NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Members of the Log Cabin Republicans report it’s been “smooth sailing” for them at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference, despite past opposition to their presence at the event.
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said during an interview with the Washington Blade on Thursday near his group’s exhibition booth at the event he’s been treated “incredibly well.”
“I was actually taken aback with the lack of controversy surrounding our acceptance as sponsors,” Angelo said. “I was anticipating there would be more blowback than there has been, and this is only the first day of CPAC, but thus far, it’s essentially been smooth sailing.”
At the booth in the exhibit hall, manned alternately by Angelo and one of eight volunteers assisting him, CPAC attendees of various ages and ethnicities visit and inquire about Log Cabin. As of early Thursday, Angelo said he had about 50 new people register with the organization.
Booth visitors are given a four-point informational card about Log Cabin. It says Log Cabin is the only gay group to oppose the Iran deal, Obamacare, the estate tax and Hillary Clinton for her “hypocrisy on gay rights.”
Angelo, who announced his group would sponsor CPAC during a D.C. Log Cabin meeting last month, said Log Cabin is taking the opportunity of CPAC to discuss the organization’s views on issues other than gay rights, such as its support for marriage equality or LGBT non-discrimination laws.
“There had been hundreds — at least a thousand at this point — college-aged students who have come up to the Log Cabin Republicans booth to either say, ‘I am a member of Log Cabin Republicans,’ or, ‘Hey, I’m a student in college, I’m a straight ally and I totally support you guys being here and I’m really glad you guys hit this historic milestone,'” Angelo said.
None of the conversations at the CPAC booth have resulted in arguments, Angelo said, although he confessed skeptics had come to the booth.
“Civil discourse and debate is part of what makes me proud to be a conservative, and, yes, there has been some civil discourse and debate,” Angelo said.
In talks with CPAC attendees, Angelo said the issue that has resonated most with Christian conservatives is Log Cabin’s opposition to the Iran deal and concerns about human rights atrocities there and at the hands of ISIS, especially toward LGBT people.
“Let’s talk about pro-life in regards to helping our gay brothers and sisters across the ocean in the Middle East,” Angelo said. “That shows me that there’s potential for there to be common ground.”
The American Conservative Union, which organizes CPAC, has a history of reluctance to accept gay conservative groups at CPAC, but that seems to have abated in 2016. The most famous instance of hostility is CPAC’s relationship with the now defunct gay conservative group GOProud.
After GOProud sponsored CPAC in 2010 and 2011, CPAC banned GOProud from sponsoring the event along with the John Birch Society. GOProud claimed it was banned for being a gay group, but the ACU cited bad behavior. (GOProud’s board chair Chris Barron called anti-gay former ACU board member Cleta Mitchell a “nasty bigot.” He later apologized, then later apologized for the apology upon leaving GOProud.)
It’s unclear whether 2016 marks the first time Log Cabin has sponsored CPAC. A source familiar with Log Cabin said the group sponsored the event in 2005, but Angelo minimized any participation at that time, saying it may have been the Liberty Education Forum, an arm of Log Cabin, distributing fliers.
“To my knowledge, people have said that as far as they’re concerned this is the first time Log Cabin Republicans has been able to be formal sponsors of the event, with our logo on the signage of the event as well as an exhibitor space here, but I’m not 100 percent sure,” Angelo said. “It’s fair to say the first time in over 10 years.”
Angelo declined to disclose the cost of Log Cabin’s sponsorship for the CPAC event, but the CPAC website shows that the cost of the level of sponsorship that Angelo described is $7,500.
Last year, there was acrimony between Log Cabin and CPAC when the gay group accused the ACU of rebuffing the organization’s request to sponsor the 2015 convention. The conflict, which erupted in the media, resulted in Angelo getting a speaking slot for a panel on Putin’s Russia for which attendees crowded the room.
Angelo said the opportunity to speak last year “represented something of an 11th hour detente” between Log Cabin and CPAC. Angelo confessed he didn’t seek a speaking opportunity this year, but said getting sponsorship and not a speaking slot is somewhat of a trade-off.
“Speaking would have been nice,” Angelo said. “Sponsorship is nice. Speaking and having sponsorship would be even better.”
The Log Cabin booth in the exhibition hall is notably separate from the booths for the anti-LGBT Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage. Angelo scoffed when the Blade asked if he had confronted officials at those booths, saying, “Why would I do that?”
“I’m not coming here to be a firebrand, neither is anyone of our volunteers at Log Cabin Republicans,” Angelo said. “By the time the weekend is said and done, yeah, I might go down to the Family Research Council and the Faith & Freedom Council to introduce myself, but nothing more than that.”
Unlike in years past when GOProud was sponsoring CPAC and those anti-gay groups were critical of the decision to allow them to participate, they had nothing to say this time around about Log Cabin’s participation.
But one Catholic-affiliated group whose members are known for wearing red sashes, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family & Property, did object in a news statement.
“Ronald Reagan gave us a brilliant metaphor. He said the stability and unity of the conservative movement is like a stool with three legs — social, fiscal and defense conservatives,” said TFP director Preston Noell III. “By giving the homosexual movement a platform of legitimacy, CPAC organizers are cutting off one of the legs — pro-family, pro-God Americans — and the stool will come crashing down. And that’s exactly what the Left wants.”
Angelo said TFP has “been nothing if not consistent” about opposition to LGBT groups participating in CPAC.
“I am disheartened that they decided to put out a press release against Log Cabin Republicans before even just letting me know that they’d be putting that out, let alone trying to engage with us to find out what it is that we’ve been discussing here at CPAC,” Angelo said.
But Angelo said he hopes his organization’s presence at the event will make it so any sort of conflict between the group and attendees will be a thing of the past.
“It’s my hope that by … Saturday afternoon, people will realize that Log Cabin Republicans has a valuable role to play in this conservative movement, and also realize looking back that this perennial fight Log Cabin Republicans has had with CPAC, its organizers and participating organizations regarding our sponsorship is really just a silly waste of time,” Angelo said.