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Politics

September 16, 2008

A Big Tent Party, After All?

The Log Cabin Republicans are a group within the GOP fighting for GLBT rights. "Huh," say you? That's what we thought.

Vincent Valk

A uniquely progressive bunch within a faction whose power lies to the right, the Log Cabin Republicans believe gay rights is well within the philosophy of the Party of Lincoln. Though the group has seen some controversy in the past—in 1995 Bob Dole returned a modest campaign donation from the group, later apologizing—today it is an acknowledged part of the GOP coalition, and boasts chapters and organizing committees in every state.

NYC Log Cabin Republican Chair Gregory Wright.
"Personally, I knew I was a Republican before I knew I was gay."

NYC Log Cabin Republican Chair Gregory Wright.

In the following interview, which has been edited for clarity, Gregory Wright, the chairman of Log Cabin's NYC chapter, expands on the group's philosophy and gives us his take on the 2008 campaign. [Wright asked us to note that the views he expresses are his, and are not necessarily those of the Log Cabin Republicans, though he does discuss both.] You can hear political animals Ana Marie Cox, Libero Della Pianna, and Jake Rake speak at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speaker series in New York's Lower East Side on September 25th.

Gelf Magazine: The first thing that comes to most people's minds when they hear "Log Cabin Republican" is "why are they Republicans?" So, why are you a Republican?

Gregory Wright: Log Cabin Republicans believe in the core values of the Republican Party as set forth by our party’s founders; as such, we believe in strong national defense, lower taxes, limited government, individual liberty, individual responsibility and free markets. Personally, I knew I was a Republican before I knew I was gay. While holding strong Republican values, there is something of a contradiction with the way the party has been heading in recent years, although the party still better represents the entirety of my views than the Democrat Party does.
I am not a single issue voter, but can do my part to support equality by supporting inclusive Republican candidates. The battle for marriage equality will not be won by one side of the political spectrum. I’ve always sided with the Republicans on economic issues, so I guess one could say I’m a fiscal conservative, although my social beliefs do not fit perfectly in either party at this time.

GM: I assume you are supporting John McCain this year.

GW: Yes, Log Cabin endorsed John McCain during the RNC and he wholeheartedly accepted our endorsement.

GM: Do you catch any flack from the gay community for working with a party that is perceived as strongly anti-gay?

GW: Yes, the gay community does come to us with questions in regards to how we can be Republican and gay. Certainly we wouldn't like to be in this situation, but our views on other issues more closely align with the Republican Party, versus the Democrat Party. So our mission is to change the Republican Party. It would be quite easy for all of us to switch parties and vote Democrat based on gay rights; however, we would then try to change the Democrat Party to move to the right more on other issues. I'm not sure they'd appreciate that, either. It's a tough position that we're in and an ongoing struggle to educate those that do not agree with us. The battle for marriage equality will not be won securely by one party, both parties need to be involved to preserve those rights once we obtain them.

GM: Do you consider yourself a "moderate" Republican, a la Christie Whitman and Arnold Schwarzenegger? Given the power of the party's base, what do you think the future holds for moderate Republicans?

GW: Yes, I do consider myself a moderate Republican. There is a battle within the Party for control at this point. The significance of McCain’s nomination shows that the social fundamentalists of the Party are weakening and there is greater potential to bring the Party back to its roots and have a more inclusive Party with regard to gay rights. It is a battle worth fighting.
Log Cabin was welcomed with open arms this year at the RNC and many of our events were well attended. This allowed us to sit down with some of our opponents and speak to them openly about our cause. We certainly gave [our opponents] a lot to think about when they left and changed quite a few opinions. In fact, during the convention broadcast there was only one allusion to anti-gay rhetoric, by Gov. Huckabee, and that part of his speech was vocally booed by the delegates. The Party is definitely at a turning point on gay issues.

GM: What are your thoughts on McCain's seeming rightward tack in the past couple of years (for example, going from "agents of intolerance" to speaking at Liberty University)?

GW: I think it’s inevitable that all candidates tack towards the center and to their party's extremes in an attempt to bring the party together. In order for McCain to win the primary, he needed to show support for issues that the social fundamentalists care about. I don’t necessarily believe that should be the case, but it's how political campaigns are run. I think now that McCain has chosen his VP who is very popular with the right wing, we’ll see more of the maverick and moderate McCain many of us saw while he was in the Senate.

