High-dollar donors seeking to make the Republican Party more LGBT-inclusive are set to gather in D.C. on Thursday for a closed-door conference, according to four sources familiar with the event.
The American Unity Conference is set to begin Thursday morning at the Hay Adams Hotel on H and 16th streets, N.W. It’s hosted by the same pro-LGBT Republican advocates behind the American Unity Fund and the American Unity PAC, related groups that seek to elect pro-LGBT Republican candidates and encourage GOP support for LGBT rights.
Both organizations are funded by Paul Singer, a billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist who backs LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. His son, Andrew Singer, is gay.
Although the meeting is confidential and off-the-record, the Washington Blade learned limited details based on information from sources familiar with the conference. The American Unity Fund didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, is set to speak at the event, according to the sources, despite his record as a Democratic operative. HRC didn’t respond to a request for comment.
One source said Griffin’s role is scheduled to be limited to an introduction of Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general under the Bush administration who was lead counsel in the federal lawsuit against California’s Proposition 8 and pending litigation challenging Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage.
It’s not the first time Griffin has worked with Singer to advance LGBT rights. In January, HRC under Griffin organized two events on international LGBT rights with Singer at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Also coordinating the event was Dan Loeb, a hedge fund manager who was among the signers of a Republican friend-of-the-court brief before the Supreme Court ruling against California’s Proposition 8.
Americans for Workplace Opportunity, which was set up by Griffin as a collaborative project with other pro-LGBT groups to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also reportedly took $375,000 from Singer to encourage House members to vote for the bill.
Singer himself is scheduled to deliver remarks at the Hay Adams at 8:30 a.m. to kick off the event, according to one source.
The same source said other scheduled speakers are Ken Mehlman, the former chair of the Republican National Committee who later came out as gay and has since worked to advance marriage equality; and Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), one of four House Republicans who support same-sex marriage and one of eight House Republicans who co-sponsor ENDA.
Also slated to attend is Dan Innis, a gay former dean of business at the University of New Hampshire who recently lost his bid to represent the state’s 1st congressional district in the U.S. House.
Innis talked about his excitement about attending the conference on Wednesday via Twitter.
— Daniel Innis (@daninnis) October 1, 2014
One panel that plans to discuss ENDA consists of former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and former U.S. Rep. Tom Reynolds, one source said. Both are former members of Congress who have lobbied on Capitol Hill for ENDA on behalf of the American Unity Fund. Set to moderate the panel is Sally Vastola, a senior policy adviser for Nixon Peabody who’s also advocated for ENDA.
Dent is also set to speak on the ENDA panel, according to the source, which is notable because he’s publicly called for passing the Senate-passed ENDA as an amendment to a larger bill to ensure the legislation makes its way to President Obama’s desk.
Shawn Miller, a Dent spokesperson, clarified the panel on which his boss is set to participate plans to discuss ENDA specifically, but also other LGBT issues.
State legislators who are set to attend, according to the source, are Holly Raschein, a Republican state House representative from Florida; Stephen Urquhart, a Republican state senator from Utah; and Frank LaRose, another Republican state senator from Ohio.
Scheduled business representation includes Dan Bross, Microsoft’s senior director of corporate citizenship, and Michael Wascom, managing director for international and governmental affairs at American Airlines, one source said.
Matt Miller, an American Airlines spokesperson, said Wascom was invited to the American Unity Conference to talk about his company’s experience “as a leader among all corporations in the areas of diversity and inclusion.”
“For nearly two decades, American Airlines has been a pioneer in its fair-minded policies and practices for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender customers and employees,” Miller said. “American has consistently held the highest possible ranking on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index and remains the most gay-friendly of all U.S. airlines through its generous partnerships with the LGBT community, as well as its loyalty and respect for customers, employees and shareholders, and unflagging commitment to diversity.”
With the exception of Dent’s office and American Airlines, none of the aforementioned scheduled participants responded to the Washington Blade’s request for comment on the conference.