Each day this week, I will try to write about one aspect of the LCR convention this past weekend in New Orleans. Today, I will address my biggest criticism of the event, the relative lack of debate in New Orleans. To be sure, there were diverse perspectives on a number of panels.
It might have spiced things up, however, had they invited an opponent of gay marriage to the panel which considered the topic. That panel, “Protecting our Families” did offer some interesting exchanges between Dartmouth Professor Steve Swayne and gay marriage advocate Evan Wolfson as well as thoughtful commentary by Dale Carpenter. The panel on “New Strategies for Ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” did not include anyone who (like your humble blogger) opposed this great injustice and folly, yet was wary of seeking to overturn the ban in the courts.
Nor was there an official event to debate the wisdom of LCR’s non-endorsement of President Bush given our Republican president’s decisive victory last November, a victory where he retained approximately 90% of the gay vote he received in 2000. I was, however, able to generate discussion of the issue when I spoke with individuals at the convention. One reader of this blog (a supporter of the president who last fall faulted Log Cabin for the non-endorsement) told me he thought that, in retrospect, the organization had done the right thing as their support for several items on the president’s agenda now holds more meaning.
A number, including several who voted for President Bush, also thought that LCR did the right thing, though offering different reasons that our reader. They felt that LCR had to make clear that the president’s support of the Federal Marriage Amendment had consequences. Others thought that Log Cabin had burned bridges to the White House and GOP, gaining publicity while damaging the president’s chances for reelection. A healthy number suggested LCR could have qualified the endorsement by noting the stakes in the presidential election and the incompetence of John Kerry to address global threats.
This discussion came not because the program encouraged it, but because of my prodding.
Not only did the convention lack debate on LCR’s past policies, it also failed to include debate on LCR’s future direction. At most organizations’ conventions, there is a plenary (or something similar) where delegates from chapters around the country discuss organization business, debate and vote on organization policy for the coming term and elect board members and officers. There was no such plenary and the LCR convention no longer elects any leader of the organization as it did prior to 1999.
Perhaps, it is this absence of debate which accounted for the relative small size of the convention. Only about 220 people attended the festive banquet Saturday night. Indeed, the convention didn’t seem much bigger than the one I attended in Dallas in 1998, though it is clear the organization has grown since then. I believe that if members knew that by coming to the convention they could have a stake in setting organization policy, they would have been more likely to attend the conclave.
As I mentioned in a post from New Orleans, Patrick has done a great job of reducing the tension between the national office and the clubs. Club leaders described him as accessible, friendly, eager to listen and willing to address their concerns. As a past club officer and president, I recognize the significance of these accomplishments and applaud him for taking the clubs seriously.
He needs to build on the goodwill he has established with the grassroots by inviting them to participate in LCR policy in a more formal way. He should lobby the board to open next year’s convention up more to the clubs and their members. Let them have a stake in setting LCR policy. Amend the bylaws so that the clubs — and members of LCR in general — elect Board members and officers.
Not only that. Invite club leaders and members (or even bloggers) who disagree with LCR policy to debate it in public fora. The organization is strong enough to withstand internal debate. Dare to be controversial and debate issues that too many in the gay world take for granted.
The panel, “Protecting Our Families,” was perhaps the most engaging because Steve Swayne challenged Evan Wolfson’s comments while Dale Carpenter faulted Wolfson’s strategy (while agreeing with his goal) for establishing gay marriage in the United States. That panel was as engaging as it was because the Liberty Education Forum (LEF) included three people with different perspectives.
Just as the LEF invited a liberal like Evan Wolfson, it should consider next year inviting conservatives, including opponents of policies that Log Cabin and other gay organizations support. Bring in a neo-conservative to debate Hate Crimes’ laws. A libertarian who opposes the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). A social conservative who opposes gay marriage. Let them debate LEF or LCR allies and then give LCR members ample opportunity to challenge the speakers in a public forum. Such speakers would generate controversy, encouraging more members to attend and attracting the notice of the media.
I have been impressed by many changes in Log Cabin. It is clearly a stronger organization than it was when I was last involved in the 1990s. It has more members and greater resources. The tensions between national and the clubs have all but vanished.
Much stronger than it was, it can weather a good debate. More than just weather that debate. Use that debate to LCR grow even more. That very debate would help make gay conservatives, like those who read this blog, feel more welcome in the organization. LCR would thus be building a bigger tent to better accommodate the diverse views of all gay Republicans.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com