R. Clarke Cooper had a varied and impressive career before taking the helm of Log Cabin Republicans last year.
Immediately prior, the Tallahassee, Fla., native worked as a lobbyist for an American-Indian client. He’d previously spent three years in Iraq, working variously in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs and on active duty as a member of the Army reserve. He was also a counselor at the United States Mission at the United Nations and a legislative affairs adviser for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
He started in the Bush administration in 2001 as assistant director of the National Park Service for Legislative and Congressional Affairs and had previously worked for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in Washington in that state’s Federal Affairs Office.
So how does one go from being in the Army reserves and working in the Bush administration to head of Log Cabin Republicans? Cooper says it was never as much of an issue as one might imagine.
“I was very open to the government about my orientation,” he says. “I wanted to mitigate any chances of blackmail that could compromise national security. … No one decided to target me, or if they did it had no influence.”
Cooper, who’d been active in Log Cabin prior to joining its staff, speaks highly of Bush and his administration’s policies. He says gay and lesbian couples were always treated respectfully and partners’ names were included on White House invitations. Cooper supported the invasion of Iraq “based on the intelligence we had at the time.” And he supported House Speaker John Boehner through the debt ceiling controversy.
Cooper and his boyfriend of six months, Erik (Cooper declines to share his last name), plan to wed but have no timeframe in mind yet. He says they knew early on in the relationship that it had long-term potential. They’re in the process of combining households now.
He lives in Meridian Hill and is still in the Army reserves as a strategic intelligence officer. He relaxes by running with his Jack Russell Terrier Zack. (Blade photos by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I’ve been out since 2001. Telling family members was the most difficult part of coming out, but it turned out to be a very affirming aspect of being out.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
My late godfather, Uncle Larry. He and his partner Bob were my initial support network and provided me the sense that everything was going to be just fine.
What is Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
For nostalgia, a drink or comfort food, I head to Billy Martin’s Tavern. My mother’s parents had a few dates there prior to World War II. For just getting a drink, either the bar at The Palm or the much beloved and low-key Tune Inn on Capitol Hill.
Describe your dream wedding.
Erik and I have talked about inviting family and friends to an Episcopal wedding ceremony along with a reception. We have yet to discuss scope or details.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
National security and foreign policy are personal and professional interests.
What historical outcome would you change?
As carved into the National Archives, “What is past is prologue.” So while history cannot be changed, it is incumbent upon us to affect our present and advance to the future. As Abraham Lincoln often said, “onward and upward.”
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Having post-concert drinks with one of my best friends and the B-52s. It was totally random, which made it even more fun.
On what do you insist?
Applying protocol and respect in personal and professional engagement.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Pax Americana and a Life after the Cold War”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
My orientation is God given. No need to change it.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Christ is my savior and through him there is eternal life.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Be respectful when messaging and be mindful of one’s audience when educating an elected official or a particular group. There are many potential allies for our community. Also, showing appreciation for support of our community will encourage current allies and help develop new ones.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My feet are so calloused from rowing crew in school and later Army boots, I probably could walk across coals without issue.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
LGBT voters are monolithic. Many LGBT voters do have a global perspective, and yes, some of us are conservative.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Clueless.” Hilarious 20th century take on Jane Austin’s “Emma.” Like many high school girls, Cher naively and repeatedly fails to recognize a boy she wants to date is gay. This is even after watching Spartacus with him!
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Lengthy receiving lines at an event could be dispensed with or at least reduced down to five people or less in a line.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
No answer — I don’t want to jinx myself.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Coming out was not the lonely and horrible experience I had conjured up in my mind. Turns out, coming out was a tremendous relief.
I chose Washington because it is our nation’s capital. Immediately after my senior year of university, I arrived in D.C. like many policy wonks before me to serve as a congressional intern. The member I interned for was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She hired me on her staff at the end of the summer and has remained a friend and mentor throughout my career.