How to be gay and Republican in the Trump era

Baker shares a vision.
Baker shares a vision.
Image: Julia Rochelle
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The Trump administration just ended a policy of giving visas to same-sex partners of foreign diplomats stationed at the UN, and is balking at including questions about LGBTQ identity on the 2020 US census. Yet at Washington DC’s storied Mayflower Hotel, the Log Cabin Republicans—the four-decade-old lobbying and activist group for LGBTQ party members—kicked off their annual Spirit of Lincoln dinner by recounting 2018’s triumphs.

This right-leaning outpost of America’s LGBTQ community was in a mood to celebrate last night (Oct. 2) beneath the crystal chandeliers of the Mayflower’s Grand Ballroom, where presidents from Calvin Coolidge to Ronald Reagan held their inaugural balls. The crowd of several hundred, predominantly white men dressed in dark suits, let out big whoops when reminded about one of the year’s main victories.

For years, the Texas Republican party’s official platform has contained the “most caustic language excoriating LGBT American and our families,” Log Cabin president Gregory T. Angelo announced. But no more. The Texas GOP’s platform, Angelo said triumphantly as he paused after every word for emphasis, “no longer condemns people for being gay!”

“If you can do it in Texas,” he added, “you can do it anywhere.”

Log Cabin Republicans, as is traditional for members of the GOP, preach small government, individual liberties, and free trade. And just like the party as a whole, the group says it generally rejects the use of “identity politics” as a strategy or tactic. Around since the 1970s, they count thousands of members in 36 chapters nationwide. Many refused to endorse the Republican nominee in the 2016 election, concerned that Donald Trump’s promises of support for the community weren’t backed up by real policy plans.

When Trump took office in 2017 Angelo was cautiously optimistic about what the future might hold. Since then, the administration has rolled back transgender rights, ignored Gay Pride month, promoted anti-LGBTQ activists, and sided with a baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

How Log Cabin Republicans feel about him now depends on who you asked in the Mayflower ballroom.

So how about this Republican president?

Marco A. Roberts, Houston chapter president, helped convince the Texas GOP to no longer condemn the community by forming unlikely alliances with people who oppose same-sex marriage. He’s an unabashed fan of Trump the president. A Marco Rubio supporter, he confessed he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. But he’s been pleasantly surprised by the man in the White House.

“For a lot of our members [in Texas], the number-one issue is immigration,” he said, because of his state’s proximity to the Mexico border. The US needs border control, he said, no matter what you think of who should be legal afterward. Secondly, the economy is going “better than predicted” under Trump.

“I’m not just a gay person,” Roberts said, “I’m also a Republican.”

Texas, added state Log Cabin chairman Michael Baker, is glad to have a “capitalist in charge.” Others, however, said part of the Log Cabin role is to make sure there is still a viable GOP after Trump. “I feel as Republicans, we should be critical of him,” said Jordan Evans, the Charlton, Massachusetts town constable who is the US’s only openly transgender elected Republican. Log Cabin Republicans should be “looking out for dog whistles” coming from the administration and pushing back, she said, so that the community doesn’t lose gains it has already made.

Most attendees did agree that the group has a “big tent” approach to the question “What does it mean to be a Republican?” So does keynote speaker Charlie Baker, the Massachusetts governor who is one of the country’s most popular elected politicians. Baker gave a graceful, nuanced speech that it was a throwback to another era, and impossible to read as anything but a toe in the water for a 2020 presidential bid.

Baker didn’t mention Trump once, and talked instead about his younger brother’s coming out in the 1980s (“that’s OK!”), the gains that the LGBTQ community has made since then, and how he never realized two Republican peers were gay until they publicly came out in the pages of the New York Times (“It didn’t matter to me!”).

And he rejoiced about what happened when he chose openly gay Richard Tisei as his 2010 gubernatorial running mate, and got trounced. “To the vast major of the electorate the fact that he was gay didn’t matter,” Baker recalled. “The reason that we didn’t win was because I wasn’t a very good candidate.”

“It wasn’t an issue!” he said. “I just wasn’t very good.”

Back into the wider world

After Baker’s speech, the group’s first female chairman, Sarah Longwell, announced the afterparty was at Nellie’s, a popular gay/sports bar with a weekend drag-queen brunch. “You boys enjoy yourselves,” she said, “I’ve got kids at home.” Someone appeared in a skin-tight “Make America Great Again” dress and posed for photos in front of the Log Cabin logo with the dress designer; they were the most exotically outfitted attendees:

Online, Democratic critics unsheathed their knives. “Your org has accomplished nothing in 40 fucking years as the GOP has gone from bad to worse to Trump on your watch,” the activist and advice columnist Dan Savage wrote in response to a cheery tweet from Angelo celebrating the night. “Go fuck yourselves Log Cabin Republicans,” Savage wrote.

At the Mayflower, after a few minutes of post-speech networking chatter, much of the room cleared out.

Outside the grand ballroom two women in pantsuits walked down the wide marble hallway from the party. They casually held hands for a moment, then unclasped as they approached the crowded lobby.

Next to the front door stood a group of men in well-cut suits in shades of charcoal. It was impossible to tell if they were they from the Log Cabin event or part of the Mayflower’s regular carousel of business guests.

And that, the Log Cabin Republicans would tell you, is exactly the point.