Patrick Guerriero of Log Cabin Republicans addressed a group in Lake Oswego, Oregon this afternoon. The event, hosted by Basic Rights Oregon, drew about 30 people in weather that was sunny and rainy by turns.
Guerriero was introduced by host Karl Rohde (pronounced "roadie"), who opened his elegant, Frank Lloyd Wright - inspired home (designed and built by Rohde's father, he told us) to the event. Karl served on Lake Oswego's City Council as both the only Republican and the only openly gay member, and led passage of the city's civil rights legislation. Also introducing the speaker was Roey Thorpe of BRO; Guerriero praised Ms. Thorpe's activism, which he said had earned her respect at the national level.
The Massachusetts-born Guerriero joked that there were "more Republicans here [in the room] than in all of Massachusetts", although perhaps most of the guests were BRO-affiliated Democrats. He began his talk by noting the need for "a segment of the LGBT community to speak out with a centrist voice for equality - in every state." For that, he said, the help of the Republican Party will be needed "in every area" because all major advances in civil rights in the modern era have come through working within institutions.
"I debate the far Right all the time," he said; "someone has to do it." (In response to Pat Buchanan's "amazing" accusation that he is advocating for the "radical homosexual agenda", Guerriero counters that he is advocating for basic respect and dignity - in short, for "the right to have boring families.") "We want the most stable and conservative thing," he said.
Outlining the special role of gay conservatives and the Log Cabin organization in the national debate, Guerriero enumerated three areas of particular interest: (1) family recognition and responsibility; (2) the war on terror, and our responsibilities toward the thousands of lesbians and gays serving silently in the American armed forces; (3) persons of faith. Lesbians and gays in the American military, he said, unlike their British and Australian comrades, cannot be honest with their commanding officers about their most important relationships, and must face painful discrimination in the area of family notification.
Guerriero concluded by noting that "conversations are going on in the kitchens of conservative America" which will provide the framework for a broader understanding of gay people and their relationships. In an interview with Gay Patriot, he said of LCR, "our goal is to go out of business." Looking forward to the day when LCR will no longer be needed as an activist organization, he told BRO: "Some of us are going to be here when we get into the endzone."
Lesbian and gay activists have won many victories for equality, but face some tough challenges from the opposition, which has been highly effective in gaining grassroots support. The task ahead is to win the grassroots back. In the Gay Patriot interview, Guerriero outlined the three phases of gay activism:
The first phase, which was necessary, was this very angry, in-your-face…I’m thinking of the folks at Stonewall who had the guts to rise up against the police. ... The second phase from the mid-Eighties to, I think, probably the Year 2000 – I’ll use that since it was an election year….was this effort to show that there was a different face to the community. So that was when folks started their black tie dinners; Log Cabin Republicans comes to Washington and professionalizes itself. And you have organizations that took this kind of rabid, more left-leaning, aggressive, in-your-face type of tactics [phase] to a “now we have to make ourselves feel good” [phase]. ... And then from 2000, and I’ll use that year loosely, the challenge which I don’t think any organization has quite figured out yet, is how you move to the third phase of this [gay rights movement]. How do you speak to the conservative grandmother in Toledo, Ohio, and the conservative Southerner who has only been yelled at about these issues – and probably cast a bad vote at some point in his or her life. Or even said something that they would probably take back now.
We are now at the beginning of the third phase. This is not the hardest part - that part was done by those who stood up to police and criminal harrassment and legal prosecution in earlier years. But it is a part that requires dedication and maturity. Or as Guerriero says, "our biggest focus is to prepare Log Cabin Republicans enough to grow up."
What this means in practical terms, he explained in response to a question, is meeting the challenge of going from "safe" environments like the liberal coastal cities to places like rural Washington and interacting with persons of faith. It means asking ourselves whether we've maybe spent a few too many activist dollars in the big cities instead of places where the funds were needed more, or perhaps called a few too many people "bigots" who weren't really bigots but just uninformed. Guerriero recalled that he's met many Republicans who have said, "you're the first person who just asked to talk about [gay issues]" - all too often, gay activists were picketing and protesting but not dialoging.
The battle for equality will be won. If we are complacent and timid, the speaker said, it will take fifty years; if we take action, it can be done in fifteen years. The choice is ours.
Log Cabin Republicans
Basic Rights Oregon
Many thanks to Patrick Guerriero for visiting Oregon. Also thanks to Karl and Roey for making this possible, and to Eric Carver, the Finnish-American freelance journalist who covered the event for audiences in Finland.
Also, a personal thank you to the gentleman who gave me a ride back home to downtown Portland - thanks for the ride, and for the stimulating debate about Iraq!
(Don't worry - I promise not to rub it in when you finally realize you were wrong.)