Over 50 openly gay Republican delegates and alternates to the Texas Republican Convention rallied with their supporters next to the convention hall in Ft. Worth on Saturday, capping an extraordinary week of confrontation between Log Cabin Republicans of Texas and far-right, anti-gay extremists within the state GOP.
Log Cabin delegates and their supporters were met at the "Rally for Liberty" by aggressive and hostile counter-demonstrators who held anti-gay placards too obscene for television broadcast, and sought to drown out the speakers onstage who read statements of support from leading Republicans around the country and called for an inclusive Republican Party.
Rally speakers also challenged Republicans who pander to the far right to gain support, and promised to confront them in Texas and across the country in the coming election cycle.
The controversy began when Log Cabin elected over 50 delegates and alternates to the state convention, and applied for an exhibit booth along side other Republican and conservative organizations. Log Cabin was the only Republican organization denied a booth. State party spokesman Robert Black escalated the situation by comparing Log Cabin to the Ku Klux Klan and pedophiles, and labeled the organization a "hate group."
LCR Texas President Steve Labinski held a press conference at the state capitol in Austin, calling on Governor George W. Bush (R-TX) to speak out against Black's comments. The governor issued a statement through spokeswoman Karen Hughes later that day, criticizing the party's attack comments: "Governor Bush believes all individuals deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. While he differs with the Log Cabin Republicans on issues such as gay marriage, he does not condone name calling. Governor Bush urges all Republicans to focus on our common goal of electing Republicans based on our conservative philosophy."
LCR Texas bought over $50,000 in major newspaper print ads last week throughout Texas responding to Black's comments, while the Log Cabin delegates leafleted the convention floor as the convention opened. On Saturday, June 13, over 100 supporters joined the delegates at the rally next to the convention center, where the far right counter-demonstrators confronted them before television cameras and reporters from local, state and national media.
One counter-demonstrator jumped onto the stage repeatedly with a sign reading "Faggots Go Back to San Francisco," to which Dallas lesbian Republican activist Lory Masters, who was speaking before the rally, said: "We are not from San Francisco -- we are from Texas and we're here to stay! This is our party and I'm not going away!"
"The faction that runs the Texas party has a narrow social agenda," said Labinski from the stage. "We have to stand up for what we believe and set an example for other good Republicans to follow."
"Don't back down until we take back this party from the extremists," said openly gay Dallas Councilman John Loza (R), from the stage. "Don't back down! Don't back down!"
At one point, 74 year-old Martha Theilhorn, former chairwoman of the Refugio County Republican Party, was speaking onstage about her longtime GOP activism and her support for her openly gay grandson, GOP delegate Dale Carpenter from Houston, when a counter-demonstrator shouted over her: "Your grandson is a sodomite and you're both going to burn in hell!"
"We are not afraid," Richard Tafel, executive director of the national Log Cabin Republicans said from the stage over the jeers of counter-demonstrators. "They may have greater numbers and more delegates. They may have people here to shout us down, but we will win because our cause is just, because a movement founded on honesty and love and a movement for the voiceless cannot be defeated. We must never forget that moral force will beat the numeric forces every time."
"No properly elected Republican should be denied access or exhibit space at any gathering of our big-tent party," said Rep. Connie Morella (R-MD) in a statement read at the rally. "As an inclusive big-tent party, we can move America forward. A party that looks to divide and exclude fails all of us."
"Log Cabin Republicans has been, and continues to be, a contributing mainstream Republican organization that has supported Republican candidates of all ideological stripes," wrote openly gay Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) in a letter to Robert Black, read at the rally. "The politics of exclusion and intolerance should have no place in our Republican Party. Period."
"Republicans should not be turned away from a state party convention because of their sexual orientation. I find it particularly disturbing for a party official to compare the Log Cabin Republicans to a hate group such as the Ku Klux Klan," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) in a statement read at the rally.
"The Republican Party is the Party of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan, and it must remain the party of the big tent, where all Americans who share our core Republican principles, including gay and lesbian Americans, stand shoulder to shoulder equally with everyone else," said Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-CA). "Don't give up, don't stop fighting for a better America and don't stop advancing the cause of equality and liberty that so many Americans from all walks of life share with you and me."
Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD), in a statement read at the rally: "The strength of the Republican Party and our democratic system of government lies in our diversity of opinion, and our tolerance for those with experiences and views different from our own."
Rep. Jim Greenwood (R-PA), the chairman of Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-GA) Planning Advisory Team, a senior House leadership post, said in a statement: "We must welcome every citizen -- regardless of age, race, creed or sexual orientation -- who wants to join the Republican fight for a better America. Gay men and women awake each day, go to work, volunteer in their community, pay their taxes, and contribute to worthwhile charities in every American neighborhood. Increasingly the Republican message appeals to all segments of American society and we should encourage the participation of the Log Cabin Republicans as we would any other group."
"As a Republican I am horrified to learn that a state Republican Party would resort to the divisionary politics of hatred and bigotry," said Susan Cullman, president of the Republican Coalition for Choice, in a statement read at the rally. "With actions such as these, we are left with one question -- who's next?"
"As a Republican member of the Council of District of Columbia, I am extremely disappointed in the recent statements released by the Texas GOP Leadership. Efforts to exclude Texas Log Cabin Republicans from the State GOP Convention are both inappropriate and short-sighted," said openly gay DC City Councilman David Catania (R).
As the counter-demonstrators, many of whom were GOP delegates themselves, grew louder and more aggressive and began jostling Log Cabin supporters, jeering loudly on and off the stage and blocking cameras with their signs, the state GOP sent spokesman Craig Murphy into the crowd to claim for reporters that a number of the anti-gay demonstrators were not delegates.
Then, news came from inside the convention hall that Texas GOP Chairwoman Susan Weddington stood up to comment on the events unfolding outside. Referring to the anti-Log Cabin demonstrators, Weddington denounced "in any public forum and debate attacking people in such a mean-spirited and derogatory way."
"In Forth Worth, we drew a line in the sand against the radical right, and it was a major turning point for our movement," Tafel said after the demonstration. "We played by the rules, our people got elected as delegates, and the party went on the attack, but the brave and well-organized response was overwhelming, and the statements of support for Log Cabin from Republicans all over the country was a wake up call to the Governor and the senior leadership in the party, and they backed off. This is only the beginning for Log Cabin in Texas, and it's a warning to Republicans everywhere that those who pander to the far right will pay a price from inside the Republican Party."
Log Cabin Republicans is the nation's largest gay and lesbian Republican organization, with 50+ chapters nationwide, a full-time Washington office and a federal political action committee. In addition to the Texas state chapter, there are local chapters in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston.