In an ongoing conflict that illustrates the divide in the Republican Party over the breadth of its ideological “tent,” the organizers of the popular conservative conference CPAC have decided to welcome the homosexual activist group GOProud at this year’s event next month.
Four years ago, GOProud’s participation in CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, helped prompt an exodus of socially conservative groups. Banned the last three years, GOProud members will participate this year as “guests” but won’t be allowed to be a sponsor or have a booth.
Those restrictions prompted the resignation from GOProud’s board of co-founder Chris Barron, who called CPAC’s limited offer an “unconditional surrender” to what he calls the “anti-gay” wing of the conservative movement.
The CPAC organizers, the American Conservative Union, did not respond to WND’s request for a reaction to Barron’s resignation and further elaboration on the meaning of GOProud’s “guest” status.
A written statement to WND from ACU Executive Director Dan Schneider said CPAC had a “constructive meeting with GOProud’s leadership last week.”
“The directors have a new vision for promoting a broad array of conservative priorities; from sound fiscal policies to strong Second Amendment rights to pro-life policies,” Schneider said.
“We welcome GOProud’s attendance at this year’s CPAC conference. I believe their presence could help establish a productive relationship in the future.”
CPAC will take place March 6-8 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., near Washington.
As WND reported, CPAC decided in 2011 not to welcome back GOProud after organizations such as the Heritage Foundation, Media Research Center, FRC Action and Concerned Women for America pulled out at the previous conference in protest of the homosexual group’s presence and other issues.
Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel objected to GOProud’s advocacy of same-sex marriage and civil unions, saying the group is “pushing a radical leftist agenda that is an affront to the GOP platform, conservatism and, most importantly, the Word of God.”
FRC Action’s senior vice president, Tom McClusky, explained his organization would no longer participate in CPAC because of the organization’s financial mismanagement and movement away from conservative principles.”
In 2010, GOProud’s executive director and co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia, said his organization – “the only national organization for gay conservatives” – was “thrilled to be a cosponsor of the single most important conservative gathering in the country.”
Last week, a memo circulated by about two dozen conservative leaders urged that homosexual-rights groups be excluded from the Reagan coalition of economic, defense and social conservatives, the Washington Times reported.
Among the signers was Colin A. Hanna, president of Let Freedom Ring, who told the Times that GOProud doesn’t fit into the Republicans big tent, because it’s agenda is “fundamentally incompatible with virtually all social conservatives; so this isn’t diversity, it’s discord.”
Other signers of the memo included conservative icon Phyllis Schalfly, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly and Media Research Center President L. Brent Bozell.
The managing editor of the prominent conservative blog Red State, Aaron Gardner, wrote Thursday that as a social conservative who is “firmly against” same-sex marriage, he is “not outraged by GOProud’s CPAC attendance.”
He explained, however, that he is taking an indifferent approach to the issue because he believes CPAC “is no longer an event that advances movement conservatism.”
While acknowledging CPAC’s networking benefits, he said the attender will see “an establishment brand of conservatism that has grown very comfortable and far too risk averse.”
“CPAC doesn’t serve the movement conservative so much as it represents the broader GOP brand,” he said.
‘A symbolic step forward’
GOProud’s move to repair its relationship with ACU and CPAC began last summer when two former GOProud summer interns who are now co-directors, Ross Hemminger and Matt Bechstein, made an overture, the National Journal reported.
After the compromise was reached last week, Hemminger, who participated in the losing Senate campaigns by Scott Brown and Gabriel Gomez in Massachusetts, said the group saw the lower-profile role at CPAC as an important first step.
“We really just want to be part of the conservative movement,” he said. “We want to establish a fruitful and respectful relationship.”
ACU said that under the arrangement, GOProud members will be included in all events.
But GOProud co-founder Barron, according to Politico, said it’s “beyond disingenuous for GOProud leadership to say this is some sort of compromise or a step forward.”
“It’s a kin to the Germans saying the Treaty of Versailles was a compromise,” he said.
Barron said he learned of GOProud’s limited invitation through the news.
“The current leadership of the organization didn’t even do the service of letting the board know that it happened,” he said, according to Politico.
Barron said that by agreeing to ACU’s terms, GOProud is not helping spread acceptance of the homosexual community by conservatives.
However, Hemminger and Bechstein said in a website announcement that GOProud “will continue building bridges within the Republican Party that foster inclusion, and reinforce freedom for everyone.”
“This historic event,” they said, “is a symbolic step forward for both for [sic] the Republican Party, and for GOProud.”