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Agema won’t attend RNC winter meeting

GOP, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Dave Agema won’t show for the RNC winter meeting after facing criticism over his anti-gay views.

A member of the Republican National Committee who has taken considerable heat from members of his own party for expressing anti-gay views is skipping the upcoming GOP meeting in D.C.

As first reported by the Detroit Free Press, Dave Agema, a former lawmaker in the Michigan House, has opted out of coming to D.C. for the RNC winter meeting, citing concerns over “liberal critics” within his ranks.

“My liberal critics within the Republican Party have chosen to elevate this discussion to the RNC meeting and make it a drawn-out fight between liberals and conservatives within the party,” Agema was quoted as saying. “For this reason, I have decided it is best for the party that I not attend the meeting this week and instead, I have sent a proxy who will vote how I want on rules.”

Kirsten Kukowski, an RNC spokesperson, confirmed for the Washington Blade that Agema won’t attend the meeting — which is set to take place between Thursday and Saturday — and will send in his place Chuck Yob, a former RNC member.

Agema skips the meeting amid calls for him to step down and for the RNC to oust him from his membership. RNC Chair Reince Preibus has said Agema’s comments “don’t represent the Republican Party.”

Dennis Lennox, a Republican precinct delegate in Grand Traverse County in Michigan who’s been vocal in calling for Agema’s ouster, said the embattled Republican’s absence demonstrates he’s unfit for his position.

“By avoiding his responsibility to represent Michigan Republicans on the Republican National Committee, Dave Agema has made it clear he does not care about our party,” Lennox said. “It’s time for Dave Agema to do what’s right and abdicate.”

Agema’s absence at the RNC meeting isn’t the same thing as resignation from his post, but it raises questions about whether he can keep his position within the Republican Party. The Detroit Free Press quoted a Republican Party source as saying Agema hadn’t submitted his resignation as of Wednesday.

Over the past year, numerous media reports have emerged of Agema expressing anti-gay views, which has riled both gay Republicans and senior members of the party.

In Facebook postings, he’s called Russia’s controversial anti-gay propaganda law “common sense” and posted an article titled “Everyone Should Know These Statistics on Homosexuals” that depicts gays as sexually promiscuous and rife with sexually transmitted diseases.

At a Republican fundraiser in Michigan, Agema reportedly said he’s seen gay people working for American Airlines falsely claim to have HIV-infected partners to obtain spousal health coverage. Agema also sponsored a resolution approved by the RNC in April reaffirming the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

But Agema’s comments aren’t limited to anti-gay views. According to Mlive.com, Agema also posted an old online attack piece questioning whether Muslims have contributed anything positive to American society.

After being criticized publicly by former Michigan Republican Party chair Betsy Devos and after Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made a veiled attack on him during his State of the State address, Agema responded in another Facebook posting, saying he merely intended to “encourage discourse” with his remarks.

But criticism within his own party didn’t let up. Reps. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) this week each called on Agema to give up his position within the Republican Party.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, has previously called on Agema to resign and said his no-show at the winter meeting demonstrates his views are out-of-sync with his party’s.

“Clearly Agema is feeling the heat,” Angelo said. “And if Dave Agema thinks Fred Upton, Rick Snyder and Justin Amash and others condemning his remarks are ‘liberals,’ we should all have reason to suspect what his definition of ‘conservative’ is.”

Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee is taking pot shots at the Republican Party over the Agema imbroglio, saying the embattled member’s views represent the GOP’s failure to embrace LGBT equality.

“Dave Agema’s rhetoric is hateful and has no place in the public discourse,” said DNC spokesperson Ian Sams. “But his position as a Republican National Committee member exemplifies the failure of the GOP to change its opposition to basic equality for all Americans, regardless of who they love. Predictably, Republicans see Dave Agema as a messaging problem. But until the GOP fully embraces LGBT equality, they will continue to be rejected by Americans, just like they were in the last election.”

22
Jan
2014

Despite calls, anti-gay RNC member won’t resign post

GOP, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Dave Agema won’t resign for anti-gay comments despite calls from Reince Priebus.

A member of the Republican National Committee who’s taken heat for expressing anti-gay views indicated Friday he won’t resign from his post, despite calls from the head of his party to step down.

Dave Agema, a former Michigan state lawmaker, said in a statement on his website that he intends to continue his role representing Michigan on the Republican National Committee in the face of “a few strident advocates for homosexual marriage.”

“I have learned much over the last several weeks and will use the lessons learned to improve on my abilities to further the best interests of all people of Michigan, through my role as a proud member of the Republican National Committee,” Agema said. “I have received great response at packed audiences, drawing voters to the GOP. I fully intend to honor the trust and fulfill the responsibilities to those in the Michigan Republican Party that elected me.”

Agema refuses to resign just hours after the RNC announced Reince Priebus and Michigan Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak have called on him to relinquish his post “for the good of the party.” The RNC didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on Agema’s refusal to step down.

The embattled Republican faced criticism for anti-gay remarks, saying via Facebook that Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is “common sense” and posting an article saying gay people are sexually promiscuous, rife with diseases and responsible for half responsible for the majority of murders in the country.

But Agema’s comments aren’t limited to anti-gay views. Agema also posted an old online attack piece questioning whether Muslims have contributed anything positive to American society.

Prior to Priebus’ call for Agema’s resignation, he faced criticism from gay Republicans and high-profile Michigan Republicans, most notably Betsy Devos, a former Michigan Republican Party chair and significant party donor. Reps. Candace Miller (R-Mich.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Dave Camp (R-Mich) also called on him to step down.

Faced with this controversy, Agema is absent during the RNC winter meeting currently underway and has sent in his place former RNC member Chuck Yob.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, has also called on Agema and called his defiance “truly pathetic.”

“If Mr. Agema’s views are as popular as he believes them to be, I would ask him to provide one — just one — individual who is willing to speak up in his defense,” Angelo said. “To date there have been zero.”

Renewing his request for Agema to resign, Angelo said if the Michigan Republican is so concerned about his leadership responsibilities “he should know that those responsibilities require him to resign and to resign immediately, for the best of the Party.”

In his statement, Agema professes that he could have handled the situation better, but blames others for stirring controversy.

