Tea Party Faction Rejects GOProud’s Plea for Inclusion

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday November 23, 2010

Last week, Tea Party leaders and a conservative gay group sent a letter to the presumptive incoming GOP leadership to press for government focus on fiscal matters, rather than social questions.

This week, another group of Tea Party leaders has sent a letter of their own, rejecting the other group's earlier letter and declaring themselves to be the "mainstream." The second Tea Party letter, reportedly authored by the CEO of Tea Party Nation, Judson Phillips, also set forth a list of specific demands, including keeping in place the anti-gay law that bans openly gay soldiers. Judson reportedly wrote the letter and then circulated it via email, inviting interested individuals to sign on to it.

Politico reported on Nov. 14 that the Tea Party Patriots and the New American Patriots joined with GOProud, a gay conservative organization, to call on new Republican leaders to put their focus where voters wish to see it: on smaller, less intrusive government.

"On behalf of limited-government conservatives everywhere, we write to urge you and your colleagues in Washington to put forward a legislative agenda in the next Congress that reflects the principles of the Tea Party movement," a letter from GOProud and Tea Party leaders to John Boehner and Mitch McConnell urged. Boehner is expected to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and McConnell to lead the Senate minority.

The letter went on to warn the GOP leaders that, "This election was not a mandate for the Republican Party, nor was it a mandate to act on any social issue."

The letter was due to be delivered to Boehner and McConnell on Nov. 17. At least 17 Tea Party and conservative signatories had put their names to the letter, Politico reported, including Ohio-based national Tea Party Patriots leader Ralph King. "When they were out in the Boston Harbor, they weren't arguing about who was gay or who was having an abortion," King told Politico. One point King made was that the political arena could leave room for differing personal outlooks. "Am I going to be the best man at a same sex-marriage wedding? That's not something I necessarily believe in. I look at myself as pretty socially conservative. But that's not what we push through the Tea Party Patriots."

Agreed GOProud Chair Christopher Barron, "For almost two years now, the tea party has been laser-focused on the size of government." Added Barron, "No one has been talking about social issues--not even the socially conservative candidates who won tea party support." Rather, Barron characterized various Tea Party groups and GOProud as belonging to an overall " 'leave me alone' coalition,' " Politico reported.

But the letter that a rival group of Tea Party leaders sent to Boehner and McConnell went beyond demands to be left alone by big government, and set out a list of conditions the signatories said they expected to be met, including some they flatly declare to be "non-negotiable." The letter was posted in its entirety at conservative chat site FreeRepublic.com. Among other demands, Tea Party Nation and 180 other groups and individuals said that they wanted the new health care law--which they called "Obamacare"--to be defunded.

Moreover, the letter said, "we must dismantle the liberal-political complex," and went on to cite federal funding for groups such as Planned Parenthood and Acorn. The demands also listed reduced government spending, restrictions on debt, and a reduction in taxes across the board. The letter also demanded that America's borders be "secured" and illegal immigrants deported.

After a list of six demands, the letter arrived at a final demand. "Seventh, we want you to fight the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell," the letter read. "The policy has worked well for the last fifteen years. There is no reason to change."

Recent polls indicate that over three-quarters of the American public oppose DADT, and favor allowing gay and lesbian troops to serve openly. Top military leaders also support retiring the 17-year-old law. But the Tea Party letter did not mention the public or the brass, choosing instead to focus on what it branded "various radical leftist groups."

"While there are many ways to debate an issue, sometimes you can judge the validity of a proposal by who supports it," the missive ventured. "Various radical leftist groups such as Code Pink support the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. These groups have one goal. They want to weaken the United States Military. If these groups think this is a good idea, that is a pretty good indication, it is not."

Others have argued the exact opposite--that DADT undermines America's military in a number of ways, including the ejection of servicemembers with "mission critical" skills such as Arabic language expertise. Proponents of repealing DADT also say that heterosexuals, especially women who have refused the sexual advances of male colleagues, have been deliberately subjected to false accusations of homosexuality and forced to endure stressful, invasive probing of their personal lives. Those arguments and others were included in Nathaniel Frank's comprehensive 2009 book Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America.

