Queer Politics at the RNC
In addition to their regular blogging, Tumblr convention correspondents are each writing a feature about the experience. Here’s Jayel Aheram on the gay presence at the Republican National Convention.
I knew I was a little tipsy, but when I asked a gentleman from Politico if he wanted to dance, it finally dawned on me that I was pretty wasted. I had a whiskey and Coke in one hand and Meg Lanker-Simons in the other, and we were at the “Homocon” party in a small town called Ybor. Meg and I were on a look-out for potential dance partners. I had pretty stringent criteria: cute and near my age. I was in Tampa to blog on the Republican National Convention for Tumblr, and that night we were at the party hosted by GOProud to find some novel things to post about. I thought I had reached my dance quota for the night — at the Tumblr/Rock the Vote party just a couple of blocks away — but I was still restless. The place was packed with many journalists and delegates and Significant People wearing their convention credentials like cheap bling, talking to each other over Kylie Minogue. It is queer, in more ways than one.
Besides its obvious connection with gay men and lesbians, “queer” is the perfect word to describe the politics displayed at the convention. Queer as in odd, but also queer as in many of the celebrated GOP icons also happen to support gay rights. It turns out the party of Larry Craig, Mark Foley, and Bob Allen have a room in their big tent for a fairly large closet for actual homosexuals and their supporters.
Welcome to Tampa
My first impression of Tampa was a bit foggy — my glasses immediately fogged up as soon as I stepped outside the Tampa Airport. I was still taking it all in by the time I reached Channelside, which had become MSNBC’s broadcasting headquarters in Tampa. I had dinner with the very pleasant folks from Tumblr (Chris Mohney and Liba Rubenstein) and my fellow correspondents (the charming Bobby Finger and my dance-partner-hunter Meg). After dinner, we head back to the government-owned Red Roof Inn, but not before I recognized Gary Johnson about to give an interview to some media outlet.
Gov. Gary Johnson was a former Republican governor of New Mexico and an also-ran at the GOP presidential primaries, and now the Libertarian Party presidential nominee. His antiwar credentials might be lacking, but he is brilliant in everything else. Socially liberal and fiscally conservative, he is an image of an ideal Republican candidate who would attract young voters from both sides of the artificial two-party dichotomy. His position on marriage equality is decidedly libertarian and inherently pro-family, but alas, there is only room for one Ron Paul in the Republican primaries. I liked him, even when I disagreed with him. His queer (gay) politics are acceptable and commendable, but his queer (odd) politics regarding violent humanitarian interventions was not. So, when I say I disagree, I mean I vehemently disagree with Johnson.
I asked Chris, “is that Gary Johnson?” He was not sure, so I decided to direct my question at Johnson, yelling “Are you Gary Johnson?!” He said that he was, so I said something positive to him, and then hugged him. He said I made his day, but I am sure he says that to anyone who would recognize him or maybe I am just a good hugger.
Grover Norquist Is a Gay Kinda-Ally
The next morning Liba dropped me off at an event hosted by Reforming America’s Taxes Equitably (RATE) featuring a guy from Fox News, a Significant Person, and tax reformist Grover Norquist. (An aside, a lot of people call Norquist an “anti-tax” activist which I take an issue with — Norquist wants to tax people, he just wants to make it easier for us to hand over our hard-earned money to the government. Conservatism!) The discussion was dry, but pretty interesting if you are a wonk. For a while, I was tempted to interrupt the talk with excited chants of “No New Taxes! No New Taxes!” but I was at the buffet table. After his panel, I was able to catch him and he has this to say to the young people of Tumblr: “It’s the growth aspects of lower marginal tax rates that are the most important to young people.” If you can parse that, you might have a future as a tax reformist.
I learned later that Norquist is on the advisory board of GOProud, the same group which hosted the Homocon event. I thought that was fitting, since the actual queers of GOProud have made it explicit their intent not to pursue marriage equality, choosing instead to focus on “conservative values.” If they are not pursuing the lower marginal tax rates afforded to married couples, then it would make sense for the queers of GOProud to support Norquist’s tax-reform efforts. As for Norquist, being part of GOProud gives him gay ally credibility, without being an actual ally. It is like my liking Breaking Bad on Facebook while never watching a single episode. Or when you have a peace sticker on your car and vote for Obama.
