Gay Conservatives

Posted By Thomas Perez. Used By Permission.

Unwanted Allies on the Right

By Pam Chamberlain

The Public Eye Magazine – Summer 2007

In the high-adrenaline, and heavily heterosexual, world of Beltway lobbyists, the gay Log Cabin Republicans have their work cut out for them. Ostracized by the Republican Party which continues to receive their fierce loyalty, the LCR is the group that represents the dilemma of gay conservatives: they want to be players on the Republican team, but who is willing to put them in the lineup?

Log Cabin Republicans was founded in 1977 to recruit gay Republicans to oppose the Briggs Initiative, which was an attempt to prohibit gays and lesbians from teaching in California schools. It opened a Washington office in 1993 with hopes of maintaining a Republican gay lobbying presence on Capitol Hill. At first it waged an uphill battle, viewed by liberals as a political oxymoron. How could it be that a group with second-class status, long associated with liberal or even radical politics, would choose to support the political party that seemed so unfriendly? Rich Tafel, the first national president of Log Cabin Republicans, presented an alternative view in his 1999 memoir, Party Crasher.

I realized that average gay voters were very different from the gay leadership that had come to represent them.1

Membership, reflecting a strong libertarian bent, is now up to about 20,000 with 50 chapters nationwide.

Who Are Gay Conservatives?

Voters are ever more willing to represent themselves as gay to exit pollsters.2 Gay voters, who number upwards of four million in the United States, hold a range of political views, and no one political organization can represent them.3 The gay liberation movement of the 1950s and 1960s is almost gone, and in its place are social and political organizations and institutions representing a spectrum of political thought and activity. Much of this infrastructure represents the interests of libertarian gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and trangendered people. This cohort already functions as a market niche to advertisers’ eyes.

Gay conservatives are a curious element in the political landscape.

National prominence for the Log Cabin Republicans came only in 1995 when Tafel outed the Bob Dole presidential campaign for returning the $1000 contribution it had itself solicited from the group. Local chapters grew, attracting gay conservatives who wanted a place at the table to put pressure on the Republican Party and its conflicted positions on homosexuality. As Republicans held on to power, LCR learned to show its loyalty through active participation in political campaigns, and it developed a Washington presence through lobbying, fundraising, and channeling political contributions to gay-supportive Republicans. Log Cabin has been able to attract prominent Republicans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Danforth to its meetings. In 2000, LCR was “delighted” that gay Congressman Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) spoke at the Republican National Convention, the first out member of Congress to do so.4 Perhaps the political moment for gay conservatives had arrived.

But the pendulum swung again. By 2004, when George W. Bush ratcheted up the campaign to promote the anti-gay marriage Federal Marriage Amendment, the climate had turned nasty. In response to a Log Cabin television ad that attacked the Christian Right’s homophobia in 2004, Robert Knight, director of the Culture and Family Institute at Concerned Women for America, advised, “It’s time for the Republican Party to realize its mistake in giving Log Cabin any official recognition… The Log Cabin just burned down.”5

Patrick Guerriero, then president of Log Cabin Republicans, issued a statement refusing to endorse Bush for President. He sounded less like a loyal Republican and more like a member of the Democratic gay group, the Stonewall Democrats.

The President’s use of the bully pulpit, stump speeches and radio addresses to support a Constitutional amendment [banning gay marriage] has encouraged the passage of discriminatory laws and state constitutional amendments across America. Using gays and lesbians as wedge issues in an election year is unacceptable to Log Cabin.6

Despite Log Cabin Republican’s attempts to dissuade gays from voting for the GOP, almost the same percentage of gay voters turned out for Bush in 2004 as in 2000, about 23%. Gay voters make up 5% of the total vote and have become as nationally significant a voting group as Latino (8%) and Jewish voters (3%). They are clearly not voting as a predictably liberal bloc.7 Why is it that one quarter of gays and lesbians consistently vote for Republicans?

The stereotype of a gay conservative is a white man of means to whom economic and security concerns are at least, if not more, important than identity politics. Libertarians, those eager to keep government off people’s backs and out of the bedroom, have traditionally filled the ranks of gay conservatives, and this continues to be the case. Village Voice editor Richard Goldstein has dubbed gay conservatives “homocons.”8 They sometimes refer to themselves as “classic liberals” in the libertarian sense of Friedrick Hayek’s free market economics and as social conservatives similar to Gertrude Himmelfarb and her biting criticism of the 1960s cultural revolution.

