Conservative confab disses gay people, yet again

     Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

    Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (Susan Walsh/AP Photo)

    Few of us love the month of February, but one annual ritual always entertains. Like clockwork, the gatekeepers of the conservative bubble insult gay people who actually want to dwell in the bubble.

    I’m referring, of course, to the Conservative Political Action Conference, best known as CPAC. The group’s annual late-winter Washington bash typically attracts thousands of grassroots right-wingers, the nation’s top conservative outifts, and a slew of Republican presidential wannabees. But it also traffics in melodrama, because CPACers typically freak out whenever gay conservatives come knocking.

    This intolerance is a tad puzzllng. At a time when nearly 60 percent of Americans support gay marriage – among Americans under age 30, it’s 81 percent – welcoming gays fully into the confab fold would seem to be a no-brainer. But no. Because this is what we need to remember:

    In mainstream tolerant America, the year is 2014. But inside the conservative bubble, it’s still 1954.

    A brief recap is required. Four winters ago, CPAC permitted a small gay conservative group, called GOProud, to attend the confab, whereupon many of the wingnuts went nuts. One guy from Young Americans for Freedom ranted on stage: “I’d like to condemn CPAC for bringing GOPride to this event.” (He got the group’s name wrong.) He was booed, mostly because he was airing the issue in public – for the C-SPAN cameras, no less. He then yelled at the boobirds, “The lesbians at Smith College protest better than you do!”

    That was in 2010. Here’s what happened in 2011: CPAC, thinking that inclusion might be a good thing for the Republican party, decided to list GOProud as one of its many sponsors. That prompted many of the nation’s top conservative groups to walk out. Rather than risk contracting gay cooties, the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, Liberty Counsel, Concerned Women of America, the American Family Association, and the Media Research Center all stayed home. A talk-show host affiliated with the American Family Association fired a parting volley: “CPAC now supports the radical homosexual agenda” and has legitimized “the deviancy cabal.”

    In 2012, all those organizations agreed to return – after CPAC agreed to banish GOProud. It was the same deal in 2013, with gays on the outs. GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia was so fed up that he quit the Republican party. He said: “I spent my career working to create an atmosphere in the conservative movement where gay conservatives can be open and honest and live their lives and work within the conservative movement….I had hoped that would be enough to melt the anti-gay bigotry that runs through the ranks of some in the Republican Party….There comes a point when you have to abandon ship. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time to pull the plug on the patient. It’s been brain-dead for a long, long time.”

    Which brings us to 2014. CPAC’s leaders, thinking that perhaps it might be a good idea to exhibit a smidgen of 21st-century tolerance, have come up with what’s being billed as a compromise. They say it’s perfectly OK for members of the gay group to attend the confab – to sit in the ballroom with everybody else! – but only as “guests.” The group won’t be listed as a confab sponsor, it won’t be represented on any of the CPAC panels, nor will it be allowed to set up a promotional booth.

    Don’t laugh, that’s really the deal. Nutcase outfits like the John Birch Society will be allowed to set up booths, but not a gay group. That’s like a white family in antebellum America telling black people, “We are most happy to invite you into our home, but please use the back door and confine yourself to the kitchen.”

    And the thing is, GOProud is so beaten down, so hungry for a scintilla of acceptance, that it’s actually taking the deal. Its new leader, Russ Hemminger, tells ABC News, “We didn’t ask to have a booth or be on a panel. We didn’t ask to be a sponsor. We wanted to take it slow.” (The group’s other co-founder, Chris Barron, says the deal is tantamount to “unconditional surrender,” and he has resigned from the board.)

    Take it slow…The clock sure ticks at a different pace inside the conservative bubble. Mainstream America has already moved on, but not CPAC. Tony Perkins, whose Family Research Council is a key confab sponsor, even warned last month that if gays win full equality, over time “the human race would be extinct.”

    This is the mentality that has helped drag the national Republican party asunder, losing the popular vote in five of the last six national elections. This year’s CPAC dissing episode is a symptom of that mentality, and it suggests that the losing streak may well be exended.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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