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A Short History of the Gay Right

June 12, 2005|Johanna Neuman

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.

After quiet efforts during the Clinton administration, the organization rallied for Texas Gov. George W. Bush, whose 2000 campaign was notable for its "compassionate conservatism." Upon election, Bush tapped gays to work for him. He kept in place executive orders prohibiting discrimination toward gays in the federal workplace. He ensured that partners of gays and lesbians killed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks would receive benefits. And he proposed an ambitious $15-billion global plan to combat AIDS.

Then, as the 2004 election approached, everything changed. Patrick Guerriero, the Log Cabin Republicans' president, suddenly found himself sparring with Buchanan and other social conservatives on CNN or Fox News. Before 2004 was up, the organization's budget had mushroomed from $300,000 to $1.5 million, the number of local chapters had doubled, and members were knocking on the door.

"There's no question that Patrick single-handedly transformed the organization, both in terms of size and influence," says Joe Solmonese, the recently named president of the Human Rights Campaign. "He infused it with a sophisticated level of political knowledge."

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