Embarrassed by a gay community that embraces the diversity of drag queens, transgender youth, and adherents of exotic sexual practices, these (mostly male) assimilationists express their sense of entitlement through outrage at being discriminated against for being gay. Sexual orientation is for them the only thing that lies between them and the American dream, and they consider their own experiences to be representative of all gays and lesbians. All they want is A Place at the Table, as Bruce Bawer’s book title about gay conservatism suggests. Such a vision ignores those LGBT people who do not fit their mold. Several of the books by gay conservatives, like Tafel’s Party Crasher and Bawer’s A Place at the Table, are heavily autobiographical, which encourages a kind of extrapolation from these white men’s experiences to everyone gay.

Gay conservatives have had difficulty finding a home and a purpose. Many individuals hold a constellation of opinions that are variations on classic conservative values: limited government, lower taxes, personal responsibility, a strong defense, and free markets, and they presumably hope that the GOP would accept them and their homosexuality simultaneously. They are a new generation, coming of age when AIDS has become a manageable disease, at least for those with access to treatment. And they have emerged at a time when the Christian Right’s headlock on the Republicans by using its own “traditional values,” including a definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples, maintains political purchase.

For some, it may be that their sexual orientation is not the deciding, or even the primary, factor influencing their politics. Given the estimated one million gay Bush voters, it’s hard for groups like Log Cabin Republicans to find consensus among its thousands of members. Their organizing strategy has been to choose the lowest common denominator among their constituency, the single issue of gay rights. For the group, this has taken the form of campaigning to erase the legitimacy of sodomy laws and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, strengthening support for anti-discrimination laws, and as a primary focus, promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage. Emphasizing “inclusion,” this approach is designed to pressure Republicans to become more inclusive of gays and lesbians, arguing it would improve the party’s image on the fairness scale, and recognize them as an electoral force.

Incongruously, both the ascension of the Right and the development of gay culture, especially gay media, have made a space for increased gay conservative visibility. The short-lived perception of conservative tolerance for gays and lesbians among many Republicans, peaking in the 2000 Bush election year with Kolbe’s convention appearance, made it possible for gay conservatives to consider themselves welcome enough in the Republican Party to join Log Cabin. A collection of gay newspapers and magazines like the Advocate (national), the Washington Blade (D.C.), Bay Area Reporter (San Francisco), Gay City News (New York), and Bay Windows (Boston) offers a arena for political commentary, including space for mainstream and conservative voices, and individuals characterizing themselves as spokespeople for their movement began to appear in print. Writers such as Jennifer Vanasco, John Corvino, and Paul Varnell appear in the pages of the gay press. The rise of conservative gay political pundits rode the wave of the gay liberation movement which created the media vehicles for most of their voices to be heard.

Progressive gay journalist Doug Ireland has observed, “Even though it’s now dead, the gay liberation movement gave cultural space for people like [Andrew] Sullivan to thrive without having to hide their sexual orientation.”9

It is in the blogosphere, however, where political writers like Andrew Sullivan, Jonathan Rauch, and the Independent Gay Forum, an online collection of gay conservative writers, have found their home.

These days all the well-known names among gay conservatives are journalists, a phenomenon due to several factors. First, out gay or lesbian politicians are still rare, although the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a PAC supporting the full range of gay candidates, documents 350 gay elected officials at all levels of government across the country. Most of these are at the local level. Household names like members of Congress Barney Frank (D-MA), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) are those rare exceptions that uphold the rule. Former U.S Representative Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), the lone out Republican, left Congress in 2006.

Journalists, through their access to media, can make names for themselves by creating public personas, ranging from intellectuals to radio celebrities. Conservative lesbian radio host Tammy Bruce hosts a daily syndicated show out of KABC in Los Angeles, but her books, The Death of Right and Wrong and The New American Revolution do not sell as well as those from gay conservative men, despite her self description as “a chick with a gun and a microphone.” It takes the ability to self promote, to negotiate with media representatives, and above all, to connect with a mass crossover audience to gain a level of prominence in a field where being gay and conservative is still seen as something of a contradiction. Only a few have managed to achieve that level of success.

