LGBT blogger and activist David Badash recently reported that among the usual suspects sponsoring this year's Conservative Political Action Conference was a generally progressive social networking site: Facebook.
But in a statement provided to The Advocate, a Facebook spokesperson says the organization's sponsorship is part of a larger nonpartisan strategy to engage in discussions about the utility of social media.
"Facebook sponsors events hosted by organizations across the political spectrum where discussions about the use of social media take place," says the Facebook spokesperson. "We want to be part of any conversation that focuses on the use of social media tools for political discourse. These sponsorships are not endorsements of any particular position or platform."
The spokesperson also refuted Badash's claim that the social networking giant was not sponsoring Netroots Nation, considered by many to be the preeminent conference for progressive bloggers, writers, and journalists. Facebook will be a sponsor for Netroots Nation 2014, confirmed the spokesperson, and has been "for the past few years."
Still, Facebook's sponsorship of CPAC, the right-wing conference currently underway in Washington, D.C., seems at odds with the company's generally inclusive policies and practices, including a much-lauded recent rollout of more than 150 customizable options that allows users to list a gender identity beyond just "male" or "female." Badash also argues that the social media giant seems to be keeping strange bedfellows with other CPAC sponsors like the NRA, Tea Party Patriots, Focus on the Family's CitizenLink, and Koch Industries, among many others.
Where Facebook seems to adopt an inclusive strategy — even in its sponsorships — CPAC has a history of being exclusionary, especially to LGBT groups. Conservative gay group Log Cabin Republicans recently confirmed that it will not attend this year's CPAC, since the organizers refused to allow the group of gay conservatives to participate in a panel discussion called "Reaching Out," ironically about inclusiveness within the GOP.
Gregory T. Angelo, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, explained the group's decision in an op-ed in the conservative Daily Caller today:
"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."
No stranger to antigay controversy, CPAC has previously faced allegations that it illegally discriminates against LGBT people — most recently from gay Republican presidential candidate Fred Karger, who was the only Republican presidential hopeful who was not invited to speak at the 2012 conference. That year, Karger's application for a booth was denied citing space limitations, despite the fact that he says he registered ahead of the "early bird" deadline, making a sold-out situation unlikely. That same year, CPAC also voted to prevent GOProud, another gay conservative group, from signing on as a sponsor of the event. The group had participated in the previous year, but was told in 2012 that it would "not be invited to participate in a formal role."
This year's list of featured speakers for the two-day conference reads like a veritable who's-who of antigay, anti-woman, and anti-immigration advocates. Of course, all have bonafide anti-Obama credentials within conservative media, and the factious Tea Party makes a substantial showing in the agenda.
According to CPAC's website, confirmed speakers include same-sex marriage denialist and Tea Party Texas Sen. Ted Cruz; Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey (one of 10 Republican Senators to vote for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last year); Wisconsin Rep. and onetime vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan; New Jersey governor, prospective 2014 GOP presidential nominee, and marriage equality vetoer, Chris Christie; antigay Johns Hopkins University professor Ben Carson, who famously compared advocates of marriage equality to those advocating for bestiality and man-child romances; former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who now serves as the president of the antigay Heritage Foundation; former Arkansas governor turned Fox News pundit and "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" founder Mike Huckabee; LGBT equality denier and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal; former Alaska governor, vice presidential hopeful, and fellow Duck Dynasty ally Sarah Palin; Texas governor and supporter of the Boy Scouts' ban on gay troops or leaders Rick Perry; LGBT-exclusive immigration reform advocate and Florida congressman Marco Rubio; former Senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, whose name has become synonymous with both antigay stances and a frothy byproduct of anal sex; and billionaire conservative tycoon and marriage equality opponent Donald Trump.