“My personal beliefs and public statements expressing them as a public figure, has been attacked by a few strident advocates for homosexual marriage seeking to change Republican, Michigan and America’s mores and laws,” Agema said. “Despite our American heritage of the right to speak freely — or perhaps because of it, my personal views on the sanctity of marriage have led to loud and heated statements among some, on all sides of this issue.”

In regards to the anti-Muslim comments, Agema apologizes for the posting the online piece and expresses it was reposted as his words.

“I stand with peaceful Muslims who share my concern with radicalism and look forward to continuing to work with people of all faiths that uphold American values,” Agema said.

Additionally, Agema swears he’ll continue to use his position to defend Christians and others whom he said are victimized by the Obama administration.

“As an American who has spent his entire life remaining faithful to his religion, his family, and his country, I have been unwilling to compromise my principles, traditional values or support for the Word of God,” Agema said.

Dennis Lennox, a Republican precinct delegate in Grand Traverse County in Michigan, said the RNC must show Agema the exit if he refuses to step down.

“This is an unprecedented and extraordinary situation that can only be resolved by the removal of Dave Agema from the Republican National Committee,” Lennox said. “The Republican Party cannot afford to allow him to remain in his position even in his disgraced state. He must be defrocked or our party and our candidates and officeholders will be forced to continue discussing his hateful, bigoted and deeply offensive statements that have no place in our party.”

Sources familiar with the RNC say no mechanism is in place in the rules to remove a rogue committee member. But, as Lennox observed, “There’s nothing that doesn’t allow it.”

25
Jan
2014

Conservative struggle over gay rights emerges at CPAC

Ralph Reed, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Ralph Reed speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — To witness the conservative movement’s struggle with the widely held perception that nationwide marriage equality is imminent, you need not look further than the stage of the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference.

After remaining silent on the first day of the conference, voices against same-sex marriage emerged on Friday, although they were restricted to certain conservative activists as others expressed conflict over the issue and elected Republican officials ignored LGBT rights altogether in their speeches.

Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, was among the most vociferous in his opposition to same-sex marriage as he accused U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of committing a “brazen act of lawlessness” by counseling state attorneys general not to defend marriage laws against litigation.

It should be noted that during his speech to the National Association of Attorneys General, Holder said he believes it’s OK for state attorneys general not to defend a ban on same-sex marriage if they believe they’re unconstitutional, but he never instructed them to take that course of action.

“From now on, we’re going to accept — in 2014, 2016 and beyond — nothing beyond unapologetic, unalloyed ‘conservative’ that defends the principles upon which this nation was founded, including the biblical principles of freedom of religion, the sanctity of life and the sacred institution of marriage,” Reed continued.

Also injecting anti-gay sentiment before the estimated 8,500 attendees at CPAC was Oliver North, a Fox News commentator known for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

Ending his speech, North equated the conservative struggle to stop the advancement of marriage equality to abolitionists’ efforts in 19th century America to end slavery.

“Some say that we must ignore social issues, like the definition of marriage, the sanctity of life, religious freedoms,” North said. “I say those are not social issues, they are deeply moral and spiritual issues and should be part of America’s elections.”

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Oliver North speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

North also made a veiled criticism of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, saying the administration is treating U.S. troops like “laboratory rats” as part of a “social experiment.”

These conservative activists are pushing back against the advancement of marriage equality as numerous federal courts — most recently in Texas, Virginia, Kentucky, Utah and Oklahoma — have struck down state constitutional bans on same-sex marriage amid expectations the U.S. Supreme Court will deliver a final ruling on the issue in 2015.

The anticipated resolution of the marriage issue in the courts invoked the ire on stage of Eric Metaxas, a conservative pundit who insisted voters must decide the issue of marriage equality instead of judges.

“The idea of same-sex marriage, the idea of paying for contraceptions, we should let the voters decide,” Metexas said. “This is the United States of America. We don’t need the ‘Mandarins of Justice’ to make these decisions; we’re supposed to trust the voters to make those decisions, and let the voters decide.”

But those considered possible 2016 presidential candidates shied away from the issue of marriage equality.

Rick Santorum, Republican Party, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rick Santorum, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and support for a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, expressed regret on stage that he became known for that viewpoint over the course of his 2012 presidential bid.

“I don’t want to talk about redefining marriage; I want to talk about reclaiming marriage as a good for society and celebrating how important it is for our economy,” Santorum said to applause.

Santorum continued to discuss the importance of the institution of marriage itself, saying businesses could advance it by offering marriage counseling as a benefit.

Amid the (often disputed) perception that Pope Francis is more lenient on gay rights, particularly after his recent suggestion he could support civil unions, Santorum, who’s Catholic, commended the pontiff for saying the Catholic Church should steer away from social issues.

“He’s going out there and not talking about what the Christian faith is against, he’s going out there and talking about what we’re for,” Santorum said. “He hasn’t changed a single policy. He won’t change a single policy. But what he’ll do is he’ll go out there and talk about the good news to a hurting world because he believes that that’s what the world needs.”

One event at CPAC that demonstrated the tension within the conservative movement on marriage equality, although the discussion wasn’t completely dedicated to the issue, was a panel titled, “Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?”

One question debated was protecting religious liberties of individuals as marriage equality advances. The issue for panelists wasn’t so much whether there should be marriage equality, but whether it should be imposed by judicial fiat.

Michael Medved, a conservative pundit and host of “The Michael Medved Show,” said the issue has come down to religious liberty and insisted social conservatives and libertarians should agree that states should be able to decide for themselves the marriage issue without interference from the federal government.

“The idea that New York and California may have legitimated, or recognized, decided that those states should sponsor gay marriage doesn’t mean that Texas should be compelled by overreaching courts, or anyone else, to sponsor and legitimate gay marriage,” Medved said.

Alexander McCorbin, executive director of Students for Liberty, represented the opposite end of the conservative spectrum and said on the panel that marriage equality is “the civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

“There’s state-sponsored discrimination against various associations between individuals,” McCorbin said. “We’re talking about the denial of basic rights and privileges of individuals in committed relationships — the only difference being their sexual orientation.”

But McCorbin was rebuked on stage by Medved, who said believing a fundamental right to same-sex marriage is inconsistent with libertarianism.

“You are saying that nine unelected judges should impose their will and their judgement on the sovereign states, all 50 sovereign states and the citizens therein, in terms of something as fundamental to society as the definition of family and the definition of marriage,” Medved said.

