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In June 1998, a group of gay and lesbian conservatives, who were pushing for greater representation at the Texas Republican convention in Fort Worth, found themselves in terrifying clashes with members of their own party.
Republican Log Cabin members protested a gathering of loyalists after state GOP officials made offensive comments comparing the group to the Ku Klux Klan and pedophiles. The group also protested the refusal of their request to host a booth at the convention—the second time in a row they were denied—where they hoped to share information about their organization.
Protesters surrounded Log Cabin members, holding signs with homophobic slurs and phrases such as “Gay Life = AIDS Then Hell.” They shove and spit and shove their fingers in the faces of gay Republicans.
Richard Tafel, former executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans who calls himself “the largest Republican organization in the nation dedicated to representing conservatives and LGBT allies,” attended the Texas convention that year and recalled thinking he was in serious danger when they advocated respect. of his own party members.
“We are here to draw the line,” Tafel said during the protest. “No more hatred, no more hatred in the name of God. And we will not be silenced.”
One protester threw a sign in his face.
“It was a storm of emotions, turbulent and dangerous, ready to land and sweep us all away at any moment. I fear for my own safety and that of others,” Dale Carpenter, former president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, wrote in a newsletter later that year.
In the end, no one was hurt that day. But it was a clear display of homophobia within the party.
More than two decades later, this year’s Texas Republican convention is making headlines again for its stance on LGBTQ people. The party adopted the platform in June at a convention in Houston declaring that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” The party’s position came after similar language was removed from the platform just four years earlier, representing a step back for Log Cabin members who had struggled for years to be accepted into their ranks.
Gay Republicans, who have struggled for acceptance into the Texas GOP for the past three decades, told The Texas Tribune that progress has been very slow. Many of them have left the party, even as the number of Log Cabin Republicans in Texas continues to grow.
“I don’t believe that we are making progress. In fact, I think the party is getting worse,” Carpenter, who is no longer involved in party politics, said of his time as president of the state’s Log Cabin.
Since the group’s inception in 1989, the Texas Log Cabin Republican Party has been denied a booth at state conventions. And this year’s convention is no different. Stan is assigned to all kinds of conservative interest groups, advocating for issues related to gun rights, anti-abortion issues and freedom from vaccines. A booth, in many ways, is a symbol of a seat at the table.
“Getting a booth is also a signal of party approval,” Carpenter said. “You have ‘arrived’ and been accepted into the GOP.”
Outside of the state’s official parties, which often represent the most hardline members and belief systems, mainstream conservatives in Texas have turned their attention in recent months to anti-LGBTQ initiatives, often in the form of laws relating to school sports. , curriculum and library books dealing with sexuality and gender identity.
Governor Greg Abbott issued an order this year that equated allowing minors to receive transgender care to child abuse. The legislature also passed a law last year that prohibits transgender children from playing on public school sports teams that align with their gender identity.
And conservatives across the country are taking aim at same-sex marriage. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz said on his podcast last week that he believes the U.S. Supreme Court. “clearly wrong” when it legalized same-sex marriage in 2015. The majority of members of the U.S. House of Representatives. last week voted against protection of same-sex rights. wedding. Only one Texas Republican voted for that action.
State legislatures across the country have proposed more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, many of them targeting transgender youth.
“I am saddened that in a state where our biggest problems are infrastructure, development and education, we have child poverty everywhere, school shootings happening, that we are so focused on issues trying to limit access to transmigration opportunities. youth,” said Christopher Busby, a former Log Cabin member who left the party in 2016.
The Texas GOP declined to comment on this story and referred all inquiries to the party platform. The Tribune reached out to top Texas Republican leaders for comment on the state’s latest anti-LGBTQ platform board. Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan declined to comment. Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
US Senator John Cornyn did not reply when asked about the party’s platform, instead turning to discuss this week’s congressional action on marriage equality. Cruz said the party’s platform “is not the rhetoric or language I use” and that “the decision to consent to adults on sexuality issues is a choice that must be made by the individual.”
All attended the convention except for Abbott, who held the reception associated with the event.
Current Log Cabin members in Texas have alerted the party to the language on its platform. But they stressed that the party apparatus did not represent all or even most Republicans, pointing to the added advantage they made within the state party.
