The truth about CPAC and gay conservatives

Gregory T. Angelo Gregory T. Angelo is the president of the New Tolerance Campaign.
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In the case of this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the old chestnut that “those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it” has never been more applicable. That’s why Log Cabin Republicans is not participating in this year’s CPAC, and why, as an organization, it was necessary to explain to our members and supporters the truth as to why we are not.

Egregious reporting by many in the media, spurring subsequent chatter on Twitter (including by conservative luminaries such as Ari Fleischer and Pat Brady who should have known better) — announced a “ban” on gay conservatives attending CPAC had been “lifted” this year, marking an historic turning point. This is absolutely wrong, and the record needs to be corrected.

To the credit of the American Conservative Union (ACU), which produces CPAC each year, there has never been a ban on anyone “attending” CPAC. Log Cabin Republicans members attend every year, as paying guests. This is hardly something worth tweeting, much less trumpeting via press releases. Anyone can attend CPAC as a paying “guest” — CPAC has never had a policy of discrimination when it comes to individuals being “allowed” to attend. Jimmy Carter could buy a ticket and go to CPAC. Were they alive today, Neville Chamberlain and Stepin Fetchit could buy a ticket to CPAC. The official “ban” was on any formal participation by gay conservatives as sponsors, panelists, or speakers.

That ban was something Log Cabin Republicans had been pushing against for weeks, negotiating via intermediaries with ACU leadership to have some degree of formal participation in CPAC’s program of events — until our efforts were undercut by the white flag waved by gay “advocates” who felt mere attendance was a statement of strength.

At a time when state legislatures around the country are proposing, debating and — in some cases — passing legislation that allows individuals to discriminate against Americans exclusively because of their sexual orientation, we could not in good conscience agree to a settlement in which Log Cabin Republicans was expected to celebrate the equivalent of not being allowed to sit at the lunch counter but still be served food, or sitting in the back of the bus, as long as we were allowed to ride it.

Any official participation from Log Cabin Republicans at CPAC needs to be meaningful, and in our estimation meaningful participation does not begin and end with buying a ticket to CPAC. We asked for a seat at the table — quite literally — at the “Reaching Out” panel at this year’s conference. It seemed a natural fit for LCR, while also giving CPAC the benefit of showing their inclusion of gay conservatives at an event in which the focus was not specifically about gay issues. We were rebuffed.

At this pivotal time in our nation’s history, our members expect Log Cabin Republicans to stand up for what’s right, and that’s what we’re doing this year. We don’t need the ACU; the ACU needs us. Like all good conservatives, we want conservatives to win. With a preponderance of Americans in support of equal rights for gay Americans, Log Cabin Republicans’ mantra that “inclusion wins” has never been more relevant. It’s not too late for the ACU to embrace that, allow us formal participation on the “Reaching Out” panel, and welcome Log Cabin Republicans as meaningful participants at this year’s CPAC.

If they do not, “CPAC and the gays” is destined to be litigated in the media year after year after year after year, until the ACU either accepts gays as a permanent and meaningful part of the conservative movement, or dares to codify our exclusion into formal policy, at their own peril. As the cliché goes: Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it. More succinctly — for the ACU and gay conservatives who settle for second-class status: Those ignorant of history are doomed.

Gregory T. Angelo is the Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans. For more information, visit http://www.logcabin.org.