Making a point that was derided by gay bloggers and the watchdog group Media Matters, Medved also said the idea that any state had prohibited same-sex marriage is “a liberal lie” — possibly because same-sex weddings have been allowed, even though 33 states don’t recognize them as valid.

But Medved also signaled he nonetheless supports adoption by same-sex parents, which triggered applause in the audience (although one observer could be heard booing).

Matthew Spaulding, associate vice president of Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, insisted that religious liberties for objectors must be upheld and denied any link between same-sex marriage and interracial marriage.

“The fact of one’s color of one’s skin is a coincidence,” Spaulding said. “It has nothing to do with your character, right? The difference between a male and a female is something that is self-evident and obvious that we need to deal, and we can’t shut aside and turn it over to judges to tell us what to do.”

No one who is gay, nor any LGBT political group, had a voice on the panel despite its attention to the marriage issue. In an op-ed penned earlier this week in the Daily Caller, Log Cabin Republicans executive director Gregory Angelo asserted he had sought participation on a CPAC panel this year, but was rebuffed because the American Conservative Union, which runs the event, never responded to the request.

libertarian, social conservative, same-sex marriage, Tom Minnery, CitizenLink, Matt Spaulding, Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, Matt Welch, Reason Magazine, Michael Medved, Michael Medved Show, Alexander McCorbin, Students for Liberty, gay news, Washington Blade, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference

Members of the CPAC panel, ‘Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?’ discussed same-sex marriage. From left, Tom Minnery of CitizenLink, Matt Spaulding of the Allen P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies & Citizenship, Matt Welch of Reason Magazine, Michael Medved of the ‘Michael Medved Show’ and Alexander McCorbin of Students for Liberty. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Ignoring the issue of marriage, prominent Republicans speaking before the panel chose to tackle other issues, although they weren’t afraid to take Obama to task.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a known opponent of LGBT rights including allowing openly gay people in the Boy Scouts, turned his attention to deriding the advancement of welfare states under the Obama administration.

“The vision that wins out — either this big-government, protectionist nanny state version offered by liberal leaders or the limited-government, unsubsidized, freedom state offered by conservative leaders — will determine the future of our nation,” Perry said.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has a reputation as a libertarian, delivered a speech criticizing the exposed data collection by the National Security Agency as he urged adherence to the U.S. Constitution.

“There is a great battle going on, it’s for the heart and soul of America,” Paul said. “The Fourth Amendment is equally as important as the Second Amendment, and conservatives cannot forget this.”

Even 2008 Republican presidential candidate turned Fox News commentator Mike Huckabee, known for championing social issues, was silent on stage about the issue of marriage equality, although he spoke more generally about upholding religious liberties in the country.

This struggle over gay rights emerges at CPAC following the publication this week of a Washington Post-ABC News poll showing a record-high 59 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, while only one-in-three Americans oppose it.

That support is even higher among young voters, which make up the preponderance of attendees at CPAC. The poll found three-quarters of Americans younger than 30 support same-sex marriage.

Following the speeches on Friday, Log Cabin’s Angelo said there’s only one way for the debate to end if the conservative movement wants to thrive.

“The conservative movement can keep its head in the sand at its own peril — with the potential to lose more votes — or it can acknowledge us as here to stay, and grow the base, especially among millennial voters,” Angelo said. “That’s where we’re at in this movement. We want conservatives to win, but they need to acknowledge us as part of that winning coalition.”

Rand Paul, Kentucky, Republican Party, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, libertarian, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

08
Mar
2014

Will new voices call on Obama to sign ENDA exec order?

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC, Democratic National Committee, Lesbian Leadership Council, gay news, Washington Blade

DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is among those who haven’t articulated support for an ENDA executive order. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A new letter is being circulated among members of Congress urging President Obama to sign an executive order barring discrimination against LGBT workers, raising questions about whether pro-gay lawmakers who have previously made no explicit calls for the directive will take the opportunity to do so.

Key members of the Democratic leadership have yet to call for the executive order as have Republicans who’ve already articulated support for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar workplace discrimination against LGBT people.

The letter that’s being circulated among lawmakers calls on Obama to sign the order in the wake of his declaration that 2014 will be a “Year of Action” through administrative means if Congress doesn’t act on his legislative agenda.

“As we continue to work towards final passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support, we urge you to take action now to protect millions of workers across the country from the threat of discrimination simply because of who they are or who they love,” the letter states.

A source familiar with the letter said the opportunity to sign it would close at the end of Monday.

Although this is the first letter intended to include signatures from members of both the House and Senate, it’s not the first time lawmakers signed letters calling for the executive order. Last year, 110 House Democrats signed a letter seeking the directive and 37 senators signed a letter to that effect.

But neither of those letters included names of lawmakers in Democratic leadership or Republicans — even though many had previously articulated support for the executive order or ENDA in some capacity. The newly circulated letter presents an opportunity for those lawmakers to augment the call with powerful voices and create a bipartisan effort to push Obama to take administrative action to protect LGBT workers from discrimination.

The top members of the House Democratic Caucus — House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant House Minority Leader Jim Clyburn (D-Calif.) — each refrained from signing the House version of the letter in 2013. None of the offices for those lawmakers responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on whether they’d sign the letter this time around.

[UPDATE: Mariel Saez, a Hoyer spokesperson, told the Washington Blade on Monday following the initial publication of this article that the Democratic Whip "is signing onto the letter."]

Even though she didn’t sign the letter, Pelosi has been on the record in support of the executive order since 2011, when the Blade asked her during her weekly news conference if she’d support that action. She also said Obama “of course” should sign the directive in January when speaking with The Huffington Post.

Clyburn was quoted as saying by The Huffington Post he feels “very strongly” that Obama should sign the executive order just months ago, reportedly adding “I don’t know where I would be today if the executive order had not been used to get rid of slavery.” The Blade is unaware of any public comments from Hoyer on the LGBT executive order.

At the time the 2013 letter was made public, Pelosi’s office cited a policy that she refrains from signing group letters because of her position in Democratic leadership. However, she had earlier signed her name to letters seeking action from the administration to help bi-national same-sex couples in addition to signing amicus briefs calling on federal courts to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.

