In Fred Karger's Presidential Run, GOP Stands for Gay Old Party

The OC resident and onetime Republican hatchet man hopes his quixotic campaign can push his party to become more gay-friendly

"My point is that Log Cabin Republicans have called out our enemies in our party, but the gay Democrats don't," the man says.

For Evan Wolfson—perhaps the nation's most relentless gay-marriage advocate and a panelist—those assertions aren't just "wrong," they're also boneheaded.

"Unions have been extremely helpful to us," Wolfson says. "And I take offense at the implication of your statement. It's not helpful to label whole groups. . . . We need to grow the climate of empowerment where people respond [to gay marriage as an issue] of fairness."

Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger doesn't mind self-deprecation in his march to become the first openly gay U.S. president
Mark Graham
Laguna Beach resident Fred Karger doesn't mind self-deprecation in his march to become the first openly gay U.S. president
The candidate catches a Frisbee toss from a reporter in a Dallas hotel
Mark Graham
The candidate catches a Frisbee toss from a reporter in a Dallas hotel

David Lampo—a convention panelist, employee at the libertarian Cato Institute and LCR official in Virginia—concurs. "The successes we're going to have is when Log Cabin develops great relations with other LGBT organizations," Lampo says.

But because LCR has worked closely with liberal gay groups on issues of common cause—gay marriage, DADT and anti-discrimination in the workplace—a dissatisfied splinter group formed two years ago. GOProud members say the gay community is best served by championing Republican policies. For example, the group's top six priorities are "tax reform"—lowering capital-gain taxes and eliminating the "death tax," "health-care reform" that focuses on privatization, "social-security reform," "respecting the proper role of the judiciary," "holding the line on spending," and "fighting global extremists." After those issues, the group's seventh priority isn't gay-marriage advocacy, but rather "return the [issue] to the states." Conservatives Andrew Breitbart and Ann Coulter support GOProud.

Meanwhile, Wolfson insists a "united strategy" among Democratic and Republican gay groups is responsible for orchestrating "a momentous shift" in public opinion since the enactment of the anti-gay 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was written by conservative Republicans and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

"Four recent national polls showed that a majority of Americans now support the freedom to marry by either 52 percent or 53 percent," Wolfson declares. "That's up from 26 percent in 1996. We are helping people understand that the question about gay marriage isn't a fringe question, but a significant failing of the United States and its commitment to freedom."

*     *     *

"I was a good juggler," says Karger, when asked about hiding his sexuality until his mid-50s. "I was good at faking it, acting like I really wasn't gay."

His closet door is now shattered. For example, when angered by anti-gay attacks, he has described himself to a straight audience as "no more Mr. Nice Gay." Even when he's serious, he has a sense of humor.

He says he had a boyfriend "several years ago," but is single now.

"I've put dating aside for now to focus on the campaign," he says, "and there's really no time for anything else."

He pauses, smiles and adds, "But I also know how life works. You never know when you'll find someone."

Minutes later, Karger orders a skim-milk latte at a Dallas café, sizes up his crowd—two shop employees, one twentysomething male and one twentysomething female—and makes his pitch.

"I'm Fred Karger," he says. "I'm running for president of the United States."

The employees stare at him, as if wondering whether Punk'd is already back on the air.

Karger adds, "I'm the first openly gay presidential candidate."

The male employee blushes, but 30 seconds later, he proudly wears a Karger campaign pin.

"See?" Karger says. "You're now part of history."

History is important. Karger has a filmmaker shooting a documentary of the campaign. He's hoping his run for the White House will serve as inspiration for a series of future openly gay candidates. Based on his own life, he knows that "anything is possible."

While working for high-ranking Republicans, as well as championing conservative causes, he managed to keep a "deep, dark secret" gay life that involved well-known, historic people. In fact, he says he was "lucky" to have "healthy gay relationships," and even became friends with Hollywood superstar Rock Hudson, who lived in the closet before dying of AIDS.

"I was at Rock's 50th-birthday party," he recalls. "I had a ball."

Karger once dated Jon Epstein—the late, Emmy-nominated producer of Hudson's McMillan and Wife and Peter Falk's Columbo television shows.

When I press him for details about this period of his life, Karger replies, "I don't want to tell too much. Read my book."

Karger is in the final stages of self-publishing his memoirs with a ghostwriter. "I've had a really interesting life," he says. "It's a great read."

It was during the 1970s when Karger, who is Jewish but says he's "not very religious," tasted a degree of national fame. His face was used in the Edge shaving-cream commercials shot by director John Hughes, who'd go on to do Home Alone, The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off. "The ad ran for years," he says. "Cha-ching!"

Karger, who is holding a June 18 fund-raiser in Laguna Beach, hopes to raise $5 million for his campaign, but so far, his seven-member staff is largely operating off his retirement nest egg. For example, his "D.C. office" is the condo of his part-time communications director, Rina Shah. "We're a lean, mean fighting machine!" he declares. "I have to start raising more money. That's my weakness."

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