GM: How do you react when you hear Republicans pushing for things like defense of marriage amendments?

GW: It’s upsetting. There is no denying that. Unfortunately we can’t influence every Republican and convince them to change their views and that does lead to the occasional anti-gay bill. It is no different, however, than when a Democrat supports anti-gay bills. It’s all quite disturbing regardless of who introduces anti-gay legislation and that is something all GLBT organizations are working together to put an end to.

GM: How does the typical GLBT Republican differ from the typical Republican? How does a GLBT Republican differ from a GLBT Democrat or independent?

GW: Each person is an individual so I can’t speak for everybody, but for me there are few areas where I differ from a typical Republican. One of the greatest features of being a Republican is the Big Tent philosophy. We welcome everyone. We may not all agree on every issue, but that creates a venue for discourse and a chance to learn about each other’s beliefs. This is how we’re creating change within the Party. I would say that typically, GLBT Republicans are in favor of marriage equality and gay rights, whereas not all “typical” Republicans agree, but that is also prevalent in the Democrat Party. I don’t want to speak for Democrats, but from speaking with members of the GLBT community I’ve concluded that many are Democrats because of their support for gay rights, even if they [members of the GLBT community] may not agree with them on a majority of issues.

GM: In your estimation, what’s the most important issue in this campaign?

GW: The economy is the most important issue currently. We are facing record high gas prices, increasing costs of goods and a recession. We need to focus on getting the U.S. back on track, strengthen our dollar and get promote small business growth. This is not to say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not important or that gay rights and marriage equality are not important. But right now, the economy is not sound and we need to make those necessary corrections.

GM: In a similar vein, what important issue has received scant attention? And, conversely, what non-issue has received the most attention?

GW: I don’t believe that immigration has received its fair share of attention. A couple years ago it became a hot topic, but the media has paid little attention to it this election year. I think it’s an extremely important topic that does impact our economy. Hands down, the most attention has been given to pigs in lipstick and pit bulls in lipstick—really, the entire Palin family. The media is so focused on Gov. Sarah Palin’s family and Obama’s pig in lipstick comment that they’re really doing a disservice to the public by not reporting on the issues. This election is not about lipstick or whose baby belongs to whom, this election is about the future of this nation and maintaining our nation’s economy for the betterment of all citizens.

GM: What was your initial reaction to Sarah Palin? What do you think of her as a running-mate and a potential VP?

GW: I think she was the best choice for McCain. She brings to the table everything he’s not. And based on the reaction she has gotten from the Party and the media, she has really turned the tide in this election. I also believe that if McCain wins election, Palin will be a prime candidate for President in 2016. The Republican Party is very good at succession.
I don’t agree with her on all the issues and I'd have preferred a more moderate choice, but the national election is a popularity contest to a large extent and it’s about appealing to the largest possible audience. McCain achieved that with Palin.

GM: Do you agree with the characterization of the pick as largely a cynical political maneuver?

GW: Cynical? No. Was it a political maneuver? Most definitely. Picking Palin unites the entirety of the Party, something McCain was struggling with as he is more moderate/liberal than the social fundamentalists in the party care for. Do they agree on all the issues? Of course not. I don't believe most VP candidates agree with the President on every issue, especially not before becoming the VP candidate. I think she's right on some issues and wrong on others.

GM: Who did you support in the primary?

GW: I supported Rudy Giuliani. Log Cabin did not endorse anyone during the primary.

GM: If you were running the McCain campaign, what would you do differently, if anything?

GW: I wouldn't have kowtowed to the right wing of the party and I would have encouraged him to be more vocal on his support for gay rights. I don’t believe the Party needs the right wing in order to win elections. We have a large number of moderates, as well, and can win back many Party members by being supportive of gay rights.

GM: What’s one issue—aside from social issues—on which you agree more with Obama than with McCain.

GW: Aside from social issues … there are none.

GM: Are you pro-choice or pro-life?

GW: Log Cabin Republicans, as an organization, does not take sides within the abortion debate. I am personally pro-choice, but positions on this, as with other issues, will vary within our membership.

Vincent Valk

Vincent Valk is online editor for Chemical Week magazine.







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Article by Vincent Valk

Vincent Valk is online editor for Chemical Week magazine.

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