[UPDATE #2: Following publication of this article, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said his boss won't sign the letter currently being circulated, noting she rarely signs group letters, and said she'll instead take her own course of action.

"Leader Pelosi has publicly expressed support for this executive order and will be sending her own private letter to the President on this matter," Hammill said.]

Also conspicuously absent from the 2013 letter is Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who also serves as chair of the Democratic National Committee and is known for her support of LGBT rights. In the past week, she’s announced the DNC would form a lesbian leadership council and hired a gay operative as the DNC’s national political director.

Neither Wasserman Schultz’s congressional office in D.C. nor the DNC responded to the Blade’s request for comment on whether she’d sign the letter this time around.

In January, Wasserman Schultz told The Huffington Post she broadly supports the idea of Obama using his executive authority, but refused to say whether that principle applies to an executive order for LGBT workers.

Wasserman Schultz’s name was also absent from letters seeking support of bi-national same-sex couples. At the time one letter was signed in 2011, Wasserman Schultz told reporters during an Immigration Equality fundraiser she supported the action, but didn’t feel comfortable making demands on the administration because of her position in the DNC.

“Given that I’m the chair of the DNC, it’s a little odd for me to be asking the administration to do specific things,” Wasserman Schultz said at the time. “So I personally support it, but because I’m also the political voice of the president, asking the president to do things publicly can get a little awkward.”

On the Senate side, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also didn’t sign his chamber’s version of the letter in 2013. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he’ll add his name this time around.

Reid has offered a nuanced position on the executive order. In February, he told The Huffington Post, “If the president decides to do it, I’d be in favor of it.”

But on either the letter signed by the House or the Senate in 2013, not a single Republican signed their name. If a single one did so this time around, it would represent the first time that a Republican lawmaker had called on Obama to sign an executive order.

None of the offices of 10 Republican senators who voted for ENDA on the Senate floor responded to a request for comment on the letter. Those are Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.).

Despite being an original co-sponsor of ENDA, Kirk has previously spoken against an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers.

“If we load executive order upon executive order, all of which would be wiped out the day after the president of the other party takes power, you really haven’t advanced the ball much,” Kirk said in 2011. “That’s why the legislation is absolutely necessary.”

In the House, six Republicans co-sponsor ENDA: Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) and Jon Runyan (R-N.J.).

According to the Huffington Post, Ros-Lehtinen has said she doesn’t support the executive order. Of those six Republicans, only Dent’s office responded to the Blade’s request to comment on the letter, and the response was negative.

“Congressman Dent believes that the regular legislative process is the best way to proceed in making this critical legislation outlawing workplace discrimination the law of the land,” said Dent spokesperson Shawn Millan.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t know whether Republicans will sign the letter, but hopes to see some GOP names calling for the executive order.

“I’m not going to engage in speculation, but with declared GOP support for ENDA among House members of both the House and Senate, I would hope to see some Republican representation on any letter holding the president accountable to a promise he made to Americans six years ago,” Angelo said.

Neither the LGBT Equality Caucus, which is handling circulation of the letter in the House, nor the office of ENDA’s chief sponsor in the Senate Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), which is handling it in the Senate, responded to the Blade’s request for comment over the weekend about expected signers of the letter.

10
Mar
2014

How bad would a GOP Senate takeover be for LGBT people?

Mitch McConnell, Kentucky, Republican Party, United States Senate, U.S. Congress, CPAC, Conservative Political Action Conference, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would likely become majority leader if Republicans win a majority in the Senate.  (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The congressional mid-term elections are more than six months away, but political observers are already warning Democrats they could lose control of the U.S. Senate — an outcome that has tongues wagging over its potential impact on LGBT issues.

While analysts agree that Republicans could claim at least six seats to win control of the chamber — such as by knocking off pro-LGBT senators in New Hampshire and Colorado — the general sense is draconian anti-gay measures like the Federal Marriage Amendment won’t emerge even with GOP control of the Senate.

Dan Pinello, a political scientist at City University of New York, noted seven incumbent Democrats are seeking re-election in states Mitt Romney won in 2012 and conservatives like the Koch brothers and Karl Rove are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars through “Super PACs” to affect those races.

“So I think the prospect of a Republican takeover is very close — a virtual tossup right now,” Pinello said. “Everything will depend on the degree to which Democratic voters turn out at the polls in crucial states.”

Republicans are optimistic about their prospects on Election Day 2014 — and virtually no one is suggesting that Democrats can retake control of the House. In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” anti-gay GOP strategist Karl Rove predicted GOP victory in the Senate.

“With 14 seats in play on the Democratic side and a couple of seats in play potentially on the Republican side, I think it’s highly likely that Republicans pick up the majority,” Rove said.

On the same day on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer defied the predictions by saying he believes “we will keep the Senate.” But his former colleague in the White House, Robert Gibbs — who landed in hot water in 2010 by saying Republicans could take control of the House — expressed a contrary view, saying the Senate is “definitely” in danger in 2014.

“So as a consultant, I can say all these things now,” Gibbs said. “They’ve got to pick up six seats, which is not a small number. But what gives them a huge advantage, obviously, is the states that they’re in…Louisiana and in North Carolina, in Montana, places that the president didn’t do well.”

The heads of both political parties are both bullish about their prospects in 2014. On Tuesday, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus predicted at a National Press Club breakfast a “tsunami” and said it’s “going to be a very big win, especially at the U.S. Senate level.” Meanwhile, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz said that Democrats are running “aggressive bottom-up campaigns” and she’s confident her party will hold the Senate.

But political analysts have forecasts more favorable to Republicans. As of Monday, Cook Political Report forecast that Republicans will pick up somewhere between four and six seats, but expected the ultimate gains will be “at the higher end of – and may exceed – that range.”

Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, said it’s too early to provide a firm prediction on the extent of Republican gains, but said Republicans would net at least four to six seats.

“It’s easy to see how they could get six or even more if President Obama stays in the low 40s and the economy continues to be balky,” Sabato said. “This year, in the sixth-year of President Obama’s administration, you’d much rather be in the GOP’s electoral position than the Democrats’.”

Pro-LGBT Democrats face challenging re-election bids

Democrats elected to the Senate at the start of the Obama administration and who built a reputation for  supporting LGBT rights are among those facing uphill re-election bids.