Gay Pundits on the Right

Andrew Sullivan, 43, is by far the best known of the gay conservative writers, as much because of his appearance in mainstream media outlets such as the New Republic, the New York Times, Time, and the Atlantic as for his intellectual acumen. But Doug Ireland identifies the single most important source for Sullivan’s celebrity status: “TV.” Sullivan regularly appears on talk shows from the Sunday morning news reviews to shows like Hardball with Chris Matthews and Real Time with Bill Maher.

Biographies of British-born Sullivan highlight his Oxford background, his Harvard Ph.D and his near-celebrity status. The knowledge that Sullivan’s dissertation was on British philosopher Michael Oakeshott, a difficult, pessimistic, and ultimately conservative writer, has certainly influenced Sullivan as a thinker, as has his self-understanding as an intellectual. His media appearances and well-read blog, “the Daily Dish” now on the Atlantic website, boost his name recognition. Also notable is his reconciliation of his Roman Catholic faith and his sexual orientation. His brand of conservatism blends the classic theoretical conservatism à la Oakeshott or Edmund Burke, a heavy dose of Libertarianism with bits of neo-conservatism thrown in.

The author of four books – Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality (1995), Same-Sex Marriage, Pro and Con: A Reader (1997), Love Undetectable: Notes on Friendship, Sex, and Survival (1999), and The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It and How to Get It Back (2006) – Sullivan’s interests go beyond his earlier arguments on behalf of a conservative politics of homosexuality. Recent blog entries range from lightweight cultural commentary to an ongoing criticism of U.S. state-sanctioned torture and the failure of the war in Iraq. Ireland says of Sullivan’s TV advantage, “On the shows he is always introduced as a blogger, driving visits to his site.” Before the 2006 election, The Daily Dish reportedly received 100,000 hits a day.10

The Conservative Soul, his most recent book, addresses the future direction of conservative politics in general with little reference to gay issues. This book is a far-reaching, passionate attack on what to Sullivan’s mind has ruined conservatism – fundamentalist thinking, which he describes as a mindset of “certainty.” This he contrasts with the posture of doubt of classic conservatism, calling on Hobbes, Burke, Montaigne, and Oakeshott to support his arguments. Critics of the book observed the lack of attention to the complexity of fundamentalist thinking, as represented by otherwise sympathetic David Brooks from the New York Times:

Many people do believe that truth is revealed, and that one must work one’s way toward it. And yet to divide the world between fundamentalists and autonomous free thinkers is to create a dichotomy that distorts more than it reveals.11

Sullivan is an influential writer. His portrayal of fundamentalism as a scourge of conservatism has roots in the reality of the heavy influence of the Christian Right on the Republican Party, but the superficiality of his argument reinforces an acceptance of blanket stereotyping of Evangelical Christians. He also continues to champion the appeal of religious faith as his recent “blogalogue” with atheist Sam Harris attests.12 But it is possible to suspect that Sullivan’s interest in driving a wedge between “good” and “bad” religion has more to do with his insistence on society’s tolerance of homosexuality than on the intellectual merits of conservative arguments. Here again could be an example of the dilemma of the gay conservative: how to carve out a place for gay people on the Right?

During his stint as editor at the New Republic from 1991-96, Sullivan published an essay that became the core of his first book.13 He came out in the mid-1980s, and his later discovery of his HIV-positive status seemed to percolate his thinking.14 “The Politics of Homosexuality” marked an important moment in the development of gay conservative thought. In it, Sullivan attempts to parse out the different political responses to being gay as he saw them in 1993. He categorizes the most punitive and judgmental as “the conservative politics of sexuality,” later to be called the Prohibitionists in Virtually Normal. This position holds the attitude that homosexuality doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist. “The politics that springs out of this view of homosexuality has two essential parts: with the depraved, it must punish; with the sick, it must cure.” He calls adherents to the other, non-Prohibitionist, politics “radicals” or liberationists. According to Sullivan, a radical or “queer” strategy has its limits as well, since its attempts at cultural subversion are as extreme and as uninfluential as the Prohibitionists.

Far more subversive than the media-grabbing demonstrations on the evening news has been the slow effect of individual, private Americans becoming more open about their sexuality. The emergence of role models, the development of professional organizations and students groups, the growing influence of openly gay people in the media, and the extraordinary impact of AIDS on families and friends have dwarfed radicalism’s impact on the national consciousness.

In painting the Left and the Right as extremist and less important than the centrist middle, he echoes 1950s intellectuals Daniel Bell, Richard Hofstader, and Seymour Martin Lipset who decried attacks on the “rational middle” by irrational, moralistic “extremists” at either end of the political spectrum.

