The new face of gay conservatives

Republicans control the White House, the House of Representatives, and a majority of governorships. Now a new wave of openly gay conservatives wants to put gay rights on the agenda in George Bush’s America

BY Chris Bull

April 02 2002 12:00 AM ET

Growing up in the
middle-class Boston suburb of Melrose, Mass., Patrick
Guerriero feared that his sexual orientation would thwart
his political ambitions, especially as a budding young
Republican. But unlike generations of gay and lesbian
conservatives before him, he refused to stay in the
closet.

Much to his
surprise and relief, Guerriero’s candor actually may
have played to his advantage. Not long after coming
out to family and friends in 1990 at age 22, he was
twice elected mayor of his hometown. Voters then sent
him to three consecutive terms in the state legislature.
This January, Guerriero achieved his greatest measure
of political acceptance yet when
Massachusetts’s acting governor, Republican Jane
Swift—no doubt noting his perfect record in
elections—named him her running mate for
lieutenant governor. At press time Swift had pulled out of
the race, but Guerriero is soldiering on with his
candidacy. After her announcement, Swift recommended
that Mitt Romney, the Mormon conservative who served as
chief of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and who now is
expected to win the Republican nomination for
Massachusetts governor, stick with Guerriero as his
running mate.

Instead of
receiving fire and brimstone from the right wing, Guerriero
has been greeted as the political equivalent of a rock star.
As he has crisscrossed the state campaigning,
audiences have swooned over his charisma and his
youthfulness. A columnist in the conservative Boston
Herald
rhapsodized about his “dimples” and
called him “breathtakingly adorable.”
The only carping came from a predictable source, his
Republican opponent, James Rappaport, who dismissed the
34-year-old as little more than a “nice young
man.”

“The
people of Melrose got to know me as a decent athlete and
active citizen volunteer who fought for improvements
in civil life,” Guerriero tells The
Advocate.
“They judged me by my character and my
record. I think that voters today are a lot less
concerned about the sexual orientation of their
leaders than they used to be, and this is true not
just in my state but across the country. They want to know
where I stand on the issues. There is no question this
a good thing for this country.”

No one would ever
dare say, “As Massachusetts goes, so goes the
nation.” Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly
3 to 1 in the state and control its entire
congressional delegation. Republicans here break the mold.
In 1967, Massachusetts Republican Edward Brooke became
the first African-American U.S. senator since
Reconstruction. Swift’s Republican
predecessors, Paul Cellucci and William Weld, earned
reputations as staunch gay rights supporters. (Weld
appeared on a 1993 cover of The Advocate as
“Hetero Hero.”) Now, 20 years after sending to
Congress two representatives who would become the
first to come out in office, Barney Frank and Gerry
Studds, the state is on the verge of another
breakthrough.

“Guerriero’s race is really a battle of wills
in the [GOP],” says Brian Bond, executive
director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a
Washington, D.C. political group. “Patrick represents
inclusion and the future of the GOP. But even in
liberal Massachusetts he’s going to have to
defeat the naysayers and lingering homophobia within the
party structure. Whether he wins the nomination will
tell us a lot.”

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