Among them is Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) who has championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and the flow of spousal benefits to veterans in same-sex marriages as chief sponsor of the Charlie Morgan Act. A potential challenger for her is former U.S. senator from Massachusetts Scott Brown. Although he voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal during his tenure in the Senate, Brown penned an op-ed for Bay Windows suggesting the pursuit of LGBT rights was a “pet project.”

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) also faces a tough re-election bid now that Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has announced he will run for the Senate. Udall has championed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, an end to the Defense of Marriage Act and has written at least two letters to the Obama administration to ensure gay veterans can receive spousal benefits in whichever state they live. Gardner hasn’t articulated a position on same-sex marriage, but voted in favor of an LGBT-inclusive version of the Violence Against Women Act.

The Democrat who’ll likely face the most challenging re-election campaign is Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). An early supporter of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, she voted for a repeal amendment in the Senate Armed Services Committee even before the Pentagon report on open service. Hagan came out in favor of same-sex marriage last year on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on California’s Proposition 8. She could face any one of a number of Republicans vying for the nomination in the state’s primary.

Also of note is the re-election bid of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who as chief sponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act oversaw a bipartisan vote in favor of the bill in the Senate late last year. Merkley has also been the leading voice in the Senate calling on President Obama to sign an executive order barring LGBT employment discrimination among federal contractors. A number of Republican candidates have lined up to challenge Merkley, although he’s expected to win re-election in the heavily “blue” state.

The only Republican who’s expected to face a tough re-election challenge is the one who’s likely to handle the floor schedule in the Senate if the GOP ekes out a win: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). In addition to facing a Tea Party challenge, McConnell faces a stiff challenge in the general election from Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Would anti-LGBT legislation move forward?

If the Republicans win control of the Senate, it would create a Congress in which the GOP leads both chambers at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver a nationwide ruling on marriage equality.

Speaking to the Washington Blade after her event at the National Press Club, Wasserman Schultz initially responded to an inquiry about what a GOP takeover of the Senate would mean for LGBT people by saying, “Oh, God.”

Wasserman Schultz predicted Republicans would curtail the expansion of rights she said are “deserved” by LGBT people in addition to engaging in an “aggressive attempt” to roll them back. But the DNC chair emphasized that won’t happen because Democrats are on track to maintain control of the Senate.

Asked by the Blade whether she thinks Republicans would want to push through a Federal Marriage Amendment, Wasserman Schultz said that “wouldn’t surprise me” because the Republicans endorsed the amendment as part of the 2012 party platform.

But political observers say even with Republicans in control of both chambers, the trend in favor of same-sex marriage — which a recent poll pegged at 59 percent support — would deter Congress from passing a measure that already failed twice under the Bush administration when Republicans had large majorities.

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, said he doesn’t foresee a situation in which Republicans would push forward in either chamber with a U.S. constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

“Considering the move for a Federal Marriage Amendment in the House following the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision last year went absolutely nowhere tells me that there is little appetite among Republicans to engage in culture wars either in the House or the Senate — in this election cycle and in 2016,” Angelo said.

But there are other pieces of anti-gay legislation that could be seen as an alternative to the Federal Marriage Amendment. Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have introduced legislation known as the Marriage and Religious Freedom Act, which would prohibit the federal government from discriminating against organizations that exercise “religious conscience” against same-sex marriage.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Texas) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have introduced the State Marriage Defense Act, which would prohibit the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage in states where it’s not allowed. The bill may be moot in the event of a Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality.

Sabato nonetheless said he doesn’t see much of an opportunity for anti-LGBT legislation of any kind to make it through the Senate – given the growing support for LGBT rights among Republican senators.

“I think it is very unlikely Susan Collins or Rob Portman would support any stand-alone, anti-LGBT legislation,” Sabato said. “I could see other Republicans joining them, such as Lisa Murkowski. I can’t see a single Senate Democrat voting for such legislation. So I doubt the Senate would pass it.”

In the event that an anti-gay bill was approved by both chambers of Congress, Sabato said the legislation would never become law because President Obama would veto it once it reached his desk.

But Republican control over the Senate could mean an end to progress on pro-LGBT legislation. Under Democratic control, the Senate just barely invoked cloture on ENDA by a vote of 61-30 before approving it on final passage. Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled House has yet to take up ENDA months after the Senate voted to approve it as House Speaker John Boehner threw cold water on it during a meeting with the LGBT Equality Caucus.

Pinello said the danger for the LGBT community in the aftermath of a Republican takeover of the Senate lies in the nomination and confirmation of federal judges — perhaps on the Supreme Court in the event of a vacancy before the final ruling on marriage equality.

“The federal bench is now the most hopeful source of remedy for the denial of marriage equality nationwide, and a Senate controlled by the Republican Party might diminish those prospects,” Pinello said. “Thus, there is very good reason for LGBT voters to turn out for Democratic candidates next November.”

18
Mar
2014

Life beyond marriage equality

Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

We gay Republicans are here, to the chagrin of the gay left, and annoyance of the Republican radical right. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

There are people both in the Republican Party and in the gay community who strongly believe that gays do not belong in the Grand Old Party.

To my brothers and sisters in the gay community, while the Democratic Party has been much better on equality, when you step away from that string of issues, there is a wealth of policy positions where there is room for discussion and differing opinion.

As Urvashi Vaid says in her book, “Irresistible Revolution: Confronting Race, Class and the Assumptions of LGBT Politics,” “Beyond a shared basic rights agenda, there is no political unity between progressives and conservatives in the LGBT community.”  This is highlighted on issue after issue with gun control, abortion, immigration, tax, and a panoply of other items that comprise our daily lives.

When you listen to some national gay organizations, they speak of the evils of Republicans. They often imply ALL Republicans. Either they are not mindful that we have a growing number of Republican allies in the House and Senate and around the country who support us on many of our core issues, or they are simply party hacks. It’s OK to be a party hack. I am. Just don’t masquerade as a non-partisan national LGBT organization if that’s what you really are — an operative of the Democratic Party.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would not have been repealed three years ago without the six Republican senators who supported ending the law. Nor would the Senate have passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would provide employment protections for LGBT individuals in the workplace, without the votes of 10 Republicans.