Sullivan’s adherence to this line of reasoning reveals his theoretical affinity with the neoconservatives. At the beginning of the Iraq War, he agreed with the position that the United States had no choice except to enter into war to prevent further terrorism from extremists. After evidence of weapons of mass destruction evaporated, Sullivan did change his mind and has since been highly critical of prisoner torture and “endless war.” His blog banner describes him as “of no party or clique.”

On Sullivan’s political map, moderates are a dying breed of both hetero- and homosexuals who are privately tolerant of gays but publicly disapproving, like the old closeted gay elite of J. Edgar Hoover and Roy Cohn. He dismisses them as being out of date, due to the force that made the closet irrelevant, AIDS. More “durable” is the liberal approach, which attempts to legislate change in homophobic behavior through “formulaic civil rights legislation.” This portrays gay people as victims, which in Sullivan’s eyes will never bring about the full equality of gays and lesbians because they are seen as weak, not as the capable, self-supporting individuals that gay people really are. Other gay conservative writers have picked up on Sullivan’s disdain for “victimology.”15 But an alternative to all of these, the one that Sullivan suggests is the only path to success, is the “classic liberal” (or libertarian) position of ending all government-sponsored discrimination against homosexuality and maintaining government neutrality to any other preferences.

And that is all. No cures or re-educations; no wrenching civil litigation; no political imposition of tolerance; merely a political attempt to enshrine formal civil equality.

As far as Sullivan is concerned, besides erasing sodomy laws, the two most emblematic campaigns that embody this classic liberal approach are full equality for gays in the military and legalized same sex marriage. He has been quoted as saying,

Once we have won the right to marry, I think we should have a party and close down the gay movement for good.16

In 1993, none of these goals seemed realizable. Ten years later, sodomy laws are unconstitutional, and same sex marriage, although caught in the fray of debate by the Christian Right, is legal in Massachusetts.17

Sullivan’s blog portrays him as a man interested in an agenda much broader than gay rights. His early 2007 posts spend considerable time on U.S. foreign policy. Like Bawer and Tafel, however, he appears uninterested in the politics of social issues like poverty and racism. That those interests do not include a multi-issue gay movement is probably lost on his mainstream audience, mostly urban male heterosexuals.18

Bruce Bawer, another early conservative spokesperson with a Ph.D. in English, wrote A Place at The Table (1993) and edited a collection of conservative gay political writing, Beyond Queer: Challenging Gay Left Orthodoxy in 1996. After laying out the conservative arguments for gay acceptance, focusing on a rejection of queer politics as too radical and unnecessary for the attainment of gay rights, he moved from gay themes on to poetry, cultural commentary, and political criticism. Another place Bawer moved was to Europe in 1998 and has been largely a virtual presence on the U.S. scene ever since. Like other gay conservatives, he is embarrassed by what he sees as the excesses of gay (male, that is,) culture embodied in Gay Pride.

It seemed as if people who wore suits and ties on the 364 other days of the year had, on this particular morning, ransacked their closets for their tackiest, skimpiest, most revealing items of clothing. There were hundreds of bare chests, bare bottoms, mesh pants, nipple rings, leather shorts, and tight designer briefs without anything covering them.19

His latest book, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within (2006), has placed him in the spotlight again. Bawer blames European liberalism for the unchecked growth of radical Muslim thought in the enclaves that ring European cities. He sees unchallenged Islamic practices as threatening to women, gay men, and Jews and to the basic democratic principles of European politics. The book received mixed reviews, easily sorted on ideological lines. It has been labeled “racism as criticism” and “hyperventilated rhetoric” by members of the National Book Critics Circle where it was ironically nominated for an award and where Bawer has himself been a member. On the other hand, the conservative journalist Mona Charen, who has been known to rant against gay marriage, says, “Bawer writes with intelligence and passion. A fascinating analysis of Europe’s death spiral.”20

The timing of the release of his latest book coincides with a growing anti-Muslim attitude among Americans reinforced by a popularized understanding of Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory. Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations: Remaking of World Order (1996) suggested that future world conflicts would be along cultural, not ideological, difference. Despite criticism that the book perpetuated racist stereotypes, Huntington’s thesis has helped propel writers like Bawer whose own political proclivities were toughened by his personal experiences living in a Muslim neighborhood in Amsterdam.

