From the moment I walked into the “Welcome Reception” last Thursday at the Liberty Education Forum Symposium/Log Cabin National Convention in New Orleans, I could feel that things had changed since my last Log Cabin Convention in 1998. Gone was the tension between the clubs and the national office. I observed LCR President Patrick Guerriero mingling with the crowd, talking to chapter leaders just as he talked to national Board members.
This has certainly been the biggest change in the organization. When I was a club president, my fellow presidents and I found that the national office staff frequently didn’t return our phone calls and often failed to respond to our e-mails. Listening to the chapter reports on Saturday morning, I heard club presidents and other officers praise the national office for quickly responding to their concerns. They were particularly impressed with LCR National Field Director Jeff Cook who has traveled the country, helping build clubs and serving as a liaison with the local leaders and LCR national.
In New Orleans, there was a private reception for chapter presidents togther with the boards of LCR and LEF. A sign that LCR national recognizes that the clubs — and their leaders — are an integral part of the organization. When I talked to club leaders, even those who disagreed with the national office on the non-endorsement of President Bush and several policy issues, they all agreed that Patrick and Political Director Chris Barron had demonstrated a commitment to work with them; the national staff was attentive to their concerns, their phone calls were returned.
At the convention, national staff and Board members socialized with club leaders and others. They didn’t separate into their own corners and look suspiciously at one another. As Eva Young noted in a comment to a previous post, LCR has a “number of new leaders who are energized and engaged — and goal oriented.” Patrick welcomed the staff onto the stage and acknowledged their efforts. Eva notes, “That’s a big difference from the old days.” Yes, a change for the better.
In addition to a more engaged leadership, I saw a number of other improvements at the convention. Earlier this week, I noted the Saturday morning panel, “Saving Social Security,” which was one of the two best this weekend (the other being the Friday panel, “Protecting Our Families,” which addressed gay marriage and civil unions). Log Cabin has been the only gay group to champion Social Security reform, recognizing that the president’s proposed Personal Savings Accounts help gay men and lesbians because they allow us, as Chris Barron put it, “to leave a portion of their Social Security benefits to [our] partner or whom ever [we] choose.”
Eva sent me a link to an article which noted that Patrick had signed a letter supporting the plan “as part of a coalition that includes a group criticized for anti-gay attacks.” While a handful of gay activists have faulted LCR for joining up with this group, Chris noted, “It doesn’t matter who signed this letter. I want gay and lesbian families to be able to pass a portion of benefits on to loved ones, something they can’t do presently under Social Security.”
This statement shows another big change I observed in New Orleans. Log Cabin has learned that in politics, you must often build unusual coalitions. To promote this legislation which they see as benefiting gay people, LCR has signed on with other groups, each of whom likely might see different advantages from the same policy. Just as Log Cabin did the right thing in joining forces with other gay groups to defeat the Federal Marriage Amendment, it is now doing the right thing in joining forces with conservative groups to work for Social Security reform.
And it’s not just Social Security Reform where Log Cabin has shown a willingness to work with conservatives. As I reported in February, LCR co-sponsored the American Conservative Union’s (ACU) Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the most important annual gathering of conservatives in Washington. I was delighted that LCR recognized the importance of this event and its significance to the conservative moment. (I was pleased that the ACUhad allowed LCR to co-sponsor this event, given that some social conservatives would certainly grouse at sharing the platform with a gay organization.)
As a gay Republican organization, Log Cabin needs to build coalitions with both gay and conservative organizations. These coalitions will differ from issue to issue. In the past, they have worked closely, perhaps too closely, with gay groups. Now, we see them beginning to work more closely with conservative groups.
I hope that this coalition on Social Security reform is only the beginning. Let’s hope LCR teams up with right-of-center groups for other such conservative reform proposals, especially when the proposal benefits gay people. They could work, for example, to repeal the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill and to eliminate federal funding for broadcast media.
To be sure, if they build coalitions with conservative groups on such issues, they will likely earn the ire of gay leaders and activists, as they did when they signed on to the coalition backing Social Security reform. But, when they do that, they will gain the respect of many in the conservative movement, particularly conservative gays who are eager to see a gay group promote issues that most gay organizations ignore.
Reaching out to conservative groups as well as to its own chapter leaders and club members, Log Cabin leaders have taken some big steps toward improving the organization. They still have a way to go to reassure gay — and other — Republicans of their commitment to the GOP, especially considering their failure last fall to endorse the president’s re-election. LCR needs to address this, especially in light of last fall’s election where the president won 90% of the gay and lesbian vote he received in 2000.
This will be the last of my “Reports from New Orleans.” I deliberately chose to end on a positive note, highlighting some of LCR’s accomplishments. In these reports, I have been critical of certain things I observed at the convention, but have recognized many improvements in the organization. I may have more to say about the convention in coming posts, but will close this series today, noting the warm welcome I received in New Orleans.
It is a clear that a different spirit animates Log Cabin that the spirit which animated the organization I left at the end of the Clinton era. The leadership is far more engaged with its own grassroots. And it is showing signs of increased cooperation with the Bush Administration and the conservative movement. Let us hope that the progress continues, that that national office continues to work with clubs as it helps build a more inclusive Republican majority in Washington and in states, both “red” and “blue,” across the country.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com