Fifteen years ago, those votes would have been unheard of. The Republican Party is going through a cultural shift (albeit slowly) as more Republican legislators consistently step up for LGBT Americans. States like New York, Maryland and Illinois bear witness to that.

Conversely, there are those in leadership positions within the Republican Party to whom it is anathema for gays to be in the GOP and, worse yet, that we exist at all. It would be dishonest to say that, for gay Republicans, the last 20 years have been easy.  The ascension of many within the Christian right into the party has often made life rough. That is, however, not a blanket statement.  There are many good people who are part of the Christian right.

The tenor of the marriage equality debate, on both sides of the aisle, has been nasty at times. Within the GOP, it uncovered the fact that there are those who see the party as a closed, inward-looking operation who view defeat in the pursuit of ideological purity as acceptable. The tone of the marriage equality debate by certain members of the GOP fails to recognize that, beyond marriage, there are other issues where the LGBT community can contribute to a winning coalition for Republicans.

What the Democratic Party fails to understand is that families cannot live on love alone. As my counterpart, John Fluharty, executive director of the Delaware GOP, often says, the GOP message of education, job creation, and economic growth and less government in our lives, are indeed the Republican Party and speak to many in the LGBT community when hate is not interjected.

Sadly, it’s the David Agemas of the party, with their ecclesiastical rants, who are the squeaky wheel. And it is because of their boisterous noise that the Republican Party is on the brink of shrinking instead of growing.

RNC Chair Reince Priebus has done a great job of starting to reach out to minority groups that have not supported the party in recent elections.  And while he does not have a plank in his Growth and Opportunity Project for gays and lesbians, he shows no malice toward us either.

We simply can’t throw a temper tantrum and leave an organization or a political party when we don’t get our way. That’s what they want.

We persevere. We engage. We listen. And then we continue to change hearts and minds. We gay Republicans are here, to the chagrin of the gay left, and annoyance of the Republican radical right.

Robert Turner is executive director of the D.C. Republican Party and former president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at robert.turner@dcgop.com or @RobertTurnerDC.

21
Jan
2014

Roundup from ENDA ‘Situation Room’ in NYC

Dave Montez, Kim Taylor, Gregory Angelo, Melissa Sklarz, Brad Sears, Tico Almeida, Employment Non-Discrimination Act, ENDA, gay news, Washington Blade

Speakers talk at Freedom to Work’s “Situation Room” (Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson).

NEW YORK — LGBT advocates across the political spectrum spoke at the LGBT group Freedom to Work’s first-ever “Situation Room” in New York City on Thursday, offering a variety of perspectives on the way forward to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

Below are notable snippets from the speakers from both of the two panels.

Tico Almeida

Tico Almeida, president of Freedom to Work, announced his organization has expanded its work in submitting fictional matched-paired resumes to different companies to find anti-LGBT bias in hiring practices.

That consists of sending one resume from a well-qualified LGBT applicant to a company and another from a less qualified non-LGBT candidate to see who gets a call back to determine if anti-gay bias exists.

The group has already alleged anti-gay bias as a result of testing at the oil-and-gas giant Exxon Mobil, but Almeida said Freedom to Work is submitting resumes to 12 companies in 12 states.

“We are testing in Pennsylvania, we are testing in Ohio, we are testing in Michigan and Missouri, West Virginia, North Carolina, Utah,” Almeida said. “We are testing in all of the next battleground states where we expect to have a strong push, maybe not in the next six months, but in the next year, have a strong push and a real chance at passing a state-level ENDA law.”

This testing in additional states, Almeida said, could be used as a proof that anti-LGBT discrimination is happening as LGBT advocates make the case that a non-discrimination law is needed in states that currently lack them.

Evan Wolfson

Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, in addition to expressing concerns about the religious exemption in ENDA, was critical about the lack of personal stories from LGBT people affected by workplace discrimination.

“I don’t think there’s been the same comparable, assiduous sustained focus on generating those stories, figuring out how best to tell them,” Wolfson said. “You need a campaign to give people the tools, the language, the encouragement, the impetus, the urgency of telling those stories.”

Almeida responded by saying finding personal stories can be difficult because individuals who sue after facing workplace discrimination often sign confidentiality agreements in exchange for making settlements with their employers.

But Wolfson said there are ways around confidentiality, including finding stories other individuals other than LGBT people directly affected by discrimination and the testing work that Almeida previously mentioned.

“There’s a set of stories where you might have that problem, but there are a lot of stories out there,” Wolfson said. “There are a lot of people, including business leaders and others who can talk about the values of non-discrimination. It’s a mix of things that we need to be putting forward.”

Melissa Sklarz

Melissa Sklarz, a trans activist and president of the Stonewall Democrats of NYC, devoted much of her remarks to distinguishing between the Democratic and Republican party on LGBT rights.

One noteworthy quip cast the Republican Party in a particularly ghoulish light amid competing views from the Tea Party and other more LGBT friendly factions of the party like Log Cabin Republicans.

“I take a look at it sort of like Frankenstein’s monster,” Sklarz said. “All their little things, they have a piece. They’re going to put the arms and the legs and all that. But now they’re in the operating room, and they’re fighting. Who puts in the brain? And it’s a mess.”

Gregory Angelo

Gregory Angelo, executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, responded to Sklarz by saying he didn’t come to “litigate the differences” between the Democrats and Republicans.

Angelo identified in his remarks additional Senate Republicans who could be in play to vote in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act on the Senate floor: Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.). Each of the senators voted for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act earlier this year.

“This is a bill that included protections specifically for LGBT individuals,” Angelo said. “The fact that gay and lesbian protections existed in that bill does not make, in our perspective, LGBT protections a poison pill for those senators.”

Kim Taylor

Kim Taylor, a New Jersey lesbian activist and first black woman named to the Log Cabin Board of Directors, touted a New Jersey law signed by Democratic Gov. James Florio (D) in 1992 protecting workers against discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

“Maintaing one’s viability as a self-sustaining worker is important,” Taylor said. “One needs to know that he or she will be free from bias, discrimination, harassment and bullying in the workplace based on who they are or whom they love … There is never a good reason to be discriminated against, and we must come to that understanding.”

Babs Siperstein, a Democratic trans activist and member of the audience, later noted that the 1992 New Jersey law protected only against sexual orientation discrimination. Gender identity wasn’t added until 2007.

