September 29, 2016 at 5:46 am EDT | by Chris Johnson
Gingrich seeks unity with gays against ‘Islamic supremacism’
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Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich speaks at the Log Cabin Republican 2016 Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Washington on Sept. 28. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Newt Gingrich is at odds with the LGBT movement in just about every way, but Wednesday night he urged gay Republicans to stand with him based on common beliefs — including concern over countries where he says Islamic extremism and anti-gay hostility exist.

The former speaker of the U.S. House — who pushed through the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act during his tenure in Congress and remains opposed to same-sex marriage — was the keynote speaker at the National Log Cabin Republicans’ annual “Spirit of Lincoln” dinner at D.C.’s Grand Hyatt hotel.

Before the more than 200 attendees, Gingrich said “some who are shallow and cynical may wonder why I’m here,” adding he believes in bringing others to the Republican Party and “lives could literally depend” on the outcome of the election.

Gingrich said many Republicans, including conservatives, have failed to advance “the cause of freedom” out of an unwillingness to listen to others with different views.

“We have to find common areas where everybody who believes in freedom can be in the same room and then talk through our differences and recognize, by the way, when we’re done talking we may not have ended the differences, but we may have created limited progress that we can live with each other despite the differences, not by eliminating the differences,” Gingrich said.

Invoking the presidencies of both Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, Gingrich recalled Reagan’s opposition in 1978 to the Briggs Initiative, which would have banned gay people from teaching in California.

“Ronald Reagan, and a large part of the Republican Party, thought it was a terrible idea because it was the government violating the privacy of individuals and it was a fundamental extension of government power,” Gingrich said. “If you read Reagan’s key essay, which he personally wrote on this issue, he was very, very opposed to the extension of government power and of government dictating things to us.”

Gingrich credited Reagan for having “led the effort” against the Briggs Initiative, saying the measure was defeated at the ballot so badly its supporters “were shocked how big the defeat was.”

A greater coalition in the Republican Party is needed, Gingrich said, because of “challenges, which are existential and would literally eliminate our ability to have meetings like this.” Echoing remarks he delivered at the Republican National Convention on the threat to LGBT people by Islamic extremism, Gingrich identified “Islamic supremacism” and domestic terrorism as two critical issues.

Raising fears about Islamic immigration, he claimed France has “no-go zones” where the police won’t enter, requiring the military to intervene, and he alleged that Great Britain has 85 Sharia courts and Sharia patrols, which he said are anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, anti-female and anti-gay.

“It’s always puzzled me why we haven’t been able to find some coalitional way to reach across our domestic arguments and realize that if you’re a feminist, you should be horrified by what happens to women, if you’re gay, you should be horrified by what happens to gays,” Gingrich added.

Gingrich placed the blame on countries with anti-gay laws squarely on Hillary Clinton, referencing the death penalty for gay people in Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania.

“Under Secretary Clinton, how much effort — we have not found any in her emails — any effort to change those countries,” Gingrich said. (Actually, the Clinton emails the State Department made public revealed she had an interest in international LGBT rights, including stopping the ‘Anti-Homosexuality Law’ in Uganda.)

Citing donations to the Clinton Foundation from countries with anti-gay laws like Saudi Arabia, which donated $25 million to the organization, Gingrich said Bill and Hillary Clinton were unconcerned about the practices and merely said, “Give me the money.” Gingrich also said Bill Clinton delivered a speech for $1 million at UAE without asking for “something like women’s liberation, gay liberation, the right to have a Christian church or a synagogue.”

“When you look at a country where if you’re Christian, you’re being destroyed, if you’re Jewish, you’re being destroyed, if you’re gay, you’re being destroyed, a lot of these have common grounds to at least start a conversation that maybe these are common enemies of all of us, and maybe if you believe in freedom you want to beat all of these people,” Gingrich said.

Although the Clinton Foundation accepted money from countries with anti-gay laws, the foundation has a strong record of humanitarian work, such as increasing access to HIV/AIDS drugs overseas. As secretary of state, Clinton proclaimed “gay rights are human rights” during a speech in Geneva in 2011.

Gingrich also sought unity between LGBT people and the conservative movement on other issues. In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., which left 49 dead and 53 wounded, Gingrich said the shooting — as well as the terrorist attack in Paris — was “horrendous,” but said less gun control, not more, is the answer.

“I actually am one of the people who believes in concealed carry because it wouldn’t have taken very many people to save an amazing number of lives,” Gingrich said to applause.

Gingrich also criticized CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who during an interview derided Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi over saying those who attack LGBT people would be prosecuted after she worked against litigation seeking same-sex marriage in Florida.

“I can disagree with you about certain legal technicalities and not want to kill any of you,” Gingrich said, adding the idea that “if you’re not totally for Anderson Cooper’s worldview you must be evil is one of things that’s sick about the American media today.”

Following Donald Trump’s widely panned performance during his first debate with Clinton, Gingrich said he would recover and insisted Trump “strategically won” the debate.

Gingrich also sided with Trump over his comments on the appearance of 1996 Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, whom Clinton brought up at the end of the debate as someone who has become a U.S. citizen and will vote against the Republican candidate.

“This poor woman must be on the edge of collapse 20 years later because he said mean things to her,” Gingrich said in a mocking tone. “She did, of course, violate her contract. You’re not supposed to gain 60 pounds the year you’re Miss Universe.”

Introducing Gingrich was Rachel Hoff, a lesbian member of the 2016 Republican platform committee who sought, unsuccessfully, to strip the document of its anti-gay language. Hoff said while she didn’t expect during his speech he would endorse same-sex marriage or LGBT non-discrimination, it “would be wonderful” if he did.

Gingrich made no such proclamations, but at the beginning of his speech said his lesbian sister Candace Gingrich, whom he said works at the “Human Rights Coalition,” would work with her on those issues.

Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, cited Gingrich’s words when asked if he’s disappointed the former speaker hasn’t come around on issues like same-sex marriage and LGBT non-discrimination.

“He never came here to give any earth-shattering revelation,” Angelo said. “He came here tonight to have a conversation with Log Cabin Republicans to show that despite our differences, there’s more that unites us as members of the same political party than divides us.”

The event took place as Log Cabin continues to mull whether to endorse Trump. Although a board meeting to discuss the issue took place on the day of the dinner, Angelo said no decision was made but “we started a conversation today and the conversation is going to continue.” Angelo said he doesn’t know when the decision will be made.

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Log Cabin Republican President Gregory T. Angelo speaks at the 2016 Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Grand Hyatt Washington on Sept. 28. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

When the Blade asked Gingrich how he justifies speaking at a gay organization’s event, Gingrich said he’s “a practicing Catholic, and therefore, I’m for traditional marriage,” but recognizes in that audience he’d be in the “extreme minority” and wants to start a dialogue.

“Two of my wife’s closest friends have been married under the new laws and we went to both marriages because they’re intimate personal friends of ours, and they’re operating within the law, and therefore — we were comfortable as friends before that — but we’re very comfortable going under those circumstances,” Gingrich said. “That doesn’t mean I give up an inch on what I believe personally about the sanctity of marriage and marriage being between a man and a woman, which is a core Catholic belief.”

Gingrich also told the Blade he doesn’t think Trump would roll back the advances seen on LGBT issues in the past year if elected president.

“I think you’d see the continued effort to find how we have a common dialogue not to roll anything back, but to bring the country together,” Gingrich said. “Can we have tolerance for people with deep religious passions and tolerance for people who have dramatically different beliefs? Or does one side have to win a totalitarian war?”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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