For the fourth consecutive year, gay conservatives will have no official presence at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
On Thursday, Log Cabin Republicans accused the American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, of excluding the group of LGBT Republicans as sponsors of the annual conference. “Make no mistake: LCR is actively being prohibited from sponsoring CPAC,” said Gregory T. Angelo, executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, in a statement.
According to Angelo, discussions with the ACU and its new leadership began this past July. But the ACU said participation by Log Cabin Republicans would prove difficult due to the group’s alliance to a political party rather than conservative ideology. After Log Cabin Republicans argued CPAC allows participation of other Republican organizations, the ACU said the group of LGBT Republicans was not conservative enough.
“Time and again, when we showed the ACU that we met their criteria for sponsorship, the reasons for our exclusion changed,” Angelo said. “The only conclusion that can be made is that the organizers of CPAC do not feel gay people can be conservative — a position opposed by the thousands of Millennial CPAC attendees who have been asking Log Cabin Republicans for months if we would be participating at this year’s event. We owed it to them to explain why we are not.”
However, ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp, who succeeded Al Cardenas in June, has refuted the accusation that Log Cabin Republicans were shut out for being an LGBT-rights group. In a statement to Metro Weekly, Schlapp said Log Cabin Republicans never formally applied to be sponsors. “Had they applied, they would have been subjected to the same review as every other application,” Schlapp said. “We do not bar any groups or individuals based on sexual orientation. Our standards for any group are the strength of their conservative principles. All conservatives, including gay conservatives, are welcome to be at CPAC.” Schlapp noted gay conservatives, such as radio host Tammy Bruce and columnist Deroy Murdock, will participate in CPAC.
While Angelo said the ACU is “fond of hiding behind a fig leaf stating gay people are welcome as guests,” the debate is really about Log Cabin Republicans contributing to CPAC as sponsors or in some other recognized capacity. Sponsorship of CPAC ranges from $7,500 to $250,000, according to the event’s sponsorship application website.
Schlapp added, “If the Log Cabin Republicans want to take a leadership role in the conservative movement, they need to start advocating for conservative policy solutions and siding with conservative candidates in primaries, even when it means taking on moderate Republicans. We encourage them to do just that.”
But in a Dec. 17 email obtained by Metro Weekly from Angelo to Schlapp and ACU Executive Director Dan Schneider, Angelo noted his organization’s interest in sponsoring CPAC in 2015.
“I hope that you’d consider making Log Cabin Republicans a meaningful part of CPAC 2015; we are able to sponsor this year’s event (indeed it would be an honor to do so) and would also appreciate being in dialogue with you as to how LCR can play a helpful role in making this year’s CPAC the most successful ever,” Angelo wrote, adding that he was “encouraged by your approach to CPAC this year and your desire to show the full spectrum of the conservative movement in your programming.” Although Angelo wrote that he looked forward to hearing their thoughts, he received no response to that email or subsequent followups.
While Schlapp replacing Cardenas proved encouraging to those hoping for a more inclusive CPAC a few months ago, the silence Log Cabin Republicans were greeted with appears to be more of the same. Last year, Log Cabin Republicans sought to participate in CPAC in a “meaningful” capacity, only to receive no response from the ACU. “They told me everything they needed to with their silence,” Angelo said at the time.
Angelo said Schlapp’s statement that Log Cabin Republicans must advocate for more conservative causes simply bolsters his side of the story. “If repeal of Obamacare, support of the Second Amendment, support of the Sequester, tax reform, and the litany of conservative policy positions explicitly laid out in our press release today don’t count as ‘advocating for conservative policy solutions,’ then Log Cabin Republicans and the American Conservative Union have drastically different opinions of what constitutes conservative policy,” Angelo said. “Per our by-laws, we do not endorse in primaries — a stance common in many organizations.”
The latest spat between the two organizations is another chapter in CPAC’s messy history with gay conservatives. The now defunct GOProud participated in CPAC in 2010 and 2011 to the protests of social conservatives, but was kicked out of the conference in 2012 after GOProud co-founder Chris Barron labeled conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell a “nasty bigot” and blamed her for the decision by the Heritage Foundation to remove itself from the conference over GOProud’s participation. Despite an apology from Barron, GOProud was not invited back.
Last year, Matt Bechstein and Ross Hemminger — former GOProud interns who became part of the organization’s new leadership team after the departure of GOProud co-founders Jimmy LaSalvia and Chris Barron — were extended an invitation to attend by the ACU, but they did not sponsor the event or have a booth present. Hemminger now handles media relations for the ACU. The same day as Schlapp’s election as ACU chairman in June, Mitchell resigned from the boards of both the ACU and ACU Foundation.
CPAC, which will be held from Feb. 25 to 28 at the sprawling Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor, Md., has become an obligatory pitstop for Republican presidential candidates. This year the conference will host former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fl.), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Texas). As more and more Americans have come to support marriage equality and LGBT rights, anti-gay rhetoric during the conference has largely fallen by the wayside.
In his statement Thursday, Schlapp said that while there are disagreements amongst conservatives and libertarians on a number of issues, CPAC 2015 will provide a platform to engage and discuss ideas. “In the end there is much more that unites us than divides us, and we all agree that two Obama terms have been a disaster for our country, and a continuation of his policies would be even worse,” he said.
But for Angelo and Log Cabin Republicans, the decision by ACU leadership to again not respond to repeated inquiries about sponsorship and the changing explanations for their exclusion have proved tiresome and telling. Added Angelo, “Chairman Schlapp and I do agree on one thing: there is more that unites us than divides us. I just wish he and the ACU would practice what they preach.”