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When it comes to Michele Bachmann, the leader of a group of gay conservatives has a message for the Human Rights Campaign: "Shut up."
GOProud is setting up a meeting with the Minnesota congresswoman to "find out exactly where she stands" on a range of issues. Bachmann, who once gave the opening blessing at an "ex-gay" conference in her home state, has dodged questions about her husband's Christian counseling clinics, which she is also an owner. They were the subject of a hidden-camera operation that found them to be offering misguided therapy intent on stopping patients from being gay.
Meanwhile, Bachmann has made headlines by racing to sign "The Marriage Vow," a pledge to an Iowa-based right-wing religious group. The pledge reaffirmed her belief that being gay is a choice, that gay marriage should be banned federally, and that gay parents are inferior to their straight counterparts.
All of that led HRC to launch a petition drive this week calling on Republican candidates to disavow so-called reparative therapy and to denounce "The Marriage Vow."
"If they are really that worried about Michele Bachmann, the best thing they can do is shut up," said Chris Barron, chairman of GOProud, in an interview with The Advocate. "Because every time they go out and attack Michele Bachmann it makes her more popular among conservatives, not less popular."
GOProud says it is in contact with the Minnesota congresswoman, who leads some Iowa polls in her bid to win the Republican nomination, and that a meeting will be "sooner rather than later." In the interview Barron defends his organization's intention to support the Republican nominee in any circumstance, presumably even if Bachmann were to win.
The Advocate: Can you clarify whether it's right to say that GOProud is open to supporting Michele Bachmann and that you're considering it if she were to become a general election candidate?
Chris Barron: The number of gay news outlets that reported yesterday that we were prepared to endorse Michele Bachmann was unbelievable considering that, one, absolutely none of them took the time to contact us, and two, we didn't say anything yesterday that we haven't said for months now.
Organizationally, our number 1 goal between now and November of 2012 is defeating Barack Obama. That's not news. It's what we have been saying for months. We anticipate being able to work with whoever the nominee is. We are in the summer of the year before the election. We have no idea how things are going to play out. The field isn't even set at this point. We re going to sit down and hopefully meet with and talk to all of the GOP presidential candidates. We are confident that, at the end of the day, the party is going to nominate somebody who we can work with.
Has none of this new information about Bachmann's beliefs created a line in the sand for GOProud that says we absolutely could not support a candidate in the general election who signed "The Marriage Vow" or supported reparative therapy?
First off, we can't make a judgment on a candidate if we haven't sat down and met with that candidate. There has been a lot that's been said that Michele Bachmann has reportedly said, or reportedly supports. It's one the reasons we think it's important to sit down and talk face-to-face with Congresswoman Bachmann and find out exactly where she stands on the issues.
So do you think it's possible then that she's been misunderstood and actually does not support reparative therapy?
I have absolutely no idea. None whatsoever. I'll be totally honest with you, I think this whole conversation about reparative therapy is just silly season. I don't believe in reparative therapy. I don't think many serious people believe in reparative therapy. Also, a sideshow has been created here. We are a country that is in economic ruin. Gay people are living under the Barack Obama economy just like straight people. The situation for gay people when it comes to health care and retirement security and income and jobs hasn't gotten any better under Barack Obama. And those are the issues that gay conservatives care about and want to discuss in this election.
Some have said that these attacks might actually benefit Michele Bachmann and generate support in her defense. Do you think that's true?
Absolutely. Of course. In the same way that Log Cabin's misguided attack on Mitt Romney in 2008 generated support for Mitt Romney. Look, do you think there is one single conservative out there who believes that the Human Rights Campaign or the Gay and Lesbian Task Force or any other left-wing gay outlet actually has the best interest of the Republican Party or the conservative movement at heart? Absolutely not.
HRC is putting themselves in this story so they can raise money off of this issue. At the end of the day everything they do is motivated by their own financial bottom line. If they are really that worried about Michele Bachmann, the best thing they can do is shut up. Because every time they go out and attack Michele Bachmann it makes her more popular among conservatives, not less popular.
But my understanding has always been that GOProud believes that only a small portion of the party are of the mind-set that would support candidates who are for reparative therapy or for "The Marriage Vow." So Bachmann's beliefs should actually decrease her popularity in your party. Is that not right?
The messenger matters here a great deal. When the attacks come from an organization like HRC that has already endorsed Barack Obama's reelection before we have even had a Republican vote cast in the primary, before the field is even set, when those attacks come from a left-wing outlet like HRC or the Task Force or any other of the national gay groups that have gotten their hands on this, it immediately endears the person who is on the receiving end of that attack to conservatives. So the discussion isn't going to be about "The Marriage Vow," that she was only one of two candidates to sign off on, that every other candidate refused to sign it. Instead the discussion becomes Obama's left-wing gay minions are out doing the bidding of the [Democratic National Committee].
