For the second year, the Conservative Political Action conference is denying a booth or a co-sponsorship to the gay Republican group GOProud. The media-savvy activists were expecting this. They were bounced and banned after their 2011 (sorry for the phrasing) coming out party. That year, they booked a pricey hospitality suite and invited Donald Trump, still in the throes of a possible presidential bid, to speak at the conference. (The handkerchief with which Trump wiped off his TV make-up was on prominent display in the suite.) It didn’t get under CPAC organizers’ skin until then-GOProud chairman Chris Barron called the group’s loudest detractor, Republican power-lawyer Cleta Mitchell, a “bigot.”
Even after Barron apologized, the incident gave social conservatives all the oomph they needed to keep GOProud out. In 2012, GOProud endured the insult with a “Big Gay Party” off the CPAC campus, sponsored and hosted by Andrew Breitbart. But Breitbart died later that year. Gay Republicans have had to settle for schadenfreude in the form of media coverage mocking a conference that keeps gay rights off the agenda.
But that changed this week. The Competitive Enterprise Institute, a D.C.-based libertarian think tank that largely focuses on economic and environmental policy, will hold a CPAC panel featuring two GOProud board members. Its cheeky title: “A Rainbow on the Right.” Get it? Get it?
“We had an idea for an event on inclusion,” says CEI’s Christine Hall. “I requested a room last week, and we got all our speakers firmed up just today. We did not need to rent the room, per se, because part of the CPAC co-sponsorship is the option of an event room.”
The panelists include Liz Mair, a Republican consultant who’s on the GOProud advisory board, and Jimmy LaSalvia, the group’s executive director. “I will talk about how we need to build a new broad based conservative coalition that can win,” says LaSalvia. “That coalition must include gay conservatives. That winning coalition must recognize that more and more conservatives are coming to support civil marriage for gay couples because of their conservative values.”
Also on the panel: National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. “I’m not exactly sure what tack I’m going to take,” he says, “but I think part of it is to say the right needs the confidence to engage in some broader, better debates—starting with the intramural ones. Also, I think the professional conservative movement types need to decide/debate their relationship with the GOP.”