Brad Sears

Brad Sears, executive director of the Williams Institute at the University of California, Log Angeles, talked about the research that his institution produced on LGBT employment.

Sears brought up a report examining the wages that LGBT people earn compared to their straight counterparts and said similar gaps exist between gay men and straight male workers as are known to exist between women and men.

“What this research consistently shows is that there is a wage gap ranging from about 10 to 30 percent in the wages of gay men and their…counterparts,” Sears said.

Sears continued that other groups within the LGBT community are more disadvantaged in terms of wages, including LGBT people of color, transgender workers, women, couples with children and non-citizens.

The Williams Institute’s wage gap report — which found that lesbians make as about as much as straight women, but less than straight or gay men — can be downloaded here.

Dave Montez

Dave Montez, acting president of GLAAD, touted the organization’s Spanish-language media capabilities and said his organization would employ those resources in Arizona, Florida and Nevada — states that have undecided senators on ENDA and large Latino populations.

“GLAAD is the only organization within the movement that has a dedicated Spanish-language media team,” Montez said. “We will deploy that team to help educate people in those states about why the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is important.”

According to Montez, Latinos represent 15 percent of registered voters in Nevada, 14 percent in Florida and the Latino population is just under two million and represents 30 percent of the state’s population in Arizona.

14
Sep
2013

McCain criticizes Putin over gay rights record

John McCain, Republican Party, Arizona, Senate, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Thursday criticized the Russian government over a host of issues that includes the Kremlin’s gay rights record.

“They write laws to codify bigotry against people whose sexual orientation they condemn,” McCain wrote in an op-ed titled “Russians deserve better than Putin” the Russian online newspaper Pravda published. “They throw the members of a punk rock band in jail for the crime of being provocative and vulgar and for having the audacity to protest President Putin’s rule.”

McCain’s comments come in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s comments against the United States’ potential military strike against Syria over its use of chemical weapons against civilians last month that he made in an op-ed the New York Times published on Sept. 11. The Arizona Republican’s statements also come against the backdrop of growing outrage over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics that will take place in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Putin in June signed a bill that bans gay propaganda to minors. A second law that bans same-sex couples and anyone else from a country that allows same-sex marriage from adopting Russian children took effect in July.

A 2012 law requires organizations that receive funding from outside Russia to register as “foreign agents.”

Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein and others have called for a boycott of the Sochi games over Russia’s gay rights record. Author Dan Savage and LGBT rights advocates Cleve Jones are among those who have called for a boycott of Russian vodka.

Gay Olympic diver Greg Louganis, who was unable to compete in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow because then-President Jimmy Carter boycotted them over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan the year before, opposes a boycott of the Sochi games. President Obama, retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova, Outsports.com and the Dutch LGBT advocacy group COC Nederland have also taken a similar position.

Obama on Sept. 6 met with LGBT Network Director Igor Kochetkov and Olga Lenkova, spokesperson for Coming Out, a Russian LGBT advocacy group, during a meeting he had with nine activists at the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. The president last month cited Russia’s gay rights record as among the factors that prompted him to cancel a meeting with Putin that had been scheduled to take place in Moscow before the gathering.

“It is important for us to remember that in every country — here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe — that part of good government is making sure that we’re creating a space for civil society to function effectively: freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about,” Obama told the advocates during the Sept. 6 meeting that National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul also attended.

Putin spokesperson Dmitri S. Peskov dismissed McCain’s comments.

“As far as the question of what Russians deserve is concerned, they are able to answer this question on their own, and they do so when elections are held,” Peskov told Russian news agencies as the New York Times reported. “I do not think that the opinion of any person who lives overseas can play any role in swaying Russians’ preferences.”

Log Cabin Republican Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo welcomed McCain’s comments.

“The president’s silence was deafening in the wake of Putin’s insulting New York Times op-ed, so once again Republicans are carrying the water for an administration out of its depth on international policy,” he told the Washington Blade. “As the only national gay rights organization to demand the Obama administration take action on Russia and its anti-gay laws, Log Cabin Republicans is proud to stand with Sen. McCain against Russian oppression and bigotry.”

19
Sep
2013

At Log Cabin dinner, calls for party to return to ‘big tent’

Tom Ridge, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade, Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party

Former Gov.Tom Ridge delivers the keynote address at the Log Cabin annual dinner. (Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Amid discontent with the GOP over the  federal government shutdown, one prominent Republican took to the stage at a gay rights event to urge the party to return to its days of “the big tent.”

Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor and secretary of Homeland Security under the Bush administration, issued the call for inclusion during his keynote address at the 2013 Spirit of Lincoln dinner, an annual event held in D.C. by the Log Cabin Republicans.

“If we want to win, we need to be a party worthy of the 21st century,” Ridge said. “A nonjudgmental party where all who support us are welcome. A party where diversity of view, race, ethnicity, gender and religion are relished and promoted and nourished.”

During the 30-minute speech, Ridge talked about his own evolution on the issue of marriage equality, saying he didn’t support marriage rights for gay couples when he was elected governor of Pennsylvania, but later changed his mind.

“My support of marriage equality wasn’t a decision made at one point in time,” Ridge said. “There was no epiphany; it evolved. It simply came to make sense – that all of us are equal in the eyes of the God we worship and the same should be true of the government to which we ‘render unto Caesar.’”

Ridge was among 131 Republicans who signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down California’s Proposition 8.

As members of the Republican party are beginning to take differing views on gay rights and marriage equality, Ridge said the regressive views taking prominence in the Republican Party are what’s keeping the party from making gains at the national political level.

“Our own narrow thinking on social issues is one of the principal reasons we have lost the last two national elections,” Ridge said.

Ridge also made reference to actions that Republican lawmakers took in recent weeks that led to the shutdown of the federal government.

“And if you supplement our offensive and exclusionary view on social issues with the debacle of the past few weeks, we should be concerned about our brand, our message and our future,” Ridge said. “The majority of Americans don’t like Obamacare, but they like the flawed and failed tactics to default even less.”

Ridge didn’t completely abandon the party line during his speech. A portion was dedicated to the memory of President Reagan and his ability to attract “the center, conservative Democrats and independents” to the Republican Party. Additionally, Ridge was critical of Obamacare, which he called “a flawed law worthy of repeal,” generating enthusiastic applause from the audience.

