Gay Republicans Brave Hostile Climate at Texas Capitol

Log Cabin Republicans discuss their legislative agenda prior to the group's lobby day at the Texas Capitol on Thursday.
John Wright
Log Cabin Republicans discuss their legislative agenda prior to the group's lobby day at the Texas Capitol on Thursday.

The Log Cabin Republicans are an LGBT group, but one might not have guessed it based on the legislative agenda for their lobby day at the Texas Capitol on Thursday.

Although Log Cabin’s 11-item agenda included some LGBT issues, it was also plump with conservative red meat, including support for open carry, tax cuts and border security.

Jeff Davis, president of Log Cabin’s nascent Texas chapter, provided a two-fold explanation.

“I’m gay, but I don’t define myself just based on my sexuality, so my politics aren’t defined by that either,” Davis said. “I think it’s also important for us to keep saying to the Republican Party: ‘We’re Republicans. We’re not Democrats. Just because we’re gay doesn’t make us Democrats. We are conservative.’ … We need to show commonality.”

Eight Log Cabin members from across the state attended lobby day, splitting up into two-person teams that were scheduled to meet with legislators or staffers from more than 50 offices. Davis said that’s a significant increase from two years ago and a sign Log Cabin is making inroads in the party, even though the group was denied a booth at last year’s state convention, where delegates added a plank to the GOP platform endorsing “ex-gay” therapy.

“At least with voters, there’s been an outcry against what happened at the state convention,” Davis said. “We’ve gotten a lot of calls, letters and emails from people all around the state saying, ‘I’m a very conservative Republican, but the way you guys have been treated has not been right, I don’t stand for that.'”

According to a recent poll, 42 percent of Texas voters—but only 20 percent of Republicans—support same-sex marriage. However, Davis said most young Republicans back LGBT rights and if the “big tent” party continues to oppose equality, it risks shooting itself in the foot in 2016 nationally, if not in Texas.

Log Cabin’s second-ever Texas lobby day came at a critical juncture for the state’s LGBT community, which faces a slew of attacks in the GOP-dominated Legislature fueled by backlash against the spread of same-sex marriage.

Log Cabin members were scheduled to visit offices belonging to authors of some of the anti-LGBT legislation, and Davis said the meetings themselves were a sign of progress.

“I don’t expect every person that we meet with to—if they are homophobic—to completely turn around,” he said. “That doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s building those relationships and continuing to talk about these issues that’s going to make a difference.”

Two lawmakers with anti-LGBT records downplayed the significance of scheduled meetings between their staffers and Log Cabin members.

“I think it speaks to the fact that we’re always willing to listen,” said Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), who was named the most anti-LGBT member of the House by Equality Texas in 2013.

Krause said he’d be unable attend a meeting between his staff and Log Cabin members. He also confirmed his support for a religious freedom amendment that could create a “license to discriminate” against LGBT people. Asked about the effort to remove Texas’ unconstitutional sodomy law from the books—another item on Log Cabin’s agenda—Krause said, “I don’t see myself voting to repeal that at this point.”

Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia), the author of House Bill 623, which would revoke the salaries of county clerks who issue same-sex marriage licenses, said he wasn’t aware of the scheduled meeting between his staff and Log Cabin members.

“I don’t think I would jump to any conclusions other than the fact that we’re not trying to not hear what people have to say,” Bell said.

Although Krause acknowledged HB 623 may become “moot” if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ marriage ban, Bell disagreed, suggesting he’ll attempt an Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore-style stand.

“I will still continue with [HB] 623 and with any other efforts that I can put in place to make sure we affirm the power of Texas and of the citizens of Texas to regulate and define marriage,” he said.

Asked about the sodomy ban, Bell indicated he disagrees with the premise of the law—”What happens inside one’s house is one’s personal business,” he said—but wouldn’t commit to voting to repeal it.

Also scheduled to meet with Log Cabin were staffers from the offices of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, the author of one of the proposed “license to discriminate” amendments.

“Every constituent is welcome to come by Senator Campbell’s office at any time to discuss issues important to them,” Campbell spokesman Jon Oliver said in a statement. “It was a general meeting with staff simply listening to their legislative priorities.”

Representatives from Patrick’s office didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. On Feb. 24, Patrick is scheduled to be a featured speaker at Texas Faith and Family Day, hosted by Texas Values, the Eagle Forum and other anti-LGBT groups.

Rep. Mary Gonzalez, an openly LGBT Democrat from El Paso whose staff was scheduled to meet with Log Cabin members, said any substantive change will require bipartisan support.

“At least there’s somebody in the Republican Party who’s having those conversations,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been trying to have some of those conversations on the floor, and I’ll be honest, this session it’s been harder. … I think Log Cabin Republicans’ work is necessary, especially considering the climate of this legislative session.”

John Wright is a freelance journalist based in Austin. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Published at 8:57 am CST