You all came out in opposition to "The Marriage Vow" but took a more issue-focused approach to it, I guess, saying it was an expansion of government power. Whereas the other groups are saying it's basically an immoral thing to sign. Do you agree it's an immoral thing to sign?
For years the gay community and gay leadership have told people that what they care about is equal rights and equal benefits for people. So now we have actually moved to a conversation where we don't actually care about equal rights and equal benefits. What we care about is now the morality of the issue. We now have started parroting the talking points of the other side from six years ago. Instead of talking about the bottom line and the rights and benefits to gay people, now we are talking about the morality of it.
So you think it's counterproductive to say it's just wrong to sign "The Marriage Vow"?
I think that if you want to get into a conversation about whether or not something is immoral, then you better be prepared that the other side is going to use the exact same language. And I thought that was the same type of language we had been trying to avoid for years. We've been trying to focus on the rights and responsibilities and the benefits and making sure that everyone had the same opportunities, not to get into some pissing match with people about whose got better moral standing.
It's just at the end of the day, supporting the federal marriage amendment is fundamentally against everything that conservatives have traditionally believed. It would lead to the largest single power grab by the federal government from the states in the history of this country. What do you think is the more compelling argument for conservatives? To have Joe Solmonese tell people that it's immoral for them to oppose same-sex marriage or for them to hear from a conservative that supporting a federal marriage amendment would be a federal power grab from the states that defies the base of conservative principles.
How do you get anything done in terms of moving gay rights forward if you can't say anything when it comes up because speaking out might motivate the other side?
You can. It just depends on who the messenger is.
But how do most gay people do it if they are the messenger all the time?
Well we talk about it all the time. And it's an important dialogue that we're participating in. It's why it's important for us to have the opportunity to sit down and talk to Michele Bachmann. This is part of that process. How effective do you think it would be if GOProud demanded a meeting with Nancy Pelosi, if we sent out emails blasting Nancy Pelosi for something? It's not going to be very effective on moving Nancy Pelosi on an issue. At the end of the day, it's about the message and the messenger.
So you are more effective on this because you are conservatives speaking to conservatives?
Absolutely. It's common sense. Why should any Republican care one iota what HRC says? They've already endorsed Obama. They haven't even given us a chance to have our field set.
But is it possible that, after this meeting with Michele Bachmann, you won't endorse her?
Like I said we have no plans to endorse anyone in the primary. Our number 1 goal organizationally is beating Barack Obama. We're confident that when the primary season is over with, we will have a candidate we can work with.
Isn't that the same thing? If the HRC is coming out ahead of this saying that they are for Barack Obama, you are coming out ahead of it saying you are against him.
Yeah, well first off, we have never pretended to be anything but who we are. We are a conservative gay organization. We have never pretended to be a bipartisan lovefest. We don't run around trotting out our bipartisan credentials. We don't insert ourselves in Democratic primaries.
HRC's little blasts are all about raising money, raising hysteria in the gay community so they can continue to pay for the pink palace over on 17th Street.
When and what have you heard from Michele Bachmann so far about a meeting?
Those conversations are now happening. All I can tell you is we have now heard back from the Bachmann campaign and we are in the process of having this conversation and hopefully we will have a meeting sooner rather than later.
Is she the only candidate you are going to be talking to?
We are in the process of talking to all the candidates. Some of those candidate conversations have already occurred. Others are scheduled. Some we're getting around to scheduling now.
Did Bachmann move to the front of the line because of all this controversy?
I think that given everything out there now, given the emergence of these issues, I think it certainly behooves us to speak with Congresswoman Bachmann sooner rather than later.
Is there anything you are hoping to tell her or is it more of a listening thing?
I think we want to go in, and we want to talk about our organization and we want to talk about gay conservatives and what gay conservatives care about. We want to hear from her. What is her vision for the conservative movement? What is her vision for America? What role does she see gay conservatives playing in this movement and in this country? Those are the type of things. I hope that this will be an honest and open heart-to-heart discussion here and both of us will come in with an open mind and both be willing to listen to the other side.
I don't harbor any illusions about suddenly making Michele Bachmann somebody who she isn't. But I think for far too many folks, particularly the liberal gay activists, they have completely and totally stopped talking to people all together. I remember five, six years ago, there was all this talk about winning the hearts and minds of voters and talking to people and realizing that we had an education process to go through with the American public. And all of that talk of winning hearts and minds has been replaced by demonize, scream, and demand. We are committed to talking to people. We've gone into the lion's den before, and we will continue to do it because we think that dialogue is important to have with all Americans.
Well, if you come away from this meeting with Michele Bachmann and it seems as though she has been misunderstood on reparative therapy, I am sure that everyone will be very interested.
It will certainly be an interesting meeting.