Texas Log Cabin Republicans will settle for a slightly larger GOP – Texas Monthly
The final item up for auction Thursday night at the Houston Log Cabin Republicans’ Lincoln Day 2022 dinner was a white baseball cap with the familiar slogan “Make America Great Again” in rainbow lettering. The hat, signed by the former president and protected in a translucent case, sold for $6,000.
The Log Cabin Republicans were founded in the late 1970s to promote gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights within the Republican Party. For years, they’ve had to make do with small nods and token gestures from elected GOP officials while enduring the searing hatred and rhetoric of much of the rest of the party. That was thanks to simple math: Evangelical Christians and social conservatives were a much larger part of the conservative coalition, and the number of votes LGBTQ Republicans brought to the table was miniscule. The calculation still holds. Social conservatives in Texas are plentiful, unlike LGBTQ Republicans. Every two years, for at least twenty years, Log Cabin Republicans in Texas have had their request to place a booth at the state’s GOP convention invariably denied. A stand is the bare minimum – a symbolic symbol of respect and acceptance – but that has always gone too far.
The MAGA hat is as good a symbol as any that something has changed, at least on a national level. The nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage in 2015 was a major shift, of course, that allowed gay voters to prioritize issues other than their own civil rights. Then there was Donald Trump, a veteran of the New York club scene in the 70s and 80s, a not particularly religious man whose rallies are preceded by songs by Elton John and the Village People. (“They call it the gay national anthem,” the former president said recently about his love for the song “YMCA”)
But it’s still a weird time to be gay in the Texas GOP. Houston Log Cabin Republicans pretend to be an organization of “GLBT and allied” Republicans. The state’s elected officials may be less openly denigrating L’s, G’s and B’s than before, but members of these groups aren’t noticeably more welcome on the base – in many parts of the state, right-wing activists denigrate queer Texans much of the time. the same way they did in the nineties. And transgender bashing among Republican elected officials has grown as voters have accepted the once dire threat of same-sex marriage. For years, leaders across the state have used their important platforms to stigmatize transgender adults and to accuse those who seek to help transgender children of “genital mutilation.” Last year, Governor Greg Abbott ordered state school boards to investigate texas school libraries for “pornography” and this year ordered state agencies to investigate families of transgender children for potential abuse if their children receive gender-affirming medical care.
I walked into Lincoln Day dinner Thursday night at a ballroom on the Omni Riverway, curious if Log Cabin Republicans would grapple with all of this publicly. To be fair, Lincoln dinners, usually hosted by local GOP groups, are celebratory events, not opportunities for political debate. But of the three speakers at the event, only one, Texas Republican Party Vice Chairman Cat Parks, really engaged with the fact that the audience was LGBTQ, talking about attending a Trump rally at the Texas and seeing two men in their thirties side by side. , one with a “farmers for Trump” hat and one with a “gays for Trump” hat, happy as clams.
Matt Schlapp, chairman of the group that organizes the Conservative Political Action Conference, began his speech with an Elizabeth Taylor joke and moved on to his standard stump, touting his book along the way. Wesley Hunt, a candidate for Congress in a Houston-area district, started with a quote from Rudyard Kipling instead, before making one of the few oblique references to the gender debates of the night. “We have a Supreme Court justice who was nominated simply because she is a black woman,” he said in reference to candidate Ketanji Brown Jackson, who parried a question during her confirmation hearing to involve her in a debate on trans issues, “and she doesn’t even know she’s a woman.” It was his biggest laugh line.
Parks has often emphasized her desire for the Texas GOP to become a more inclusive and diverse place — a stance that has put her at odds with many in her party who want a tighter ideological coalition. She wanted “more representation [in the party] for the people in this room,” she told an audience of about 100 people. “There’s a small but vocal faction within the Republican Party that thinks they can decide who’s Republican enough, who’s conservative enough, who’s Christian enough,” she said. “I am your ally, and there are Republicans all over this state who are your ally.”
It’s striking to hear an official voice from the Republican Party, but Parks was careful to say there might not be enough of those allies yet. She addressed the ‘elephant in the room’, by which she means the group’s petition, once again, to place a booth at the next party convention. “The votes aren’t there this year, probably,” she said. But “if the votes aren’t there, I won’t set foot in the room with any of these booths.” There was very loud applause. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” she said in conclusion, reciting one of the most unintentionally homoerotic biblical passages. “I love you guys and stay in the fight.”
After the speakers were over, I spoke with Chris Halbohn, a young lawyer wearing black plastic glasses who became president of the Houston Log Cabin Republicans this year. “We became more of a big tent party,” he said. Trump helped, even when it was risky to do so, Halbohn told me. “He stood up on stage with an LGBTQ flag, though upside down flag. He stood there proudly with it, and he hasn’t even been elected yet.
What did Halbohn do with the national reaction to Texas’ crackdown on transgender children and adults? Log Cabin Republicans, he said, “are on the side of advocating for LGBT members and also supporting parents, and the right to raise your child as you see fit,” he said. . “What [we’re] on the other hand, schools and other people make choices about your children that you have no say in.
Halbohn was speaking on behalf of his organization and had a tightrope to walk. Perhaps unfairly, I pushed him around by asking him about fellow Houstonian Steven Hotze, the leader of the conservative Republicans in Texas and one of the party’s top donors. In 2015, not too long ago, I watched Hotze speak in a hotel ballroom much like the one the Log Cabin Republicans met in. He then told the audience that he was tired of fighting the encroaching “gay agenda” with his hands tied behind his back – and that from now on he would “break through them with the word of God”. To illustrate the point, he pulled out a sword and waved it at the audience, asking them what it would be like to be penetrated by it. That’s what he would use the word of God to do to LGBTQ Texans. (He had also distributed copies, printed on yellow construction paper, of the “Homosexual Agenda,” a satirical document in which gay men swore to feminize and rape the real sons of America, and which Hotze took seriously and read aloud.)
How does it feel, I asked Halbohn, to be in a political party with a guy like that? “I can’t really comment on that,” he said, referring to the sword. But, he said, like Hotze, Log Cabin Republicans “want to see Republicans elected from the top down in the ballot.” It was important to focus on what they had in common. “We agree on 90, 95 percent of the issues,” Halbohn said. The remaining five percent, he added, “wasn’t even worth worrying about.”