Lessons Learned

By Michelangelo Signorile

Originally published on Advocate.com May 16 2011 4:00 AM ET

 There are two things we’ve learned from GOProud, the small, often obnoxious right-wing gay group that makes the Log Cabin Republicans seem like liberals. For the uninitiated, this is the group that supports outspokenly anti-equality public figures — from Ann Coulter, who was paid to speak to the group, to Donald Trump, who is opposed to any gay unions—and targeted gay congressman Barney Frank during the 2010 election with an ad that called him “catty.”

First off, denialists and elitists who believe they are superior to other gays — even if the attitude masks a pitiful self-loathing — are clearly as prevalent as ever in the LGBT movement, except that they can now be out of the closet. Perversely, the fact that we can find such people in GOProud is a measure of our success.
The other thing we’ve learned is that the Christian right, contrary to all the media blather about it losing steam as the Tea Party ascends, still has a grip on the GOP, and this can actually be helpful in gaining civil rights through the Democratic Party—if the Democrats recognize a useful wedge issue staring them in the face.

On the first count, let’s look back in history. There’ve always been gays in even the most extreme corners of the Republican Party. There was the reckless senator Joseph McCarthy’s right-hand man, Roy Cohn, who helped his boss ferret out both alleged communists and homosexuals in the government in the 1950s. In the ’80s closeted conservative activist Terry Dolan vocally supported the antigay agenda of Christian right leaders as chair of the National Conservative Political Action Committee. He helped elect—and wrote a book about—Ronald Reagan, who bowed to religious extremists and ignored AIDS, the disease that took Dolan’s life in 1986 at the age of 35.

Justin Raimondo was the openly gay campaign manager of the virulently antigay Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign. In the new century we had Ken Mehlman, chair of the Republican National Committee and, later, George W. Bush’s reelection campaign manager, who promoted anti–gay marriage amendments across the country, helping the GOP to win with hate. And let’s not forget Mary Cheney, who, like Mehlman now, is out, but gives money to antigay politicians even as she enjoys the benefits of hard-won gay rights advances.

Their motivations are probably unique to each but there are some commonalities: a desire to be close to power; a hunger for attention and GOP approval; a selfish devotion to Republican “fiscal” policies over civil rights; and a belligerence toward gay activists, whom they seem to detest.

GOProud’s Chris Barron fits right in, often appearing desperate for Republican acceptance, compromising his positions at a moment’s notice—if he even had any to begin with. Formerly political director for the Log Cabin Republicans, he broke away and cofounded GOProud, claiming that Log Cabin wasn’t conservative enough. Since its founding in 2009, GOProud slowly moved in the direction of not taking any pro-gay positions, all in an attempt to be included in the Republican Party, even though Barron oddly once tweeted that GOProud is “a gay organization, we only work on gay issues.” GOProud is opposed to the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is now law. And fearing being cut out of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference — which for 2012 has banned groups that support any pro-gay legislation — Barron told the blog RedState last February, “Considering we don’t support gay marriage and DADT isn’t part of our 2011 legislative agenda [I’m] not sure how this affects us at all.”

Barron and GOProud now also support House speaker John Boehner defending section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act in federal appeals court after President Obama announced he believed the law is unconstitutional — though Barron himself is legally married to a man in Washington, D.C. Barron’s husband, to whom he refers a lot in his tweets, is a D.C. teacher who wrote a piece in MetroWeekly about how kids learn to be bullies from adults who bully one another. But there couldn’t possibly be a better example of an adult bullying other adults than Barron tweeting this: “The gay left = the American Taliban. Hateful, angry and dumb as shit.” He’s also tweeted that Andrew Sullivan is “fat,” “pathetic,” and “self-important” and that Meghan McCain is “intensely stupid.”

Barron has said in a radio interview that he wanted to see as many candidates as possible in the Republican primaries — including, presumably, even the antigay ones, which is most of them — but then tweeted that Fred Karger, the only openly gay announced candidate (who is associated with GOProud’s rival group, Log Cabin, and actually forcefully takes on homophobic politicians), is a “fake candidate.”

Barron’s impulsive tweets are telling in a variety of ways. He obsessively tweets about his abs and his workouts in a way that betrays a guy who’s pretty insecure about his body and perhaps his very manhood, out to prove he’s a real guy, not like those other gays, such as the “catty” Barney Frank, who Barron tweeted has a “purse” and wants to “sit in Scott Brown’s lap.”

This insecurity over masculinity seems to be a theme at GOProud. In a YouTube clip that received much attention over the winter, GOProud member Matt Hissey says he doesn’t like most gays: “I don’t really like gay people that much. Gay people frustrate me, the stereotypical gay people, it frustrates me…”

In an interview on my radio program, Barron had a meltdown after I noted blatant hypocrisy in his apologizing for having rightly called conservative power attorney Cleta Mitchell a “nasty bigot” in a public forum. Conservatives at CPAC and across the right-wing blogosphere expressed outrage at his comment, and conservative lesbian radio host Tammy Bruce quit the GOProud board within days. GOProud’s invitation back to CPAC was jeopardized as well, in yet another example of Barron’s volatile nature getting him in trouble. Attempting to stop the bleeding, he issued a slobbering apology for his bad “language.”

When I noted that it was “wussy” of him to apologize to Mitchell while refusing to apologize for calling the gay left “dumb as shit,” Barron lashed out, and I had to bring the interview to a close.
  In the end, CPAC chair Alberto Cardenas indicated GOProud likely won’t be invited back, bowing to conservative groups like the Family Research Council, which, along with other groups, boycotted CPAC.

“They used that platform to be quite aggressive,” Cardenas told conservative publication Human Events of GOProud. “The ideal GOProud participation would have been, ‘You know what, guys? This is an inclusive society. We’re as interested in these fiscal issues as you are. Fill your website with fiscal issues that you’re for and be a mainstream discusser of issues. We just happen to have a different lifestyle.’ ” In other words, sit down, shut up, and don’t challenge homophobia.

And that’s what GOProud’s drama tells us about the endurance of the Christian right: It still wields a great deal of power in the GOP (witness how abortion became front and center in the budget battle), even as mainstream America is well beyond its issues.

The media claimed that the Tea Party was something new, focused on fiscal issues, not social ones, and had supplanted the religious right. But in fact, what we’ve come to learn is that it is often the same old crowd, and many of the Tea Party activists are also moral crusaders. That was borne out in the campaigns by two of the most prominent Tea Party Senate candidates in 2010, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell.

GOProud is useful to the GOP insofar as it provides the cover of being “tolerant” of gays at a time when a majority of Americans now support marriage equality, and as younger voters support full equality in huge numbers. But Cardenas’s statement shows the limit of that tolerance. Those who control the GOP don’t want to see open gays in the party at all — even if they’re only supporting “fiscal” reforms.

That makes LGBT rights a wedge issue for Democrats to now wield against Republicans instead of the other way around, as it had been for so long. When President Obama decided not to defend DOMA, it was good for the LGBT movement but also great politics for him, something we all hope he and Democratic leaders have realized. It put the GOP on the defensive, as John Boehner showed no passion in defending DOMA — and knows most Americans don’t support DOMA — but had no choice because of that antigay base, which GOProud’s wild ride underscores is still very much in charge. ✤