“There are more than 270 boards on the GOP platform,” said Michael Cargill, president of the Austin Log Cabin branch who recently stepped down as acting chairman of the state organization for reasons he said were unrelated to the platform recently. “There are only four boards we disagree with.”
Notably, the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, which includes about 350 due-paying members by 2021, supports a Legislative bill targeting trans youth who play school sports. The position represents what previous members have described as a shift in the group and a split between current and former Log Cabin members.
Carpenter recalls that in the ’90s, his main mission was to achieve acceptance of gay members within the state party. But after decades of near-stagnant progress in that area, he thinks the group has shifted toward prioritizing commonalities.
“We ask ourselves from time to time, are you gay first and Republican second, or are you Republican first and gay second?” he says. “I think in recent years, the mission may have shifted mainly to promoting the Republican party among LGBT people to help win elections. The current leadership seems [to be] the ‘first Republic.’”
“I sort of lost hope”
In 1990, the GOP party platform called homosexuality “biologically and morally unhealthy” and compared same-sex relationships to “necrophilia, pedophilia, bestiality, or incest.”
Paul von Wupperfeld, a gay man living in Austin at the time, considered himself politically in the middle and in favor of limited government. Gay Republicans were hard to come by at the time — many were disillusioned with the Republican Party due in part to President Ronald Reagan’s handling of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s.
Inspired by other Log Cabin branches that had formed more than a decade earlier, von Wupperfeld and others thought they could change the Texas GOP. He will serve as the first president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas. Today, he considered the attempt a complete failure.
“We failed to moderate the Republican party,” said von Wupperfeld, now a 56-year-old Democrat who hasn’t voted for a Republican since 2000. “I’m glad we tried, and I think we did the right thing by trying. We’re really going the other way, faster and faster.
From the start, the group had a glimmer of optimism. In 1990, the Travis County GOP Convention was opened by a gay men’s choir. Several GOP groups in major cities have shown support for the Republican Log Cabin Party.
But for every step forward, there is another fall back.
Republicans began to emphasize social issues as religious conservatives took over the party. Travis County Republicans added language in a 1994 platform against “homosexual education” in public schools, according to a news article published after the changes. The Galveston County GOP is calling for all HIV patients to be quarantined, a decision Log Cabin members say is meant to target gays, who are disproportionately exposed to the virus. The Houston Post wrote in a 1994 article that “the GOP – particularly in Texas – has become increasingly socially conservative, with the Christian right wielding strong control over the party apparatus.”
The religious rights movement was initiated two years earlier in Houston. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan gave a speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention that became known as the “Cultural War Speech,” in which he warned that the nation was engaged in a war “for the American soul.”
“We support [President George H.W. Bush] opposed the immoral idea that gay and lesbian couples should have the same legal standing as married men and women,” Buchanan said.
By 1995, von Wupperfeld had had enough. He stepped down as president of the statewide group.
“I can’t believe it can work anymore,” said von Wupperfeld. “I kind of lost hope and got tired of the drama and the internal battles and the battles within the party.”
After von Wupperfeld leaves, Carpenter will take over the leadership role. He held that position for two years until 1997, until he too lost hope as his party was swallowed up by social conservatives.
“We’re just a few people in a few cities,” Carpenter said. “And we have thousands and thousands of highly organized activists who really only care about two things: abortion and homosexuality.”
The battle for a booth
The scramble for booths at the Texas Republican convention every two years has turned into a proxy war for acceptance within the state party.
To obtain a booth, a group submits an application to the party and then a committee of party officials votes to approve the request. This year, Log Cabin lost by one vote. Party leader Matt Rinaldi voted “to attend”, meaning he did not vote for or against, said Marco Roberts, the former state chief for Log Cabin who resigned in May.
Booths in the convention’s exhibition hall provide interest groups and some elected officials the opportunity to meet with politicians, delegates, and other members to advocate for issues. At this year’s convention, there were more than 75 booths in the exhibition hall, including booths for Texas for Vaccine Freedom and anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.
“Log Cabin is primarily interested in getting their message across to convention delegates in hopes of having some influence on the party itself,” Carpenter said.
Attempts to secure a booth began in the 1990s, and the group became very close in 1996. Kelton Dillard, a longtime treasurer for the state organization, had submitted a check to the state party to register the booth. It was cleaned. But party leaders withdrew the agreement because they said the group was advocating the practice of sodomy, which was then illegal.
