Log Cabin Loner?

Patrick Guerriero is the pink elephant in the room.

In the 2004 presidential election, polling suggested that about 25 percent of all gays, lesbians, and bisexuals voted for George W. Bush. This number is about the same as in 2000—despite the Republicans' having based much of their 2004 campaign on an explicitly antigay platform. The national political organization that expresses and lobbies for these voters' viewpoint is the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR). Last month, Seattle Weekly sat down with the LCR's national executive director, Patrick Guerriero, to talk about activism and how—or if—the LGBT agenda can be reconciled with that of the Republicans. The tall, amiable Guerriero joined the LCR in 2003 after having been a Massachusetts state legislator, candidate for lieutenant governor, and mayor of the Boston suburb of Melrose.

Seattle Weekly: So what's it like being treated as a political freak show?

Patrick Guerriero: Yeah, we certainly are scrutinized by both the radical right and the far left. But I sense a greater understanding that effective gay conservatives can help realize equality sooner than we may believe. I sense a better understanding among folks within the gay community that there needs to be a credible and effective conservative voice that speaks with integrity for gay and lesbian families.

What does that mean? What's the activist agenda for a conservative gay?

A few things. In Washington state, it's really important that Log Cabin is sitting at the table lobbying suburban Republican legislators and adding a conservative voice to the need for employment nondiscrimination. When there's a statewide battle over antigay legislation, the constitutional amendments, it's really important that Log Cabin makes an appearance. The fight for equality doesn't have to be fought on only one front. It can be several fronts, and it's going to include Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, gay and straight citizens.

What kind of retooling are you doing after the 2004 election? You took it on the chin.

I think the nation wasn't ready for state amendments regarding marriage. We hadn't had time to educate people. The gay and lesbian community needs to retool itself to respect and understand and support working within the Republican Party. It's simply going to be impossible to realize full equality in Washington state or the United States without working with Republicans. We've done a decent job in the community addressing the more progressive elements. We need to do a better job addressing the more family-centered, value-centered parts of our movement.

What does a Log Cabin Republican in a red state do?

Two things they can do that are extremely powerful—and it's not only Log Cabin Republicans but Stonewall Democrats and other gay and lesbian citizens and families: They can, first, come out to their families and to their neighbors; and, second, walk down to their city hall and tell their local officials that they live in the community, they pay taxes, they contribute to the quality of life, and they happen to be gay or lesbian. Those are the two most powerful things any gay American can do. If every LGBT American tomorrow did that, the fight for equality would be over within five years.

How do you feel about outing?

I am, on principle, opposed to outing. While understanding the great frustration people feel that there could be closeted gays who at times work against us . . . 

The [Spokane Mayor] Jim West syndrome . . . 

Yeah, it's really disturbing. But outing is generally a poisonous exercise. I've never seen outing advance a piece of legislation. I'd rather put our energy into changing the hearts and minds of decent people. At the same time, I've encouraged gay and lesbian conservatives, in particular, that their coming out could really help change the course of the journey to equality.

How can you defend defining yourselves as conservatives, as opposed to, say, libertarian, when the leadership of the Republican Party ever since Ronald Reagan—and before—has been so antigay?

Conservatism, as the Republican Party is founded on, is a party of a competent, strong military, expanding civil liberties, and believing in a limited government and lower taxes, limiting the growth of government bureaucracy. The weird part is that the radical right of our party sounds a lot like the radical left, except the far right wants a bigger government when it comes to imposing their religious will on citizens. There's going to be a great backlash, and we'll reach tipping points—the [Terri] Schiavo case is one—where people start getting a window into the real agenda of these folks. Most Americans, including most LGBT Americans I talk to, are centrists and less partisan than either wing of the political parties.

You have a religious background—school at Catholic University of America and Boston U. I'm wondering how that fits in for you and others, given church hierarchies that are strongly antigay.

You've discovered that I'm a walking contradiction, an oxymoron—a Republican from Massachusetts, a gay Catholic, and a gay Republican. So I'm not happy that you did your homework. The media often [pits] the LGBT movement against the religious movement. As I travel and talk to so many LGBT Americans, the vast majority of them are persons of faith. They're very spiritual—they attend church, synagogue, mosque, or have their own spirituality—and one of the things we need to do is close the gap between us. Being pitted against persons of faith is not going to help us win a social movement. The way I resolve it is, as a Catholic: What matters to me are people. I've had major issues with the hierarchy of my church.

What do you think will eventually lead to change in the churches?

Time. The Catholic Church, particularly, is historically slow when it comes to change around social issues. Partly it's the willingness of gay and lesbian churchgoers to come out within their church as opposed to leaving it. It's the same model for one's family, one's political party, one's work environment. The Catholic Church will be a slower version.

Where do you see the LGBT movement going in the next five to 10 years?

I'm really hopeful [that] under the surface of some of these antigay amendments, we're living through a beautiful, fast-paced social movement. Most states will have some form of family recognition for gay and lesbian families—domestic partnerships, civil unions, gay marriage. We'll have a patchwork that we'll then need to clean up. In the last election, where people were so discouraged by state amendments, 60 percent of voters in exit polls said they'd support either civil marriage or civil union and liked benefits for gay and lesbian families. That's remarkable progress. Seventy-nine percent support an end to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Over 70 percent support employment nondiscrimination acts and hate-crimes legislation. We are really on the right side of history. It's moving really fast. We need to protect ourselves against the backlash of the federal constitutional amendments. But I'm very hopeful that the next decade is going to see a continuing trend of progressive and conservative families supporting legislation across the country.

gparrish@seattleweekly.com

 
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