Jonathan Rauch is a journalist with a biweekly column “Social Studies,” giving him a regular forum at the respected Beltway publication National Journal where he comments on issues from foreign policy to the environment. He also holds a position at the Brookings Institution, is a contributor to the libertarian magazine Reason and writes for the Atlantic. Rauch has been a journalist since he graduated from Yale, and his style is readable and intelligent, his interests far-reaching. Rauch began as a political commentator on general conservative themes, including a conservative take on hate crimes legislation because of the danger of subjective definitions of prejudice. As he wrote in 1991:

Eliminating prejudice is exactly what “the country” – meaning its governmental authorities – must not resolve to do. Not only is wiping out bias and hate impossible in principle, in practice “eliminating prejudice” through force of law means eliminating all but one prejudice – that of whoever is most politically powerful.21

Rauch has lost faith in Bush’s war on terror, a position he shares with Sullivan and other anti-big government gays and lesbians. He has written, “Bush’s course is looking less like a long road than a dead end.”22 It is possible to oppose Bush’s interventionist policies and still remain loyal to conservative principles of smaller government, lower taxes, and privatized, diminished social services.

Rauch’s Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (2003) presents an argument he shares with two other gay men, Michaelangelo Signorile and Gabriel Rotello, who while not identifying as political conservatives, exhibit a conservative attitude about gay sex. Surprising the liberal gay community at the time, both Rotello and Signorile condemned a gay sex culture that celebrates multiple sexual encounters.23 In a New York Times editorial published in 2006, Rauch reiterates his position. AIDS had changed everything.

The master narrative for gay life was: come out, leave home, gorge at the banquet of sexual liberation…Though few said so (no one wanted to be callous, not with people dying), many also knew that the culture of promiscuity and alienation was a culture of death. To me the idea of same-sex marriage sounded like the Coast Guard’s hail to a castaway. It promised a new narrative: of commitment, of connectedness, of a community bound by stories of love, not death.24

Rauch is vice president of the Independent Gay Forum, an online community where he has attracted numerous conservative gay writers. But he is more widely known for a non-gay-related essay. His 2003 Atlantic article, “Caring for Your Introvert: the Habits and Needs of a Little-Understood Group,” resonated with many who found his lighthearted but dead-on plea for understanding accurate and helpful.25

“I’m All for the Cult of Masculinity”

The fact that all the writers represented here have been male is no coincidence. Few of the emerging lesbian political commentators are conservative. Of the 45 authors listed on the Independent Gay Forum website, five are women, and of these, only one, Jennifer Vanasco, is steadily writing about gay issues. Camille Paglia, certainly an intellectual iconoclast, has been dismissed as being too liberal. Tammy Bruce has bona fide conservative credentials, but she is seen as more of a shock jock than an intellectual force. Norah Vincent, a Sullivan protégé with an arsenal of anti-liberal themes (second-wave feminists are “those saber-rattlers of the ‘70s”), stepped away from her syndicated column to write a book about gender attribution, and the experience wounded her emotionally. Self-Made Man (2006), a memoir of living in drag as a man for 18 months, stranded Vincent between a marketable concept and the guilt of betraying those she befriended as a man.

It could be that there is not much of an audience, or they may be invisible. “I’ve never met a lesbian conservative,” quips Jo Wyrick, executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, an association of gay democratic clubs. The Independent Women’s Forum, a secular anti-feminist organization, has demonstrated, after all, that women can reject feminist principles. But rather than speculate on the ability of women to have conservative positions, perhaps this reveals a little-explored area of gay conservative influence. Such Left analysts of the gay right as Richard Goldstein and Stanford professor Paul Robinson have discussed what they call a “masculinist” tendency among gay conservatives. By this they mean the glorification of male experience. As Goldstein explains,

The gay right’s message, like that of the entire Right, is that the power vested in men is justly assigned…Masculinism is what holds the conservative movement together.26

As Sullivan has said, “I’m all for the cult of masculinity…Last time I checked, that was a major reason I thought of myself as a homosexual.”27

Enforced gender conformity is a vestige of the closet for LGBT people, and those who believe in assimilation as a path to status and acceptance will find only straight-appearing lesbians acceptable. There is no real room for women’s issues, unless they avoid a focus on the bad hand that women have been dealt, which requires ignoring the effects of sexism.

