The Conservative Political Action Conference (“CPAC”), taking place next month in Washington, D.C., brings together thousands of conservatives — politicians, writers, activists, and college students — in the country’s largest right-wing gathering. Now in its 40th year, CPAC boasts a long and illustrious record.
A nagging controversy — and, some would say, ugliness — hangs over the event, however. GOProud, the nation’s leading group consisting of gay conservatives and their allies, remains banned (for the second year in a row) from sponsoring or formally participating in the event.
When CPAC released its Schedule of Events, the morning of Friday, February 15th, there was no mention of GOProud, nor its leaders, such as Jimmy LaSalvia or Chris Barron, speaking on any panel or hosting any event. Also missing: any panel focusing on gay conservatives or gay issues. LaSalvia, co-founder and executive director of GOProud, confirmed the group’s exclusion on Twitter that afternoon, explaining: “We got kicked out last year because we are gay. Nothing has changed. We won’t be at #CPAC.”
The news triggered an immediate groundswell of support for GOProud amongst conservatives. Throughout the weekend, many from the Right took to Twitter, expressing anger, frustration, and outrage at CPAC over its exclusion of the popular group. Some conservatives who favor traditional marriage also expressed their support for the group’s presence at the event. Twitchy Team, the Tweets-gathering brainchild of conservative titan Michelle Malkin, posted a sampling of the reaction.
Tweets to the official CPAC Twitter account, however, as well as to its director, Al Cardenas, went unanswered. While many conservatives nonetheless eagerly awaited an announcement that the policy was now reversed, CPAC instead responded with another announcement on Monday morning: Sarah Palin as a featured speaker.
On Tuesday, the UK’s The Guardian covered the story with conservative writer Tom Rogan’s piece: “What GOP Makeover? Gay Republicans are once again excluded from CPAC.” Rogan writes:
“For gay conservatives, CPAC offers a different message: ‘We welcome your votes, but not your participation.’ At a basic level, this political isolationism is immoral. After all, as epitomized in America’s motto, e pluribus unum (out of many, one), the notion of inclusion is embedded in our nation’s essence. But beyond morality, CPAC is suffering from a severe case of political delusion in banning GOProud.”
The following evening, the Huffington Post also ran with the story.
On Saturday morning, left-leaning MSNBC host Chris Hayes, to whom CPAC extended an invitation to participate on a panel, publicly addressed the issue on his show “Up With Chris Hayes,” expressing his disagreement with the ban:
“The point is the principle, which is: it’s not OK to ban organizations for reasons of pure bigotry…. The grand irony is that this year’s CPAC will largely be devoted to debating and brainstorming how to resurrect the electoral fortunes of conservatism in a country in which ‘those people’ now make up a majority, and there are, as GOProud co-founder Chris Barron pointed out to me, several panels even explicitly devoted to inclusion. All this while GOProud is still exiled.“
Hayes’s remarks were more of a sensible challenge than solely a critique, optimistically noting he had written to CPAC Chairman Al Cardenas and that, if the policy were no longer in effect, he would gladly accept the invitation and attend.
CPAC’s response? Hayes’s name was simply removed from the ‘Schedule of Events,’ in a revised list curiously posted only hours after Hayes issued his address.
Despite CPAC’s steadfast refusal to address the matter (at press time of this article, February 25th), the controversy continues to gain steam and support for GOProud only grows louder. On Monday, February 25th, National Review Online editor Dan Foster posted a piece on the site entitled: “GOProud or Go Home: Five reasons CPAC should embrace the gay conservative group.”
A brief recap of GOProud and CPAC’s history:
GOProud was founded in April 2009 by Jimmy LaSalvia and Chris Barron, two former staffers of Log Cabin Republicans (another gay conservative group), who were concerned the latter group was too centrist on its policy positions. Indeed, run down a list of issues and GOProud’s positions on fiscal policy, gun control, abortion, etc., essentially mirror the mainstream Right. One of GOProud’s first acts was to sponsor the 2010 CPAC (which took place in February 2010). Sources say there were immediate internal grumblings and misgivings by a few social-conservative sponsors regarding the gay conservative group’s participation but David Keene, then the long-running head of the American Conservative Union (the organization responsible for CPAC) defended the group’s participation. The following year, however, as the 2011 CPAC approached, and GOProud again signed up as a sponsor, the dispute boiled over and the grumbling few’s voices became louder, erupting into a full-scale boycott by some of the socially-conservative sponsors and invited speakers. As the New York Times reported in a January 2011 piece (“Division on the Right Over Gays in Its Ranks):
“A bitter dispute over whether a gay conservative group should co-sponsor the conservative movement’s largest gathering of the year has led some prominent supporters to withdraw from the event [CPAC] next month…. [S]ome conservative pillars, including church-based groups like the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and Liberty University and others like the Heritage Foundation, are refusing to participate. They are angry that the gay organization, GOProud, has been given a seat at the planning table.”
Mr. Keene, for the second year in a row, however, stuck to his guns and defended the group’s participation as a co-sponsor, stating: “We try to give an umbrella for all the groups that are legitimately conservative on most issues.” Keene was not alone in his view. As the New York Times piece also noted: “Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma and former chairman of the Conservative Union, has urged conservatives to steer clear of prescribing personal behavior. ‘I’ve been proud of David Keene for not letting them hijack the conservative movement, making the definition of conservatism narrower and narrower,’ he said. ‘If independents are driven away, conservatives aren’t going to win elections’.”
So what happened next? GOProud served as a co-sponsor, for the second year in a row, at the 2011 CPAC that February. In April, however, David Keene stepped down from his role to become head of the National Rifle Association. Al Cardenas, a longtime Republican power-player and Cuban-American lawyer from Miami, succeeded Keene and, in July, the CPAC Board held a vote that banned GOProud (along with the John Birch Society) from formally participating as an organization. GOProud was therefore not present at the 2012 CPAC.
