Feb. 14 article.

The site also touted words spoken by GOProud founder Chris Barron, who told MetroWeekly that Cleta Mitchell, of the ACU Foundation, was a "nasty bigot."

Barron issued an apology for the remark, saying that attacks on his person and his organization had pushed him to the point of lashing out. "For the past six months, we have watched as unfair and untrue attacks have been leveled against our organization, our allies, our friends and sometimes even their families," Barron said. "Everyone has their breaking point and clearly in my interview with Metro Weekly I had reached mine. I shouldn't have used the language that I did to describe Cleta Mitchell and for that I apologize."

Indeed, Mitchell was not the only target of Barron's vitriol; the GOProud founder had also reportedly Tweeted an angry comment about the gay left, deriding them as "the American Taliban. Hateful, angry and dumb as shit." But his comment about Mitchell displeased fellow gay conservatives. "I have long believed it best to address your friends' faults in private and your enemies' in public," wrote B. Daniel Blatt at the blog GayPatriot on Feb. 11. However, added Blatt, Barron had "crossed a line" and should "use greater discretion in future commentary."

Conservatives were quick to take Barron to task. The American Spectator labeled Barron's words a "partial apology," noting that he had not issued a similar mea culpa for calling Tony Perkins of the anti-gay Family Research Council a "bigot," or for saying that right-wing political figures like Sen. Jim DeMint--who himself caused an uproar with anti-gay comments last year--were stranded on an "island of misfit toys."

"He needs to understand that objections to his group's participation stems from their policy positions and the way they have pushed them--what they believe and how they act politically, not who they are in private," the American Spectator article said. "Going beyond pushing a state recognition of certain contractual rights for homosexuals, all the way to demanding state-approved homosexual marriage, is so obviously a fundamental change in conservatism as to clearly be a cause for serious misgivings. Of course there would be a protest from conservative groups."

Anti-Gay Right: Homosexuals Incapable of 'Life and Family'

The protest that answered GOProud's stance on marriage equality was summed up in a letter send to Keene prior to the 2011 CPAC. Liberty University's Mathew Staver and a number of other anti-gay leaders, including American Values head Gary Bauer, NOM's Brian Brown, and American Principles Project leader Frank Cannon, sent the letter, in which they set out their putative complaint with GOProud's co-sponsorship.

"The issue is not that GOProud works on only four of the five traditional items on the conservative agenda," the letter read; "rather, it omits--because it actively opposes--one part of the core."

Added the letter, "It is no more acceptable as a participant at CPAC than a group that said it embraced the 'traditional conservative agenda' but actively worked for higher taxes and greater governmental control of the economy."

The "core" value that the letter's signatories accuse GOProud of standing against is that of "life and family," in the words of Princeton's Robert P. George, who established the American Principles Project. Anti-gay groups--especially religiously-motivated ones--promote themselves as the sole genuine defenders of marriage, family, and children, calling sexual minorities the agents of a "culture of death"--that is, a culture in which sexual congress fails to lead to procreation, and sexual promiscuity spreads disease.

The fact that gays and lesbians often enjoy stable, long term relationships, often have children of their own, and have long sought the same legal rights, protections, and obligations of legal marriage that heterosexuals take for granted is often not acknowledged by such anti-gay groups. The assumption that gay and lesbian families are somehow inferior to heterosexual families undergirds the assumption that gays cannot authentically support all of the "core values"--small government, fiscal accountability, a strong national defense, a leadership role in global affairs, and devotion to family--which heterosexual conservatives say they promote.

WND noted that Cardenas had told a blogger that the group would look more carefully at the objectives and viewpoints promoted by participants in 2012 and screen out those whose objectives did not align with the conservative movement.

But GOProud has contended that specific positions on issues are secondary to the fact that their organization is out, proud, and conservative. In short, the group suggested, anti-gay elements of the political right simply do not like sexual minorities: said GOProud head Jimmy LaSalvia, "The reason the boycotters applied a litmus test to us is because we were born gay."

That interpretation can hardly be faulted given statements like the one tossed off by Staver, who told the New York Times that "GOProud is working to undermine one of our core values" by holding to a view that marriage equality should be a matter for states, rather than the federal government, to decide--a philosophy shared by many other conservative groups.

But Staver implied that although gays are welcome to lend their weight to the conservative movement, they should content themselves with a seat in the back of the bus and not press for the perquisites of full membership in the conservative movement, such as leadership roles: "[T]hey shouldn't be allowed to be co-sponsors" of CPAC, Staver said.