“You know I am pro-choice, but in mandating that these institutions perform abortions or provide other services contrary to its values, the government is forcing its views on the practices of these religious institutions,” Ridge continued. “It is a scary, slippery slope.”

Despite his urge for inclusion, Ridge was careful to include in his speech a call for acceptance of individuals who have not embraced ideas like marriage equality.

“If we want a government that acknowledges our God-given right to freely choose how we live — in regard to marriage and other issues – we must demand a government that respects the rights of others to choose and follow their conscience just the same,” Ridge said.

Ridge’s speech was well-recevied by the estimated 165 people who attended the dinner. Bob Kabel, a gay D.C. Republican activist and member of the Republican National Committee, said Ridge’s speech was “very well written and well delivered” and praised its call for inclusion.

“It was a lot about Reagan, it was a lot about his aspirations for people, his views of politics, which is to be a party of inclusion, not exclusion, and we’ve really gotten away from that,” Kabel said.

Speaking with the Washington Blade prior to his speech, Ridge said it’s important for the public and the younger generation to hear a message of inclusion because an emphasis on social issues is scaring them off.

“Sometimes we appear very self-righteous, very judgmental and among many constituencies that doesn’t appeal to in addition to general America, young people, whom I think we need to attract to our party, don’t like self-righteous judgmental people leading the mindset,” Ridge said. “Unfortunately, some of those folks make the most noise.”

Ridge said he believes some Republicans “will never accept necessarily the gay and lesbian community,” but nonetheless urged members of the party to be tolerant.

“I’m not trying to change their mind, just changing their heart, so they’re more tolerant and accepting of other peoples’ life and lifestyles, because within the Log Cabin community there’s a value system that’s consistent with the traditional Republican message on fiscal policy, defense and the like,” Ridge said.

Prior to Ridge’s speech, Gregory Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans, delivered his own remarks invoking the memory of Reagan and calling for a “big tent” within the Republican Party. Angelo said he invited Nancy Reagan to attend the dinner, but she declined because she’s not making social appearances.

However, Angelo read a letter that he said came from her assistant saying she appreciates the memory of her husband’s opposition to the Briggs Initiative in California during the 1970s and further appreciates that Log Cabin holds him in such high esteem.

Rep. Issa makes appearance

Ridge wasn’t the only high-profile Republican to make an appearance at the Log Cabin dinner. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Regulation, was among the invited guests. Issa didn’t speak publicly, but spoke with attendees briefly before the dinner began.

Issa was invited even though he scored “0″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard. An opponent of same-sex marriage, Issa has voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment and against a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal.

Asked by the Washington Blade during the dinner why he was interested in appearing at a gay rights event, Issa said, “I’ve done it past years all the way to my freshman year in Congress.”

“The way I look at Log Cabin Republicans in my view is the Carl DeMaio race in San Diego and a huge amount of races for Republicans across the country are the No. 1 challenge for these individuals here tonight is moving an agenda that they find supportive,” Issa told reporters.

In response to another Blade question on whether his position on same-sex marriage has changed, Issa talked about “issues,” but said following the Supreme Court decisions in June “gay marriage has become the law of the land more or less.” Issa also expressed interest in domestic partner benefits for federal employees, an issue over which his committee has jurisdiction.

A bill introduced by gay Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) called the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act would extend those benefits to federal employees if they’re in same-sex relationships, but live in non-marriage equality states and don’t have access to travel to marry.

Issa also commented on ENDA, saying he hasn’t taken a position it, nor has he had a chance to review the current bill.

“My assumption is that the bill we could pass in the House, the bill we could pass in the Senate would be different, but that’s not unusual because when it comes to employment non-discrimination in any area, it’s important that you get in a way that isn’t simply a litigation,” Issa said. “You know, I don’t want to empower the trial lawyers in any legislation I do.”

It’s not the first time that lawmakers with unfavorable records have made appearances at Log Cabin events. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) made an appearance at a private Log Cabin event in 2010 and was honored with the organization’s Barry Goldwater award.

Other lawmakers who were scheduled to make an appearance at the dinner were Reps. Pete King (R-N.Y.) and Ted Poe (R-Texas), who have similarly abysmal records on gay rights in Congress. Neither actually made an appearance at the dinner. It wasn’t immediately clear why King and Poe didn’t appear after they were scheduled to attend.

Log Cabin’s Angelo said he invited Issa and the other lawmakers to the dinner because the organization wants to reach out to all lawmakers within the party.

“I’m not going to refuse to interact or engage with or welcome to our event anyone who’s interested to engage with Log Cabin Republicans,” Angelo said. “I can tell you that I’ve had meetings with senior staff or the actual members themselves of all those individuals, and there are meetings that lead me to believe that we continue to grow in our relationship with those congressmen. I think them coming tonight is certainly a sign that shows they’re willing to engage with gay Republicans and we’re headed in the right direction as a party.”

24
Oct
2013

U.S. LGBT leaders travel to Israel

Kevin Naff, gay news, Washington Blade

Washington Blade Editor, Kevin Naff. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Washington Blade Editor Kevin Naff is among the U.S. LGBT leaders who are in Israel this week to meet with their Israeli counterparts.

The American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange organized the trip that the group described in a press release as its first-ever “seminar focused on the LGBT community.”

Naff and the eight other trip participants — Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director Gregory T. Angelo, Tamika Butler of Young Initiatives, gay Harrisburg (Pa.) Treasurer John Campbell, Gill Action Fund Executive Director Kirk Fordham, Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, Lavender Effect Executive Director Andy Sacher, Williams Institute Executive Director Brad Sears and Point Foundation CEO Jorge Valencia — on Tuesday met with Israeli LGBT rights advocates and members of the Knesset, the country’s parliament, in Tel Aviv.

The group on Wednesday met with Palestinian officials in Ramallah on the West Bank.

The trip is scheduled to conclude this weekend in Jerusalem.

“We are honored to bring this high-powered delegation of LGBT American leaders in our first such seminar in Israel,” Project Interchange Executive Director Sam Witkin said. “Israel’s progressive attitude towards LGBT rights offers fertile ground for building bridges, sharing best practices and nurturing solidarity between the LGBT communities in both countries.”

30
Oct
2013