Hostility toward GLBTs was evident from the tone of several Tea Party-backed candidates who took aim at gays during the most recent campaign season. New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino sparked an outcry when he referred to the "gay lifestyle" as not being "an equally valid and successful option" during an address to an Orthodox Jewish audience. Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell and Nevada candidate for U.S. Senate Sharron Angle also promoted anti-gay views. All three candidates lost, as did Ken Buck, a Colorado candidate for the Senate who remarked during an appearance on Meet the Press that being gay is similar to being an alcoholic.

One GOP candidate who expressed anti-gay views and prevailed in the midterm elections was incumbent Jim DeMint from South Carolina, who addressed the Greater Freedom Rally in Spartanburg, S.C., on Oct. 1, where he repeated claims he had made in 2004 to the effect that gays--and sexually active unmarried women--should be barred from the teaching profession. That view echoed the Briggs Initiative, the 1978 effort in California by then-state legislator Jim Briggs to outlaw openly gay teachers and any heterosexual teachers supportive of GLTB equality.

DeMint told rally participants that he would work to bring more conservatives into government in order to "take our country back"--and deny gays the right to be in certain professions, such as teaching school. The senator also said that unmarried, sexually active women should be barred from the teaching profession, but he did not place any such restrictions on unmarried heterosexual men.

GOProud 'not the Tea Party'

Anti-gay pundits attacked GOProud and the Tea Party groups that joined it in sending the initial letter to Boehner and McConnell. The editor of anti-gay religious website WorldNetDaily, Joseph Farah, posted a Nov. 23 op-ed blasting the gay group for its letter to the Republican leadership.

"Though only a few tea-party activists have been seduced to work with GOProud, the ones who do are certain to get more than their share of media coverage--just as the tiny population of vocal Republican homosexuals does," Farah wrote. "That's what is really going on here. It is about creating the illusion that tea-party activists only care about materialistic issues. It is about creating the illusion that a movement based purely on economic expediency will be bigger than one focused on transcendent issues like life, liberty, justice, morality. It is about creating the illusion that you can actually solve the serious problems plaguing America with economic recipes alone.

"It is these illusions, ironically, that are being used in an attempt to neuter some of the principal concerns of the incoming class of Republican legislators, who were actually propelled to victory on Election Day by the mobilization of millions of tea-party activists with much more on their mind than simply economics," Farah added, before going on to push his own recently published book, The Tea Party Manifesto.

Farah's op-ed continued from there, attacking marriage equality and judges who interpreted the law in a manner not to the liking of some conservatives. "GOProud is not the tea-party movement. Not by a long shot is it the tea-party movement," added Farah. "The tea-party movement is comprised of a clear majority of people of faith and moral convictions. If the tea-party movement ever goes the way of GOProud, not only is the movement dead, so is America as we have known it for 234 years."

In a separate WorldNetDaily article, posted Nov. 20, Phillips declared, "There is a battle going on for the heart and soul of the tea-party movement. GOProud has its own agenda. It wants to create credibility for itself by leveraging the tea-party movement, but GOProud has never been a part of the tea-party movement."

Phillips acknowledged that the Tea Party movement included people who were primarily interested in fiscal responsibility, but he added the claim that "at least half of the tea-party movement is made up of values voters." Added Phillips, "Ignoring these people is a recipe for disaster. If you want to win, you've got to have a pretty broad coalition. You need more than 50 percent. With the fiscal and social conservatives together, we win. If we start cutting our coalition up, we can't win."

The war of words within Tea Party ranks sparked mainstream media stories questioning who, if anyone, truly speaks for a movement that prides itself in its populist nature. CNN reported on Nov. 22 that GOProud was quick to parry Judson's riposte, with Barron stating, "A letter signed mostly by members of Tea Party groups rather than leaders of Tea Party groups rather than leaders of Tea Party groups seems like an awfully cheap way to try to make it look like you have a lot of signatories. I mean f we asked for anyone associated with the Tea Party movement to sign our letter we could have 5 times that in 24 hours."

Added Barron, "Second, the letter itself is funny. They only bring up one point GOProud would disagree with--Don't Ask, Don't Tell--and our letter had nothing to do with DADT. Seems they wrote a letter that confirms, rather than refutes, our letter."

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.