The Log Cabin Republicans formed in the late 1970s, when Republican state Sen. John Briggs of Orange County proposed a statewide ballot initiative to ban gays and lesbians from teaching in public schools. Briggs also pushed an initiative to strengthen the death penalty. In fundraising letters, he told voters, "You can act right now to help protect your family from vicious killers and defend your children from homosexual teachers."
Protections for gays that had passed after the 1969 Stonewall riots, when gays fought back against police raids of gay bars in New York City, were suddenly in danger. In California, early polls showed that voters favored the ban on gay teachers, 61% to 31%. Gay activists fought back. San Francisco's first gay official, Supervisor Harvey Milk, marshaled voters. Burt Lancaster, John Travolta and Lily Tomlin appeared at black-tie fundraisers. Former Gov. Ronald Reagan spoke out against the measure. On election day, it failed by more than 1 million votes.
Fast-forward to 1992, when, with Republicans gathered in Houston to renominate George H.W. Bush, Pat Buchanan admonished cultural inclusiveness in the "fight for the soul of America." The religious right was newly energized. So were gay conservatives. The following year they opened a Log Cabin office in Washington, D.C., to advocate a party with a big tent and a big heart.