The group sued the party. Days before the convention, a district judge ruled in favor of Log Cabin, ordering the state party to give the group a booth and print its advertisement in the convention handbook.
But the Texas GOP appealed to the state Supreme Court. In a ruling the day before the convention began, the court ruled the group should not have a booth at the convention.
The chief justice of the state Supreme Court who voiced the opinion was Greg Abbott.
He wrote that the decision to reject the group’s booth was “an internal party matter and not an integral part of the electoral process” and the Log Cabin group could not “defend its country’s constitutional claim against the Party.”
Busby, a former Log Cabin member who left in 2016, said the party’s repeated refusal to grant a booth was “disappointing.”
Busby became involved in GOP politics in Texas in the 2000s. He helped rebuild the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston — having previously died — then became head of the Harris County precinct and president of the Houston Young Republicans.
Busby left the Republican party largely because of former President Donald Trump, he said, but the state party’s stance on LGBTQ issues was “unhelpful.”
“We are humans, and humans have a need to feel accepted in the social groups we identify with,” said Busby, 33. “And for a long time you were told you weren’t accepted, most people would hear those words. and leave no matter how strongly they want to identify with a group, no matter how strongly their values align. When you are told that you are not part of the group, over and over again, you end up re-assigning the value of your identity.”
Victories and losses
In recent years, the Texas GOP has softened some of its homophobic language.
By 2012, the Texas GOP had left the platform condemning sodomy. The Supreme Court had legalized sodomy nine years earlier, replacing the Texas law that banned it, which still hasn’t been repealed.
In 2016, he removed explicit endorsement of “reparative therapy,” a disproved and harmful treatment that claims to turn gay people straight, but still mentions its availability “to self-motivated teens and adults.” The state party also maintains the official position that “homosexuality is a chosen behavior that goes against the unchanging fundamental truths that God has established in the Bible.”
Roberts, the first gay person on the Texas GOP platform committee, led demands to remove the language in 2018. Texas Values, a conservative Christian organization, initially opposed it in preserving the board.
In the end, party delegates voted to soften the language while still maintaining opposition to same-sex marriage – even when the US Supreme Court had legalized gay marriage three years earlier.
It was seen as a victory — a sign that the party was slowly but surely moving forward on this matter. That optimism has evaporated this year.
The addition of anti-LGBTQ language on the platform this year caught many people off guard.
As the platform committee finished its work, Matt Patrick, chair of the committee, proposed an amendment to add language that “homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice.” Patrick did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Houston resident Jason Vaughn, a member of the gay platform committee, immediately objected to the change.
“This is intended as derogatory language, it has no effect on policy,” Vaughn, 38, told the committee.
Vaughn’s objections were unsuccessful. The Committee approved changes 17-14.
Two days later, the entire floor of delegates voted on the platform. One platform committee member, David Gebhart, called to remove the language, saying the Texas GOP “is not the Westboro Baptist Church.” He was ridiculed. The platform board passes greatly.
Roberts, who is now interim chair of the Texas Conservative Liberty Forum, said he thought this year’s change came because Log Cabin was not involved in the platform process.
But he also saw some Republicans harden their anti-LGBTQ stance, as anti-trans rhetoric became mainstreamed in the Texas GOP.
“Some very prominent events featured in the news upset people, and gay people were associated with that, sadly, which is unfair, but rightly so,” Roberts said.
Roberts hopes the party will remove the language at the next convention. Vaughn is less optimistic.
“There’s a lot of progress if you’re down with people who actually have conversations,” says Vaughn. “If you want to talk about basic rhetoric, no, there’s not much progress.”
Dillard, longtime treasurer of the state’s Log Cabin group, said there had been some progress in his time with the group. He helps run the group’s political action committee and says funding helped stop anti-gay laws. He is still a Republican but does not support Trump.
He is not too concerned about the state of gay rights in the country. But he acknowledged the state party’s executive committee “has gone back to being almost as crazy as ever.”
Carpenter agrees that the Texas GOP’s views on LGBTQ issues are deeply untouched.
“[The party’s] views have not changed, but the broader culture has changed. That’s a very striking thing to me,” Carpenter said. “They are like fossils from another era. And it’s in everything. I can’t believe they supported one thing that happened over the last 25 years.”
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