Which brings me to a point regarding GOProud: It identifies itself as being a gay organization without actually doing anything to promote expansion of individual rights for gays. “Gay” becomes a mere trait, like having a mole or wearing a hat or being vegan, which completely ignores the litany of laws that still exist in this country that criminalize who they are. The queers of GOProud reject queer politics and subvert their identities for partisan goals often hostile to their kinds of identities. Little do these queers realize that being openly gay in a society that still condemns their kind is an inherently radical position and not conservative. You cannot be openly gay and conservative. You can be gay and have views which overlap with conservative viewpoints, but to claim both is a contradiction. There is nothing conservative about deviating from society’s norms. Same-sex buttsex is not exactly a salient conservative talking point. You want to get married to your same-sex partner? Well, too bad, because vote for homophobe Mitt Romney or else Barack Obama.
Log Cabin Republicans & Real Gay Allies
It was pretty obvious from their food spread that the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) breakfast was catered by truly fabulous people. They had this French toast filled with rich cream cheese (it had an exotic name!) and it was amazing. The event was hosted by Log Cabin Republicans and co-hosted by Freedom to Marry, featuring their newest effort “Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry.” Unlike the militantly ignore-gay-rights queers of GOProud, the queers of LCR have been toiling quietly to promote legal rights for gays and lesbians. For example, their judicial efforts against the gay military ban “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” saw success until Congressional repeal made it redundant. Marriage equality was the topic of discussion and included a speech by Margaret Hoover, one of the featured “young conservatives” for marriage equality.
Before the Hoover’s talk, I spoke to the very affable Donald R. Bramer, deputy executive director at LCR, specifically about what marriage equality might mean for gay servicemen in active-duty. It turns out that they are not interested in legislative efforts and it is Bramer’s belief that marriage equality for the country could very well begin in military bases. Once that battle is fought and won, the next step is to expand that fight to include Department of Defense employees, then to the rest of federal employees. It is no wonder why some in the “small government” wing (hah!) of the GOP might be opposed to LCR’s efforts. I also asked about LCR’s current non-endorsement of Romney. Bramer insisted that his organization has a process they must follow, like all organizations do, and endorsement will be decided post-convention. He did not hint how his organization will decide either way, but given LCR’s recent history of refusing to endorse GOP nominees for anti-gay positions, it will not be a surprise if they do not endorse Romney after all.
Hobnobbing with War Criminals
Meghan McCain hosted a party the night her father, a Significant Person, gave a speech at the RNC. There was Sara Evans crooning about being a young girl from Missouri — confession, I had no idea who she was — and lots of pretty young conservatives milling about eyeing each other. My head hurt from the night before and I was holding a bottle of beer as a prop. No one was dancing, except me, and everything was fine until the Sen. John McCain appeared.
The last time I saw Sen. McCain was in 2007 at the California GOP convention in Indian Wells. He looked pretty haggard then — I think he was going through some therapy or something — and I was just a lance corporal in the Marine Corps supporting an insurrectionist candidate named Ron Paul in one of the most wealthiest ZIP codes in the country. It was the first campaign-related event I attended and I was tabling for the Paul campaign. Most people were supporting Fred Thompson because they saw him on television or something silly.
Sen. McCain’s stance on gay marriage is confused; he has both opposed bans on same-sex marriage on the federal level (which earned him an endorsement from the LCR) and supported same-sex ban in California. His daughter, on the other hand, is an outspoken supporter of marriage equality and is affiliated with the LCR. She is celebrated by Freedom to Marry as one of the more prominent young conservatives for marriage equality. Also worth mentioning: There is no love lost between Meghan and GOProud, as both have exchanged barbs over social media and in interviews
Meghan seems like a sane character, and I hope that she did not inherit her dad’s bloodlust. The low point in the whole evening during her event wasthe crowd milling around Sen. McCain. Many were posing with him and probably showering him with effusive praises of how awesome he is and how proud they are to have met him. I left the party and joined my fellow Tumblr correspondents outside. It turns out they had had enough of the party as well.
There was a lot of “queer” at the RNC. There were the anti-queer queers of the GOProud and the pro-queer queers of Log Cabin Republicans, and anti-queer non-queers of evangelical groups and pro-queer non-queers of Freedom to Marry. And there were the truly queer contradictions: the taxpayer-funded spectacle of the convention itself contrasted with the message of austerity of the Paul Ryan’s budget, to the message of small government freedom contrasted with the Big Government Police State with its security fences and marching beige turtles. There was tolerance and intolerance, activism and suppression of it, and patriotic chants of “USA! USA!” to stifle legitimate dissent. Celebrate or condemn it, queer is America’s politics.
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