Because women and their problems [have been marginalized by gay conservatives], they find it easy to discard the notion that gays are victims of the same patriarchal values that keep women in their place.28

Some gay conservatives expose the tension between how many define them by sexual orientation and a frustration at being defined only in this way. A recent Vincent quote:

We will have won the battle against Puritanism in America not when sexuality is run up the flagpole, but when it is irrelevant.29

This hope that sexuality will someday recede from public policy debates is reminiscent of the Right’s attempts to appropriate language from civil rights leaders to justify a “colorblind” society.30 Hoping that discrimination will disappear without undue governmental intervention, though, remains a dilemma.

Among the cadre of gay conservative writers, people of color are also conspicuously absent. This makes sense if we realize that issues like affirmative action, racism, and public education are mostly off the radar of gay right pundits. While gay conservative people of color certainly do exist, their relationship with the gay movement has been problematical, and no one has emerged to represent them nor has anyone been sustained by the usual media.

The power of gay conservative pundits has successfully focused LGBT issues on the narrow frame of gay marriage. This has effectively erased from their line of vision those LGBT people who do not stand to receive its benefits, those not in the solid middle class, poor single parents, and the uninsured.31

Who’s Got the Clout?

What can be said about the gay right’s influence? At this political moment when many assume the gay vote to be consistently liberal, about 25% of gay voters identify as Republicans, and the percentage of gay voters who call themselves conservative is increasing.32 Joined with an also-increasing group of independents, these voters certainly can carry a message on Election Day. Is the percentage of gay conservative writers representative of this group?

Goldstein argues that the mainstream media encourages gay conservative writers since they are more acceptable to centrist editors than radical ones. Because mainstream media publishes conservative gay writers, according to Goldstein, this skews mainstream readers’ image of gay opinion to the right. It promotes the value of assimilating gays and lesbians with this readership by allowing the voices of assimilation, like Vincent, Bawer, Rauch and Sullivan, to dominate. The New York Times recently signed Norah Vincent on to review gay books such as John Cornwell’s Seminary Boy and Jennifer Baumgardner’s Look Both Ways. (Gay conservative bloggers, up to perhaps 40 in number but mostly consisting of unknowns, remain a distinct minority in the realm of the thousands of conservative political bloggers as a whole.)

Goldstein suggests that gay conservatives assuage straight anxiety about homosexuality by presenting acceptable images of gays and lesbians. “This preserves the illusion that stigma can be overcome by good behavior.”33 Further, the celebritization of gay conservatives has strengthened the representation of gay people as individuals, not as a community or as a political movement. Singling out individuals gives the select few a higher status and helps to keep the rest of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer-identified population divided and invisible.

The gay right has influenced the broader gay movement, even without many noticing. Their goal, full equality for gay and lesbian people, is indeed the gay rights agenda. But that vision is narrower than that of the gay liberation, which sought sexual freedom in alliance with feminists and recognized common ground with other disenfranchised groups.34 In September 2006 the Gill Foundation, a Colorado-based national LGBT funding and movement organization, initiated Gill Action, a 501(c)4 bipartisan organization prepared to get involved in electoral politics with Patrick Guerriero as its first Executive Director. Of the seven members of its new political team, three have associations with Log Cabin Republicans.

In 2007, the gay agenda that so worries the Christian Right as a radical remaking of society amounts to the single issue of gay rights, manifest in a primary demand of gay marriage and the remnants of interest in non-discrimination of gays in the military. While gay conservatives may not have consciously engineered this single issue focus, their increasing visibility in the cause during a period of conservative resurgence reinforces the narrow scope of contemporary gay politics.

Strikingly, these narrow goals can be seen as conservative, or non-radical demands – to be allowed to defend national security and to be recognized as identical to heterosexuals under the law. This toes the line of the gay conservative position as does the reality that the gay movement, despite its political diversity, has embraced same sex marriage as its central political demand. Whether done consciously or not, this choice allows some, including parts of the Right, to separate the LGBT community into “good gays,” those who just want to get married and settle down, and “bad gays,” those who flaunt their sexuality, demand radical change, or challenge gender-normative images. This, riding on the demise of a functioning radical gay left, represents the true influence of gay conservatism on the politics of homosexuality: the gay movement continues to be pulled to the right.