The idea of a gay conservative is still often seen as a contradiction in terms, but in the last year the notion has lost some of its novelty. It was a conservative gay group--the Log Cabin Republicans--that won a judgment against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" last year, generating headlines and giving fresh credence to the idea of gay conservatives as a force to recognize and take seriously.

But not all is well among conservatives when it comes to the issue of GLBT Americans. For some groups on the extreme end of the ideological spectrum--especially the religiously motivated--gays are nothing more than "sinners" who "choose" to be romantically and sexually attracted to members of their own gender. Gays are excoriated as "promiscuous" by anti-gay conservatives, but the idea of domestically settled, married gays is even more upsetting: it was only a little more than two years ago that record-setting sums of money poured into California in support of Proposition 8, an effort--barely successful and now under challenge in the courts--to strip gay and lesbian families of their then-existing right to wed. Since then, at least one major player in the Proposition 8 battle, the National Organization for Marriage, has spent more millions on a nationwide campaign to prevent--or roll back--marriage equality for gay and lesbian families.

Other conservatives have little difficulty accepting gays into the ranks. Conservatives of this stripe and gays angry at how they have been targeted by intrusive anti-gay laws have a common cause in wishing for a smaller, less invasive government. Moreover, such conservatives tend to emphasize fiscal conservatism, looking for smaller government to be more frugal as well as less liable to control the details of their personal lives.

Whether CPAC will prove in the future to remain a "big tent" where gay conservatives are free to contribute to the "marketplace of ideas" depends on what decisions Cardenas and the ACU make over the next year. Although the fringe groups that claimed to be boycotting CPAC this year have portrayed their absence as a loss for CPAC, the event was larger this year than ever.

But developments behind the scenes lend an air of credibility to claims from the anti-gay right that GOProud did not belong at the event in an organizing capacity. GOProud board member Tammy Bruce, a conservative radio host and writer, abruptly resigned her position, posting a message at her website that read, "As Independent Conservatives and Tea Party patriots, we have a lot of work to do in the next two years taking our great nation back, and I do look forward to continuing to work with conservatives across the spectrum on the issues with which we all have in common."

"We love Tammy," Barron told MetroWeekly. "She has been a tremendous asset to this organization and continues to be a powerful voice for conservatism. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors." MetroWeekly reported that Citizen Outreach CEO Chuck Muth, formerly the executive director of the ACU, had agreed to sit on GOProud's advisory board.

But an appearance by Barron on Michelangelo Signorile's radio program ended badly for the GOProud founder, reported The New Civil Rights Movement on Feb. 15.

Barron told Signorile that GOProud had not been barred from the 2012 CPAC. But Signorile ended the interview abruptly when he allegedly caught Barron in a lie, "claiming that he often doesn't come on my show (implying I asked and he declined), supposedly because of the way I treat him," Signorile said. "That's when I ended the interview."

But if Barron's reception by elements of the gay community has been tough, the status of the anti-gay right within conservative circles appears even shakier. Just prior to the commencement of CPC '11 on Feb. 10, a New York Magazine article noted that the putative "boycott" was "an effort to strip the newish homosexual element from the conservative coalition and part of a larger bid to forcibly remarry social and fiscal conservatives.

"The bet was that distaste for gay people themselves--as opposed to lightning rods like gay marriage or adoption, which aren't included in GOProud's platform--is still a strong right-wing motivator," the article continued. "It's a bet they seem to have lost." The article pointed out the the event did not lose a host of heavy-hitting conservatives due to GOProud's presence; rather, major right-wing figures showed up in force, including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty. DeMint's absence is cited as evidence of the anti-gay right's clout--but DeMint was one of a only a few, if not the sole, conservative politician of national status not to attend due to gays having a place at the helm.

But efforts to reclaim some sort of cultural and political viability on the backs of gays may be understandable, the article suggested, given how useful anti-gay messages were to conservatives in years past. The only drawback is that the culture has shifted--including conservatives: "The tea party is now the most electorally potent portion of the GOP base," the article noted. "At the same time, only 50 percent of tea partyers self-identify as socially conservative. That's got to worry anti-gay groups, who suffered significant losses in 2010, culminating in the bi-partisan repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell.' "

Moreover, there's reason to believe that the shift is generational and not liable to being rolled back. A majority of younger Americans are for full legal equality for their gay and lesbian fellow Americans, in stark contrast to the views of older Americans. The celebrated "big tent" of conservatism may not be so prone to sudden shrinkage, after all.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.