Back in October 2007, when I met then-Log Cabin President Patrick Sammon in Washington, D.C., I became convinced that the organization had started to reverse its decline. As I offered my criticisms, Patrick listened, took notes, responded to my points and showed respect for my arguments. His manner stood in stark contrast to the reaction club presidents received in the late 1990s and this blog received in the middle of the current decade when we took issue with his predecessors.
I’ve always believed that one way to determine the strength of an organization is to see how its leaders react to sincere criticism honestly expressed.
It now appears I was wrong about the organization rebounding under Patrick’s leadership. I don’t think he’s to blame for its continuing decline. It was beyond his power–or perhaps anyone’s–to arrest the forces long since in motion which have been driving Log Cabin down.
When I was a Log Cabin club president, I kept hearing from gay Republicans who wanted a gay group to challenge the liberal agenda and anti-Republican rhetoric of the national gay organizations. The national office rarely did that, if at all. Indeed, while eager to take on his fellow Republicans, Sammon’s predecessor Patrick Guerriero
. . . dedicated himself to stopping “the infighting with other LGBT groups.” So concerned he is with this goal that he â€œinstituted a new policy inside Log Cabin: If you speak ill of another LGBT group, that is grounds for dismissal.”
In short, the organization did its best to avoid distinguishing itself from the national gay groups, particularly HRC, which even some liberal bloggers have noted, has become little more than a gay front for the Democratic National Committee.
That failure to offer a different approach to gay issues cost it the support of numerous gay and lesbian Republicans who would otherwise readily support a gay conservative or Republican organization. That failure become magnified when we learned that the group got substantial funding from a leading left-wing philanthropist. Its credibility was shot.
There are other reasons for the decline. Until Sammon took over, the national leadership had developed quite a flair for antagonizing activists and contributors who dared voice their opposition to this or that policy of the national office or posed a threat (in the eyes of the national office) to the standing of the-then Executive Director or President.
In the 1990s, an acquaintance of mine, who had given the organization well over $15,000, left the national board because they continually rebuffed his requests to be less antagonistic to the GOP. Another friend, a man widely respected in D.C. and national gay circles, stopped working for the group after they constantly pushed him aside and had lambasted him for speaking on a national panel on gay issues. The organizers of the event had not included a representative of the national office.
When I read that former Virginia Congressman Tom Davis who once served as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), is addressing the Log Cabin National Convention tonight, I was reminded of a slight the Log Cabin Republican Club of Northern Virginia (LCRC NoVA) endured when I was its president.
You see, through a strategy* developed by leaders and members of our club, we succeeded in getting Davis to speak to our January 1999 meeting. He had then been newly elected as NRCC chair. It was the first time a member of the Republican congressional leadership had addressed a gay group. The event drew a reporter from the Journal newspapers of Northern Virginia (but interestingly not the Washington Blade).
The Journal ran an article on our meeting. Since leaders of the various social conservative groups read that paper, they found out and became very upset, wanting Davis to apologize for attending. He refused. The story made the Washington Post and the Advocate, gave Log Cabin national some free publicity. Never once did the national office thank our club. Indeed, when contacted by the press, the national office even made out that it was their event, despite the fact that not a single representative of national Log Cabin joined us to hear Davis speak.
Instead of praising us for our efforts and our success, they ignored us. When, upon moving to LA and attending a local Log Cabin function in 2000, I told a member of the national board that after the presidential election, the group would need new leadership. I put forward the name of a member of LCRC NoVA who had been instrumental in getting Davis to speak to us.
The board member said he’d heard bad things about that guy from the national office. Why, I wondered, would they trash someone so key to the success of one of their largest (and then-fasting growing) chapters. When I had stepped down as president of Northern Virginia Log Cabin, he stepped up as a Vice-President of the group. They were thus trashing one of their grassroots leaders!
The national office turned potential allies into adversaries. They hadn’t learned from LBJ on how to treat someone who might pose a threat to your power, “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”
With each contributor who ideas they brushed aside, with each club leader whom they insulted over the years, the national office pushed people willing to contribute to the organization outside their tent.Â No longer helping build the organization, they were not criticizing it.
Had Patrick Sammon’s predecessors been more like he, those allies turned adversaries might have been less public in their criticism, choosing to relay their concerns through private channels. But, instead, those critics became a critical mass and I would daresay are providing much of the backing to GOProud.
There are a great variety of reason for the decline of Log Cabin, but the two which stand out to me are (1) the failure to distinguish themselves from the national gay groups and (2) the disrespect shown to internal critics of the organization.
*This post is already longer than anticipated, but if readers are interested in learning the details of this strategy, let me know and I’ll devote a post to it.