The nation may be in the middle of a fracas ahead of the upcoming presidential election and uncertainty over leadership in Congress, but the annual Log Cabin Republicans dinner on Thursday stood in contrast as a love fest for LGBT attendees and Republicans who support them.
The “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner, which took place at the Grand Hyatt in D.C., was largely without political rancor and more a showing of solidarity with LGBT people from a party that has an anti-LGBT reputation and a platform that opposes their rights. More than 200 people were estimated to be in attendance.
Keynoting the address was Paul Wolfowitz, a former World Bank president and current Jeb Bush foreign policy adviser, who touted being among 131 Republicans who signed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule in favor of same-sex marriage.
“I believe, as a Republican, it’s important for the future of the party, for the future of the country, that we not cede this issue to the Democrats,” Wolfowitz said.
Commending attendees for their courage not just for coming out as gay, but as gay Republicans, Wolfowitz recalled efforts by Republican hero Ronald Reagan against the Briggs Initiative, a 1978 measure that would have barred gay people from teaching in California’s public schools.
“I believe that if our party continues to be seen as opposing the basic rights of gays and lesbians, we will not only lose that community —somebody said to me we lost that already, obviously not in this room — but we’ll also lose a much larger community, the community of the younger generation,” Wolfowitz said.
But Wolfowitz, who was deputy secretary of defense at the Pentagon under the George W. Bush administration at the height of the Iraq war, also stressed that the United States needs to take a more active role in promoting “its ideals of freedom and equality” overseas.
“Those values are facing serious challenges on the world stage,” Wolfowitz said, adding if the United States fails to defend them, the country will be weaker.
Wolfowitz criticized President Obama for his foreign policy generally, citing the situation in Syria in which Russian planes have been defending President Bashar al-Assad. But Wolfowitz also indicated Obama hasn’t done enough for LGBT rights, taking Obama to task for meeting with Malaysia’s leader, but not a political prisoner in the country considered falsely held under an anti-sodomy law.
“Simply being recognized by the United States makes all the difference in the world,” Wolfowitz said.
Referencing acts by the Islamic State of Iraq & Syria of throwing men perceived as gay from rooftops, Wolfowitz referred to the group as “absolute barbaric people.” Upon pointing out Log Cabin was the only LGBT group to oppose the Iran deal, Wolfowitz received significant applause from the audience.
Wolfowitz delivered the keynote address at the dinner in place of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, who was scheduled to speak but was unable to attend because of a medical issue; he instead spoke via video. In addition to touting his signature on the Republican marriage brief, Baker promoted the idea of a “big tent” Republican Party.
“This message of equal opportunity, choice and respect is a winning message,” Baker said. “I talked about it day after day on the campaign trail here in Massachusetts and it paid off. It also resonated in cities, where some people told me they never met a Republican before.”
Gregory Angelo, head of Log Cabin Republicans, delivered remarks intended to energize the crowd as opposed to making a political statement.
“So many members of Congress are here; so many who are allies,” Angelo said. “And so many who are not allies — yet. We don’t look at other Republicans as enemies; just future allies.”
Angelo promoted two pieces of internal news: His change in title from executive director to president; and the creation of new chapters in Arkansas and Massachusetts.
At one point during the dinner, a video was played portraying pro-LGBT congressional Republicans as “Super Friends” from the 1970s-era cartoon show of super heroes. Attendees erupted into their loudest applause when the image of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) in blue tights and a yellow cape appeared.
Not a single comment was made about any of the presidential candidates — Democratic or Republican — nor was anything said about the biggest news of the day for Republicans: the announcement from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy he was withdrawing his candidacy to become the U.S. House Speaker and the congressional vote on leadership would be postponed.
Among the high-profile attendees seen at the reception were Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Joseph Heck (R-Nev.), Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.), tax reform advocate Grover Norquist, gay former Rep. Jim Kolbe, American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp and gay former congressional candidate Richard Tisei.
Ana Navarro, a Republican political commentator who supports LGBT rights, underscored the importance of mutual support when asked why LGBT people should support the GOP.
“Because they pay taxes, too,” Navarro said. “Because they need jobs, too. Because they don’t like government intrusion either. I think it should be both ways. I think the Republican Party should be supporting LGBT and LGBT should be supporting the Republican Party. We need to broaden the tent, and we definitely need to find room in the tent for LGBT. The more LGBT, the merrier in the Republican Party.”