The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is one of the most prestigious and prominent events in the conservative movement. It is a celebration of conservative ideology and all conservative organizations are invited ... as long as you are heterosexual. For the second year in a row, gay conservative group GOProud and the Log Cabin Republicans will not participate at the conference.
This is causing some problems for CPAC. MSNBC pundit Chris Hayes has refused to participate in one of the panels until the conference changes its position on GOProud. CPAC is the flagship event for the conservative movement, and its continued alienation of gay conservatives will have long term repercussions for the Republican Party and have a detrimental effect on the conservative movement’s attempt to modernize its message.
CPAC is a privately run event. The conference, which was founded in 1973, is managed by the American Conservative Union Foundation and is sponsored by the most prestigious conservative organizations and attended by the most prominent conservative activists and elected officials in the United States. Over 10,000 conservatives attend the annual event. Highlights of the conference include the annual presidential straw poll and the banquet awards night that includes the Ronald Reagan Award, the Defender of the Constitution Award, and the Blogger of the Year Award. Lowlights of the conference include the exclusion of the LGBTQ community.
In 2012 GOProud was banned from participating at the event, and the Log Cabin Republicans turned down an opportunity to put up a booth. Fred Karger, a gay conservative, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the conference when he was refused a booth. This year the two gay conservative organizations will not participate again. The exclusion of gay conservatives will make it difficult for the Republican Party to spread its message of inclusion. The National Review explained "If there is significant internal disagreement among conservatives on any given issue, that disagreement ought to be represented at CPAC."
There is certainly disagreement amongst conservatives when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Recently, a group of 75 prominent conservatives signed a legal brief in support of same sex marriage that will be delivered to the Supreme Court. The group included Meg Whitman, the former candidate for governor of California, who reversed her position on Proposition 8 (the controverial anti-gay-marriage law now before the Supreme Court). Jon Huntsman, the former Republican presidential candidate, wrote in an op-ed piece for American Conservative that "building a winning coalition to tackle the looming fiscal and trust deficits will be impossible if we continue to alienate broad segments of the population."
The LGBTQ community certainly represents a broad and growing segment of the population. The National Review reported "According to post-election analyses, President Obama won the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender (LGBT) vote by about three to one, and LGBT voters constituted about 5 percent of the electorate," and further suggests that is a "chunk of the vote worth fighting for." The GOP and the conservative movement can’t hope to gain a chunk of that vote as long as they continue to alienate the gay community. Daniel Foster, editor of National Review Online, echoed the concerns of many conservatives. "I know both conservatives who are closeted gays and gays who are closeted conservatives," explained Foster.
What does it say to the gay community when conservatives exclude them from their showcase event and elected officials, led by House Speaker John Boehner, spend millions in support of the Defense of Marriage Act and vote against legislation prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation?
CPAC’s alienation of gay conservatives gained national attention in 2011. That is when several prominent social conservative organizations, including the Concerned Women of America, the Family Research Center, and the American Family Association joined with the Heritage Foundation and the Media Research Council to boycott the event in protest to the inclusion of GOProud. At the time Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, stated "to bring in a 'gay' group is a direct attack on social conservatives, and I can’t participate in that."
The social conservatives may win the battle to keep the gay conservative influence away from CPAC. But it is incredibly hypocritical to have breakout sessions on inclusion and talk about building diversity when you actively promote exclusion.
Liz Mair, a Republican strategist, GOProud advisory board member, and a libertarian, said "CPAC is a private organization and it can do whatever it wants. I will attend CPAC this year. I will do so with much less enthusiasm."