This is a strange time to be a gay Republican—and especially a gay Republican in Dallas. On the national level, with President Obama coming out for same-sex marriage while conservative leaders hold steady on their position against it, the 2012 election cycle presents a dilemma for gay Republicans. They are called self-loathing, told that they’re undermining their own civil rights by casting their lot with a constituency that has historically considered the gays a hell-bound bunch of heathens. The situation forces groups like the Log Cabin Republicans, the most famous and oldest national gay conservative lobbying organization, to advocate for candidates who oppose granting them certain rights, arguing that nobody should be a single-issue voter.
But over the last year, gay conservative activists in North Texas—of which there are perhaps only several dozen—have faced a different dilemma. Internecine strife has split the Log Cabin Republicans into two opposing camps. The rift in leadership resembles the divide in the national Republican party. On one side there are the stately conservatives (the ones occasionally willing to work with the opposition), and on the other side there are the cocksure Tea Party types, many of which are still focused on birth certificates.
Everything fell apart in October. The national Log Cabin Republicans organization announced that it was dechartering the Dallas chapter and released a statement saying that Rob Schlein, the chapter’s president, had “engaged in a consistent pattern of behavior that detracts from the mission of our organization.”
Was it embezzlement? A sex scandal? Drugs?
Worse: Schlein had invited the founding members of GOProud to speak at the Grand Ol’ Party, a Log Cabin fundraiser held at the Hilton Anatole. GOProud is a national organization started in 2009 by former Log Cabin Republicans who felt the group wasn’t conservative enough. Prominent members include provocateur Ann Coulter and Grover Norquist, of never-raise-taxes-under-any-circumstance-ever fame. Schlein also wrote an op-ed in the Dallas Voice saying he would support Rick Perry for president if the governor won the party’s nomination. (“It was right when he was surging,” Schlein says now in his defense.) The national Log Cabin organization’s bylaws forbid chapters from endorsing their own candidates for federal office, and, obviously, giving the podium to someone who had left the fold didn’t please headquarters.
“When we advocate for change within the party, we want to be taken seriously,” national Log Cabin executive director R. Clarke Cooper tells me. “So it’s very important that we stick to our own bylaws.”
Schlein says his dismissal was really more about personal differences. He says Cooper was “operating more like a Democrat, taking a heavy-handed, top-down approach.”
He knew he and Cooper had differences—“It takes two to tango,” he says—but the news was still a surprise. Schlein points out that under his leadership, the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin won chapter of the year. Dallas even hosted a national Log Cabin convention, which was previously scheduled to take place in Atlanta. “It was just really hurtful,” he says. “I thought I had friends in the national organization.”
For all his shock, Schlein does concede that he and many members of the Dallas chapter had already considered disaffiliating. “Members of the national board were talking a lot about gay marriage and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” he says. “Those are liberal issues. We’re conservative. We’re American. We believe in limited, small government. Those are the issues we need to be pushing.” Schlein points out that as far as marriage equality is concerned, the world leader is France. “That’s a country with 25 percent unemployment! Is that what we want?”
When the national organization pulled the charter, Schlein announced he was splintering off his own group, with all but five of the local Log Cabin members. The new group, called Metroplex Republicans of Dallas, took its terrible name from the original chapter name 30 years ago, before the group affiliated with the national Log Cabin Republicans in 1995.
As Schlein was starting his own group, Cooper came from Washington, D.C., to Dallas to reconstitute the local chapter. In October, the Log Cabin Republicans of Dallas were rechartered with a man named Thomas Purdy as the chapter president. Purdy was one of the five members of Schlein’s group who didn’t follow him to Metroplex Republicans.
Purdy tells me he wanted to be part of the re-chartering process because he cares so much about the national organization. “I felt it was important that the brand and the mission have a presence in Dallas,” he says.
Neither Purdy nor Cooper wanted to discuss the ousting. “I want to steer clear of rehashing anything,” Purdy says. “I wouldn’t even describe it as a ‘rift.’ ” Cooper describes the change as “a period of growth, if not in numbers, in engagement.” By most accounts, there are about the same number of people attending meetings now as there were before the change, but Cooper cites his group’s budding relationships with senators, representatives, and a plethora of local candidates. Both men say they are optimistic about the Log Cabin cause both nationally and locally in this election cycle, despite defeats in the primaries. “This is the strongest this chapter has been since its inception,” Purdy says.
Schlein, though, refuses to hold his tongue on the issue. He says he still feels “betrayed.” “Mr. Cooper, who I have so much disrespect for, reminds me of the kind of person who name-drops and brags but can’t back up what he’s saying with actions.” In April, Schlein announced that his group would affiliate with the national GOProud organization.
Of course, in a place like Texas, being a gay Republican is still very much an uphill battle. The Republican Party of Texas’ official platform, last drafted in 2010, calls for the recriminalization of sodomy. It says:
“We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans. Homosexuality must not be presented as an acceptable ‘alternative’ lifestyle in our public education and policy, nor should ‘family’ be redefined to include homosexual ‘couples.’ We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits. We oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in
Schlein and Purdy both say they are disturbed by the platform, but they don’t think it represents the feelings of most Republican voters or candidates. Purdy says it “reinforces the need for Log Cabin’s presence.”
As for that whole thing about being gay but voting against the first sitting U.S. president to endorse marriage equality? Well, in some ways, being a gay Republican these days means that no matter how the election turns out, you just can’t win. But it also means you can’t really lose.
WRITE TO MICHAEL.MOONEY@DMAGAZINE.COM.