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Growing a gay old

Growing a gay old


Patrick Guerriero has increased the Log Cabin Republicans' membership and budget--as well as its standing among liberal national gay rights groups. Of course, that means fewer invites to White House parties.

September 8, 2004, was a watershed moment for Log Cabin Republicans. On that day the group for gay and lesbian members of the GOP released an unusually long--five pages--press release announcing that its board of directors voted 22-2 not to endorse George W. Bush's reelection, largely because of his support of a constitutional amendment seeking to bar same-sex couples from marrying.

This was the first time since Log Cabin opened its national office in 1993 that it had not endorsed the Republican nominee for president, having backed Bush in 2000 and Bob Dole in 1996, moves that caused a strong backlash against Log Cabin among many prominent gay and lesbian activists. The charge at the time was that Log Cabin was more interested in making nice with GOP muckety-mucks than advancing gay equality.

But that all changed in 2003 when Log Cabin hired Patrick Guerriero--a Massachusetts native and moderate Republican who had served as a state legislator as well as mayor of his hometown of Melrose--to be the group's second executive director. Recently, Guerriero's title was changed to president.

Guerriero has brought political skills as a former elected official, but also a new philosophy, one that allows Log Cabin to speak out against the antigay forces within its own party. With Guerriero at the helm and a new, more diverse board in place, the decision not to endorse Bush was not wholly unexpected, despite fears of repercussions from inside the GOP.

"There remains a lot of anger inside the party from those who wanted Log Cabin to give them cover for supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment," Guerriero tells The Advocate. "There are some who consider our decision to be a disloyal act, and that will take some time to heal. But if you allow yourself to be stepped on time and time again, you have no credibility in Washington. Over time, in part because we stood up for ourselves, feelings will flip back in our direction. We want results. I don't need to be invited to every GOP cocktail party. And yes, I've been invited to fewer GOP cocktail parties since the decision. So be it."

Guerriero goes so far as to place Log Cabin clearly on one side of a "battle" brewing inside the Republican Party, pitting moderates and "traditional conservatives" like U.S. senators Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Gordon Smith of Oregon against "theocrats" like U.S. senators Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Bill Frist of Tennessee.

"Log Cabin used to be much too apologetic for bad Republican behavior," says Chuck Colbert, a freelance journalist and activist who lives in Cambridge, Mass. "But under Patrick, Log Cabin is much more willing to take on fellow Republicans. Log Cabin was absolutely correct in not endorsing Bush last year. If they had, they would have been dead meat in the gay community."

One of Guerriero's first official acts when he assumed the lead of Log Cabin was to reach out to other gay and lesbian political groups. "I wanted these other groups to know that Log Cabin was willing to carry its weight. I also wanted to stop the infighting with other LGBT groups," says Guerriero, who also instituted a new policy inside Log Cabin: "If you speak ill of another LGBT group, that is grounds for dismissal."

Elizabeth Birch--then-executive director of the Human Rights Campaign--welcomed Guerriero's call on his first day on the job. "Patrick has reached out extensively to Republicans and Democrats alike. He has been among the most principled leaders of our movement for equality," Birch says. "Patrick is a person of good character and does not ever take the easy road. He stood up to the profound failure of Bush with integrity. He takes the heat but stays the course."

Guerriero showed his bipartisan roots when he returned to Massachusetts earlier this year to aid in the successful lobbying effort to kill that state's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"Patrick was instrumental as a Republican, and as a gay Republican, in talking with his former colleagues on this issue," says Marty Rouse, campaign director of MassEquality, the group spearheading opposition to any move to rescind marriage equality in the Bay State. "As a former state legislator, he understands that a lot of important work gets done behind closed doors and not quoted in the press. In order to achieve success, we need Republican support and behind-the-scenes work, especially for Republicans, who are, generally speaking, more opposed to gay equality and marriage rights."

That said, Rouse says that Log Cabin could be even more effective: "They need to find pro-gay rights people to run against homophobes in their party. They should be proactive rather than just reactive. Yes, they have to keep a foot in the door of the party, but they need to keep moving forward as well."

In truth, Log Cabin has been moving forward under Guerriero's leadership, particularly in shifting the group's focus outside of the Beltway and building the organization on the grassroots level.

The day after Guerriero spoke with The Advocate, he was off to North Carolina to help build new chapters in the Tar Heel State. During the past three years, Log Cabin has grown more in conservative "red states" than in liberal "blue states."

"For the first time in history, young gay and lesbian conservatives are meeting with elected officials," he says. "We are giving young gay and lesbian conservatives a safe place to come out to themselves, their families, and their legislators." Guerriero says that such discussions with Republican lawmakers in conservative states is vital because they have largely never taken place before. Guerriero is also hoping to mentor the next generation of openly gay Republican lawmakers.

Under Guerriero, the number of recognized Log Cabin chapters has nearly doubled, from 29 in January 2003 to 50 in October 2005. Total membership has increased almost fivefold, growing from 3,750 in December 2002 to 18,462 in October 2005. The annual budget has also ballooned from $350,000 in 2002 to $1.9 million in 2004.

Bill Brownson of Columbus, Ohio, who is serving his third year as chair of Log Cabin's board, gives Guerriero credit for helping grow the organization. "He is a gifted leader, and we are blessed to have him, not just as a leader of our organization, but that extends to the greater gay and lesbian community through collaborations with other organizations," Brownson says.

Brownson also stands by his board's decision not to back Bush last year. "Our perspective and mission transcends any single party leader or administration," he says. "That decision is in line with our mission over the long term. The Federal Marriage Amendment restricts liberty constitutionally and is the antithesis of conservatism." The Republican National Committee did not respond to The Advocate's requests for comment.

But is taking such a firm stand with fellow Republicans a winning strategy? "Confrontation gets your group more attention but less influence," says Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "On the other hand, Log Cabin has set a standard for the 2008 presidential contest, and it looks like they will have a number of social moderates from which to choose."

For Guerriero, it all boils down to what kind of organization Log Cabin wants to be. "The culture war exploded in 2000, and Log Cabin had a choice to make," says Guerriero. "Are we first and foremost a Republican organization, or are we first and foremost a gay organization with a role to play inside the Republican Party? The board and I made a conscious decision on the second, and that has affected everything we have to do and continue to do."

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