Margaret Hoover, in a FoxNews.com Op-Ed, expressed her support for the group and her reasons for declining CPAC’s invitation to speak at the 2012 event:
“This year, GOProud, an organization that I support, is conspicuously excluded from all formal participation despite co-sponsoring the convention for the last two years… A handful of social conservative organizations and individuals that participate in CPAC have bullied the new leadership of the American Conservative Union (ACU) – the organization that puts on CPAC – into excluding GOProud from participating in this year’s convention. For the last two years CPAC, under long time ACU Board Chair David Keene, stared down these forces of intolerance. But this year, behind the scenes, in quiet back room deals, the bigots won.”
A point worth noting…
GOProud does not even actively promote gay marriage (leading many to wonder just what exactly all the fuss is about). In fact, in the hotly contested 2010 California Republican Senate seat primary, the group chose to endorse Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO who favors traditional marriage, over her opponent, the pro-gay marriage Tom Campbell. (So much for the smear that GOProud places gay issues above overall conservative policy.) Only recently has GOProud issued a statement on gay marriage and the group’s position is simply one of deferring to states on the matter: a position many conservatives hold (whether in favor of gay marriage or against).
and a point worth clarifying…
The few conservatives expressing support for the ban often claim their displeasure with GOProud is based on the ‘outing’ of a Rick Perry aide in December 2011 — a wildly misreported and misunderstood incident.
In December 2011, reports surfaced that Andrew Breitbart had resigned from his role on the GOProud advisory board due to the group allegedly ‘outing’ Tony Fabrizio, a Rick Perry campaign advisor. The Perry campaign had produced an ad that was seen by many as strongly anti-gay. GOProud’s LaSalvia, in an interview and through his Tweets, expressed his frustration about a fellow gay individual being involved in the production of such an ad, noting: “It is the height of hypocrisy for Tony Fabrizio to have been a part of that. He has lined his pockets for years with money from the gay community to conduct polls to ostensibly help gay people in this country, and for him to be a part of this is the height of Washington hypocrisy.” Both he and GOProud’s Chris Barron essentially stated, via their Twitter accounts, that Fabrizio was gay.
LaSalvia and Barron were quickly accused of ‘outing’ someone. But, as it turns out, they actually hadn’t. Barron explained in a circulated letter to GOProud’s board members:
“[B]oth Jimmy and I have known Tony for years and have known that he was gay for years. Multiple media outlets contacted us after the Perry ‘Strong’ ad debuted asking our opinion of Fabrizio’s role in the campaign given the anti-gay nature of the ad. Every news outlet that called asked our opinion of a gay man being a part of this campaign’s leadership. As we were responding to these inquiries it never occurred to us that he wasn’t out. We would never intentionally out anyone, but quite honestly, we didn’t think we were outing anyone. If Tony Fabrizio was closeted it was news to both of us.”
The false allegation that LaSalvia and Barron ‘outed’ someone crumbled even further upon impartial review by others. Conservative go-to site HotAir.com’s well-known blogger, ‘Jazz Shaw’, investigated the matter and reported on it, in a piece entitled: “Did GOProud ‘out’ a conservative gay politico?” Short answer: NO. As the column noted:
“Without giving too much away, I’ve been on the phone for a while with several people about this one. The general sentiment seems to be that, at most, Tony’s sexual orientation was one of those ‘secrets everyone knows about’ if it was a secret at all…. But it’s also worth noting that there seems to be a fairly uniform consensus that this was ‘something that was known’…. If he was, in fact, ‘outed’ or – even worse – if an allegation was made about him which was totally untrue, you’d expect to hear some protests coming from him. Aside from a ‘no comment’ that he gave to one reporter, I’m not seeing anything else along those lines…. I tend to take the GOProud reps at their word on this one.”
And Andrew Breitbart himself seems to have had a change of heart about the incident upon reviewing the facts and actually continued to support GOProud until his untimely passing last March. Only weeks before his death, Breitbart referred to GOProud as “an important part of the conservative family,” reaffirming his belief in the “GOP Big Tent.”
Regardless, the incident, when invoked regarding CPAC’s ban, is invalid and irrelevant. Why? The Fabrizio incident occurred months after CPAC’s ban of GOProud and thus clearly had no impact, and nothing to do with, the group’s exclusion.
…And questions worth asking:
a) What exactly are the grounds for excluding GOProud from sponsoring or otherwise formally participating in CPAC? Is there a particular policy position GOProud holds to which CPAC’s Board can point, or is it simply the group’s sexual orientation?
b) Why are certain conservatives with records and positions less conservative than GOProud, or speakers who are pro-gay marriage, invited to speak or allowed to sponsor, while GOProud remains banned?
c) If the CPAC Board is dead-set on excluding GOProud as an organization, why not at least invite Jimmy LaSalvia to speak?
d) In the dozens of panels listed, why is there not a single panel regarding gay issues, gay conservatives, or a debate on gay marriage?
e) To those who say CPAC cannot afford to lose the ‘big money’ sponsors that might pull out again if GOProud is allowed to participate, how then did the 2011 CPAC (which those groups boycotted) function seamlessly?
f) Keeping in mind that GOProud was allowed as a sponsor for two years (2010 and 2011), what grounds are there to deny the group a role that it was previously granted?
In the aforementioned February 2012 Fox News Op-Ed, Hoover wrote: “I hope that in future years the leadership of CPAC recognizes the mistake it has made….”
It does not appear 2013 will be that year.
A. J. Delgado is a conservative writer and graduate of Harvard Law School. You may find her on Twitter at @missADelgado.