Meanwhile, Log Cabin Republicans continue on their resolute path towards the construction of a “big tent” Republican Party that will somehow acknowledge, if not embrace, the one million gay voters who went for Bush in 2004. The homophobia fueled by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, by the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, by Traditional Values Coalition head Lou Sheldon, and by the American Family Association’s Donald Wildmon is a powerful obstacle to their plan, one that no amount of whitewashed images of gays will overcome. A Republican Unity Coalition formed in 2001 to be “a sort of gay/straight alliance of politicians.” David Rockefeller, Alan Simpson and Mary Cheney all agreed to be on the Republican Unity Coalition’s advisory board. But the use of anti-gay rhetoric as a pillar of Republican organizing placed the Coalition in an untenable position. Charles Francis, the founder of the organization, recently said, The Republican Unity Coalition “is now in a sort of frozen state, like Walt Disney’s body. It’ll come back someday. We’re waiting for a better time.”35

Pam Chamberlain is a senior researcher at Political Research Associates and an editorial board member of The Public Eye.


1 Rich Tafel, Party Crasher: A Gay Republican Challenges Politics as Usual (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1999) 17.
2 Political language is always in flux. This article uses the word gay when referring to groups or individuals who have used the term to describe themselves. We use LGBT as shorthand to refer to the broad collection of identities that includes bisexuals and trangendered people.
3 states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html.
4 shtml.
5 WorldNet Daily, September 4, 2004.
6 Nonna Gorilovskaya, “Gay Republicans Come Out of the Cabin,” Daily Mojo, September 4, 2004,
7 states/US/H/00/epolls.0.html.
8 Richard Goldstein, Homocons: the Rise of the Gay Right (New York: Verso, 2003).
9 Telephone conversation with Ireland, February 13, 2007.
10 The Daily Dish, Sitemeter,
11 Davis Brooks, “Where the Right Went Wrong,” New York Times, October 26, 2006, Section 7, 14.
12 “Is Religion Built Upon Lies?”
13 Andrew Sullivan, “The Politics of Homosexuality,” New Republic, May 10, 1993, 208(19):24-37.
14 Jamie Glasov, “Frontpage Interview: Andrew Sullivan,” Front Page Magazine, January 20, 2004,
15 Jonathan Rauch, “Beyond Oppression,” New Republic, May 10, 1993, 208(19):18-23; Tafel, op.cit.
16 Richard Goldstein, Homocons: The Rise of the Gay Right, 26.
17 Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003); Goodridge v. Department of Public Health 440 Mass. 309.
18 “Reader Demographics, “
19 Bruce Bawer, A Place at the Table (Crofton, Md.: Poseidon Press, 1993), 55.
20 Patricia Cohen, “In Books, a Clash of Europe and Islam,” New York Times, February 8, 2007. (E)1; Mona Charen, While Europe Slept dustjacket quote, available at
21 Jonathan Rauch, “Beyond Oppression,” New Republic, May 10, 1993 (208, 19) 18-23.
22 Jonathan Rauch, “Unwinding Bush,” The Atlantic, October, 2006 (298,3) 27-8.
23 Gabriel Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men (New York:Dutton, 1997); Michaelangelo Signorile, Life Outside:the Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and the Passage of Life (New York: Harper Collins, 1997).
24 Jonathan Rauch, “Families Forged by Illness,” New York Times, June 4, 2006, (4) 15.
25 Jonathan Rauch, “Caring for Your Introvert: the Habits and Needs of a Little-Understood Group.” The Atlantic, March 2003; (291, 2), 133.
26 Goldstein, 61, 75.
27 Quoted in Goldstein, 72.
28 Paul Robinson Queer Wars: The New Gay Right and its Critics (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 2006) 3.
29 Norah Vincent, “Both Sides Now,” New York Times, Sec. 7, February 18, 2007, 19.
30 See Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech.
31 For a description of these groups, see Kara S. Suffredini and Madeleine V. Findley, “Speak Now: Progressive Considerations on the Advent of Civil Marriage for Same-Sex Couples,” Boston College Law Review, 45 B.C.L. Rev. 595 (2003-2004).
32 Robert W. Bailey, Out and Voting II: The Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Vote in Congressional Elections, 1990-1998, (New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2000) 18-19.
33 Goldstein, 47.
34 Surina Khan, “Gay Conservatives: Pulling the Movement to the Right,” The Public Eye (10,1) Spring 1996,
35 Thomas Mallon, “They Were Always in My Attic,” American Heritage Magazine, March 2007,

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