5 Questions For: Gay Republican and GOProud co-founder Chris Barron
Chris Barron is no stranger to controversy: From inviting the controversial Ann Coulter to headline the first-ever “HomoCon” of gay conservatives to his organizations on-again, off-again relationship with the influential CPAC conference to his infamous feud with liberal LGBT activist Dan Savage, he’s never shied away from the spotlight and, in the process, helped make GOProud an influential organization in only a few short years. Although he’s endorsed former governor Gary Johnson’s (R-NM) bid for the presidency at the Libertarian nominee, he and the rest of the GOProud organization are hosting a party on August 28 for attendees at the Republican National Committee, and agreed to answer a few of Raw Story’s questions.
Raw Story: What’s your experience been so far, especially as a Johnson delegate and a member of GOProud? I know there’s been some tension with the Republican party platform coming out with an anti-same sex marriage amendment.
Barron: This is my third convention, and it’s pretty much been exactly like every other convention up until now. The platform fight has got to go down in history as the stupidest thing of all time. I was there in 2004 when I was working for the Log Cabin Republicans, and we had the exact same platform fight, with the exact same outcome except they got actually worse language this time.
First off, the platform’s meaningless. It grants no rights, no responsibilities, it has no force of law. It’s a piece of paper. Democrats, their platform is controlled by the most liberal activists in the party, it’s a bone thrown to liberal activists. In the Republican party, the platform is controlled by socially conservative activists. It’s a bone thrown to social conservatives. It means nothing. Candidates immediately distance themselves from it the moment it comes out.
If you actually want to change it, though, the way to change it is to quietly have meetings behind the scenes to talk about, “Okay, let’s focus on this, let’s focus on that.” The moment you start putting out press releases talking about how you’re going to change the platform, especially on an issue like gay marriage, you’re putting a giant target on gay marriage and just asking for Tony Perkins and the far right to fire away. And that’s exactly what they did, and the results were entirely predictable.
So you got a platform that actually has language that is worse than what it was before. You gave Tony Perkins an opportunity to claim victory, which is an embarrassment to Romney and an embarrassment to the Republican party.
And what did you get out of it? I guess Log Cabin got themselves a little bit of attention and at the end of the day that’s what they wanted. But, you know, if there had been a realistic chance to change the party platform, GOProud would have been involved publicly because nobody likes attention more than we do. But there was just no realistic way that this party platform was going to get changed in that public way, especially once we knew who was on the platform subcommittees. Jim Bopp from Indiana, who’s one of the loudest anti-gay voices in the Republican party was the head of that subcommittee. What the hell did you think was going to happen? Tony Perkins was on the platform committee. What the hell did you think was going to happen? The outcome was totally predictable.
Raw Story: Obviously, there are some people in the Republican party — you said James Bopp, Tony Perkins — who are far from gay-friendly. Do you find that the Republican Party in general is distancing, do you find that when you are talking to delegates that they are happy to have you here or interested?
Barron: I think GOProud has worked so hard on the movement, not so much on the Republican party, but on the conservative movement itself. And I think there’s been a lot of change within the conservative movement, especially young conservatives are a lot more open and accepting of gay people. Some of the highest profile folks in the conservative movement have been supporters, defenders, members of GOProud. Who was more influential than the late Andrew Breitbart? And we’ve got people tonight — Dana Loesch, who is kind of the public face now of the Breitbart empire, is one of our special guests at our event. We’ve got people like Grover Norquist, David Keane, the former head of the American Conservative Union. These are movement conservatives who are lending their names and their support to this organization.
So I think things are moving within the conservative movement. In terms of the Republican establishment, the establishment always comes around to things last. They don’t know the water’s wet until they touch it, it’s just the way the establishment works. They’re constantly afraid of their shadows, they’re used to doing things, “If this is the box we’ve worked in, we always work in this box, we’re not going to reinvent the wheel here.” So I think the Republican establishment is going to come to this later than movement conservatives will.
Raw Story: With Richard Grennell, the way that played out with the Romney campaign and social conservatives, that was the first time a lot of people looked at not just what Romney’s position was on marriage but on gay people on the campaign and the administration. How did that play out from your perspective? How is it playing out now?
Barron: I don’t think it played out well for anybody involved. I think probably if everyone had it to do over again, it would’ve been done different. It was unfortunate: there was no one more qualified for the job than Rick Grennell, he was uniquely qualified to have that position. I understand that, in a campaign you have competing pressures. I think it would have been in Governor Romney’s best interest to take time to have a Sister Souljah moment, to say, “You know what, this is the guy who is uniquely qualified to be my foreign policy spokesman, he’s got impeccable credentials and you guys can shove it.”
Raw Story: Do you think that is coming? Obviously there have been openly gay staffers within the Republican party and on the Hill and in the White House and in the executive branch for years and years if not decades and decades. And yet, for a long time, especially in certain offices, you could be open everywhere else but at work. Do you think it’s on its way finally that as a movement conservative, party Republican, your personal life will stop mattering?
Barron: I think it’s pretty much there. I think the thing with Grennell was different because there were competing pressures there. I’m sure you remember Rachel Maddow made a huge deal about Rick’s Twitter feed, and there were these competing pressures. I think Rick had a little less patience with the campaign than he could have, and the campaign probably let the attacks on Rick spin out a little bit longer than they should have, and it got to the point where there just got to be too much water under the bridge. I think it could’ve been handled differently, it would have been no problem for Rick. Clearly the governor knew he was openly gay when he picked him, so that wasn’t the issue. But I think a series of event happened that it got to this bad spot and then kind of nobody stood down and as a result it just didn’t work out.
Raw Story: What are you hoping to get out of the convention? Obviously you’re personally supporting Gary Johnson in the presidential race, but what are you as an organization looking to get out of being here?
Barron: Organizationally, it’s important for GOProud to be here because GOProud is the only organization who is supporting Romney/Ryan, our board made that decision to endorse the ticket, and it’s important to have a gay organization here that has endorsed Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. As you know, the Log Cabin Republicans have not endorsed Governor Romney.
And I think it’s important to have a presence here and show… there’s a Harris/Logo poll out recently that showed 23 percent of self-identified LGBT voters said they planned on voting for Mitt Romney in November. So it’s important that those folks are represented. That’s why it’s important to have GOProud here, to make it clear that there is a voice for those people.
And, more broadly, it’s important to show folks that there is a truly conservative organization out there that’s not just beating the drums of the social issues. Right now, Obama wants to talk about social issues, and they’ve been pretty clear that that’s what they want to talk about, because these wedge issues that worked for Republicans even 8 years ago have now shifted and are now wedge issues that work to the advantage of Democrats. And so I think for organizations that come here and choose to emphasize those social issues, they’re doing so at the expense of the ticket and they’re doing so in a way aiding and abetting the narrative that the Democrats want. The Democrats want the election to be about abortion and contraception and gay marriage and anything except jobs and the economy because they can’t win on jobs and the economy.
[Image by Megan Carpentier]