It’s 11:03 in the morning and Chris Barron, chairman of the gay conservative group GOProud, is handing me a bottle of bourbon. The fact that Dick Cheney’s face is on the bottle tempts me to take a swig. But I’m a professional; I drink coffee.
We are in the stylish basement offices of GOProud (as much as any basement can be stylish), located so close to the senate that Harry Reid’s fundraisers have an office in same the building. (Politicians can’t do “political” work in their official congressional offices, so many set up satellite offices nearby). Al Gore’s political team once occupied the very spot where we are sitting. A Gadsden flag hangs proudly from the wall behind me — next to a “Rudy!” yard sign. I wonder to myself, “What would Al think?”
GOProud has invited me to their subterranean lair — not to drink Dick Cheney’s bourbon (as fun as that might be) — but, instead, to talk about news I recently broke — that GOProud would not be invited back to co-sponsor the upcoming Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
They are anxious to talk because, for a long time, they have been silent. Even after news broke about CPAC, they simply issued a short statement. “We did everything we could to avoid a fight,” says GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia. “It’s been like Neville Chamberlain around here. It’s been appease, appease, appease, appease.”
Controversy is not new to GOProud. Their maiden involvement at the 2010 CPAC prompted a young conservative activist named Ryan Sorba to condemn CPAC from the podium. He was booed. The group followed up CPAC by inviting Ann Coulter to headline a New York City event dubbed “HomoCon” — and by running a TV ad attacking Democrats. Despite their efforts, the group’s second foray into CPAC prompted some prominent social conservative groups to publicly boycott the event.
The attention also gained them some powerful allies, including new media mogul Andrew Breitbart. “[Breitbart] tweeted, ‘I’m going to have a party for the gays,’” recalls LaSalvia. True to his word, Breitbart threw a “Big Gay CPAC Party” that featured a performance by musician Sophie B. Hawkins.
The party may have rocked, but some members of the board of directors for the American Conservative Union (ACU) were not amused. The ACU organizes CPAC, and a vote of their board determined that GOProud would not be invited back as a co-sponsor in 2012.
“The ACU board is sort of like the board in a Batman movie,” explains Lisa De Pasquale, a former CPAC director who now sits on GOProud’s advisory board. “They were actively working against [CPAC].”
“There were people on that board who were responsible for phone calls being made to speakers [in 2011], asking them not to speak,” says LaSalva. “Presidential candidates [were] getting calls, telling them they shouldn’t speak at CPAC,” he adds incredulously.
ACU board members do, however, have a legitimate argument for excluding the group. The conservative movement has long depended upon the unity of a coalition consisting of those who advocate economic liberty, strong national defense, and traditional moral values. “Movement conservatives cannot be expected to agree on everything,” says board member Morton Blackwell. “But no group which insists on the incompatibility of a major element of the conservative movement should have a formal role at CPAC.
GOProud, of course, doesn’t buy it. “Half of our membership is not gay,” says Barron. “It is perposerious for me to believe that those people cannot be social conservatives. I mean, hell, Ann coulter is chair of our advisory council.”
“Dick Cheney has a more progressive position on marriage than GOProud does,” adds Barron, who is, himself, married to a man (Barron obviously believes in gay marriage, but GOProud avoids the issue, arguing it should be left up to the states to decide).
Privately, some conservatives who might have been open to the possibility of working with GOProud tell me they doubt the group’s sincerity. As evidence, they note that Barron (who is a media consultant, a self-described practicing Catholic, and a Herman Cain donor) worked for Planned Parenthood in 2005. This is an inconvenient truth.
“It was the worst two months of my life,” says Barron of his brief tenure at Planned Parenthood. “And after I left, I said, you know what? — Roe versus Wade was wrongly decided.”
At the end of the day, that doesn’t really matter now. The bottom line is that GOProud won’t be co-sponsoring next year’s CPAC.
When I ask Barron and LaSalvia about organizing their own event, they will have none of it.
Barron shrugs, takes a sip of coffee from an Ann Coulter “HomoCon” coffee mug, and repeats what sounds like a pretty good sound bite: “The best thing for the entire conservative movement,” he says, “would be a united CPAC.”