Houston Chronicle Sunday

GOP is wrong to reject LGBT

- Carrasco is an editorial writer and member of Houston Chronicle’s editorial board. Email him at luis.carrasco@chron.com.

Marco Roberts, secretary of the Texas Log Cabin Republican­s, was anxious. For at least two decades, the group of LGBT conservati­ves had fought to be recognized by the state GOP. As we sat down to talk before the vote in Austin recently, it looked like this could finally be their year.

In 2018, a dozen members of the party’s executive committee had voted to let them have a booth at the state convention. That may not be very impressive when you consider it takes a majority of the 62-member committee, but it was a big jump from the three votes they’d gotten in 2016.

Since then, Roberts, who heads Log Cabin in Houston, has been working to dispel the myths about his organizati­on and about “gay conservati­ves” in general, a term that too many people on the left and the right appear convinced is an oxymoron.

“They think that there’s no difference between Log Cabin and the Human Rights Campaign,” Roberts said, referencin­g the liberal LGBTQ advocacy group. “That we’re pretending to be Republican­s, that we don’t believe any of those things, that we’re not really conservati­ve at all.”

Let me tell you, Roberts is not pretending. We disagree politicall­y on a host of issues but his earnestnes­s and true belief in what he sees as core conservati­ve values — fiscal conservati­sm, liberty, self-reliance — is infectious, and even when discussing divisive ideas, he is always civil and sincere.

As demographi­cs and Democrats threaten Republican control of the Legislatur­e, the party needs people like Roberts on its side. Committee members know that. They know that younger conservati­ves, including rising star U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Houston, who sent a letter of support for Log Cabin, want the party to be more inclusive.

Maybe that’s why, as the vote neared, I couldn’t help but believe that even though I was in the back of the room, I would have a front-row seat to history.

The nearly 200 people at the meeting grew quiet as motions were filed to allow Log Cabin a booth at the state convention, to allow Roberts to speak to the committee and to decide those things with a roll call vote. Opponents moved to table any discussion indefinite­ly.

Log Cabin motions failed one after the other; they netted just four votes out of 62. A later vote to recognize the group as a

coalition died even faster.

I checked my watch. Yep, it was 2020. We were supposed to have flying cars by now. Instead, gay Republican­s can’t even get a booth at their own convention.

Of course, the battle isn’t really about winning banner space between booths for a jewelry store and a car dealership, it’s about fundamenta­l issues of inclusion within the party.

Once it was clear Log Cabin had lost, a middle-age couple at the meeting clapped loudly. Their smugness made clear that their opposition wasn’t couched in interpreta­tions of party bylaws, but in a rejection of gay people themselves.

“I do not want to go against biblical principles,” party vicechair Alma Jackson told me after the meeting. She doesn’t hate gay people, she said, but “the Bible is clear on homosexual­ity” and the party should not promote that.

After the vote, Log Cabin members were devastated — years of work, of progress they believed had been made — gone in an instant. They won’t get another chance to be recognized until 2022. While for some the loss was humiliatin­g, Roberts refused to express anything other than determinat­ion.

“Whatever hurt feelings we may have are beside the point,” he said, his voice breaking. “We have to focus on the goal and how to best advance.”

Of course, there are people in the party whose language is hostile and their views bigoted, but Roberts doesn’t talk about them because there’s no point; they let intoleranc­e speak for itself.

The people they are trying to reach are those who may not approve of their sexual orientatio­n or take issue with same-sex marriage, but who can understand that Log Cabin Republican­s are as staunchly conservati­ve as

they are and deserve a seat at the GOP table.

Roberts may be undaunted, but now that I’ve been in the room, it’s harder to be optimistic. One committee member I spoke with before the vote said the group should be given a chance and compared what was going on now with the struggle for civil rights.

“In 30 years, we’ll wonder why this was ever an issue,” Dawn Elliott told me. She said it right before she voted against the group when it became clear they’d lose anyway.

The party is jeopardizi­ng its future with these wrongheade­d decisions and short-sighted choices. Most Log Cabin members are die-hard activists who can be patient, but most voters aren’t.

Eventually, voters must accept what they’re being told, and right now — if you’re Latino, or gay or Muslim — the message coming out of the GOP is clear.

America is changing. If the party hopes to survive it needs to change with it.

 ?? Robin Jerstad / Staff photograph­er ?? A couple walks in the vendor area at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention. Texas Log Cabin conservati­ves again failed to get enough votes to have an info booth at this year’s convention.
Robin Jerstad / Staff photograph­er A couple walks in the vendor area at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention. Texas Log Cabin conservati­ves again failed to get enough votes to have an info booth at this year’s convention.

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