Queer Eye for the GOP Guy
Photo by Jessica CalkinsA curious truth about Republican politics in California: the more conservative an area, the better the supply of closeted gays frantically working to please GOP big boys. The best evidence of this axiom is Orange County. Here, for instance, current Southern California Edison VP Brian Bennett played fawning chief of staff to anti-gay Congressman Bob Dornan for years before swallowing his pride and outing himself.
We had hoped to talk to longtime, local party boss Tom Fuentes about gay GOP politics, but he always shies away from our questions. Instead, we found pipe-smoking, scotch-drinking, Republican raconteur Christopher Gilbertson. Gilbertson may not organize a party with Fuentes's flair, but he's not shy or closeted. Last year, the affable 43-year-old Tustin Ranch resident served as state vice chairman of the increasingly prominent gay political group Log Cabin Republicans (LCR).
OC Weekly: Tell us about your start with LCR. Christopher Gilbertson: I joined Log Cabin Republicans in 1993 because I was looking for an organization comprised of individuals who had the same values as me, who wanted to make changes and be active in the Republican Party. Which party has done more to secure equal rights for lesbian and gay citizens?If the premise of your question is which party has done more specifically for lesbians and gays, then arguably the Democratic Party would be the best answer, with the Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices a very close second. But if you view lesbian and gay citizens as inseparable from all American citizens—which I do—then the Republican Party has done more to improve the lives of gays and lesbians materially, irrespective of sexual orientation, by providing tax cuts and benefits, jobs, security from foreign threats, etc. What do you say to people who question why a gay person is active in an often hostile Republican Party?Because that's where openly gay and lesbian people most need to be visibly demonstrating that we are not the gross caricatures portrayed by the Traditional Values Coalition, the Campaign for California Families, etc; that there are gays concerned about levels of taxation, crime and national defense, plus a host of other issues that we see eye-to-eye with other Republicans. Identify some of Log Cabin's accomplishments?We've helped elect some very talented City Council members in Laguna Beach and Assembly members around the county. We've raised thousands of dollars for Republican candidates, and we were instrumental in the fight against Proposition 22 [the successful anti-gay-marriage initiative]. Statewide, we've provided the margin of victory for Governor Pete Wilson and Secretary of State Bill Jones. What has been the biggest obstacle to your group within the GOP?Fear. Many Republican elected leaders who have stated they support some, not all, of our objectives, are absolutely cowed by the threat of the Reverend Lou Sheldons and Randy Thomassons who make up the fringe of the state GOP. There are a few Republicans, like state Senator Ross Johnson, who have told them where they can get off and have refused to sign their "marriage protection" pledge. But not many. Some gay Democratic activists accuse LCR of being a club for rich, white gays. Is that accurate?I would describe our membership as men, women and transgendered, gay and straight, from all income levels, from all educational levels, and from every ethnic and religious background. We are a slice of Orange County. Of course, we do throw parties like we're all rich, white men living in Laguna Beach, but if you want to drink bulk wine from bottles with twist-off caps, join us. You personally support the recall of Governor Gray Davis, but which replacement candidate do you favor?Although I worry about his lack of experience, I'm attracted to Arnold Schwarzenegger's social moderation. It's my hope that he is the electoral storm that cleans the mess out of Sacramento. Do you favor Proposition 54, the "Racial Privacy Initiative"?I'm personally for it. We ought to be judged by our abilities and character—not by our ethnic background or even our sexual orientation. Name a California Republican Party official whose support of Log Cabin would surprise the public.[San Diego Congressman] Darrell Issa hasn't supported LCR openly or otherwise, to my knowledge. However, in 2001, he did cast a vote to reject an amendment that would have kept the federal ban on funding for "domestic partners." That certainly was a welcomed surprise to me. Who are the worst California Democrats on gay issues?Without a doubt, Lou Correa of Orange County's 69th Assembly District and state Senator Nell Soto of the Inland Empire. Why Correa, who reaches term limits in the Assembly next year and is running for county supervisor?He's opposed, abstained or had his vote recorded as "not voting" on major lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered legislation for domestic partner benefits. Compare Correa, who refused to sign the right-wing's so-called "marriage protection pledge," to OC Republican Assemblyman Todd Spitzer who did sign it and has mostly backed the positions of the homophobic Campaign for California Families.There isn't a comparison. Correa votes, or doesn't, based on his particular political calculations. Spitzer also votes based on his political calculations. That their votes adhere to any group's position is, at best, conjuncture. If Iwere to make any comparison, Ishould say that Spitzer doesn't miss a chance to vote. In the 2004 presidential election, do you think GOP strategists will once again employ rank homophobia to drive conservatives to the polls?Presently, 80 to 90 percent of the American electorate is evenly polarized between the GOP and the Democrats. The battle ground will be the remaining 10 to 20 percent. The Bush political organization has been very disciplined in fostering a Big Tent GOP, which is why Trent Lott was axed [as Senate Majority Leader]. They will throw a little verbal red meat to the conservative fringe to keep them within the folds of the party, but the White House knows on Election Day that every single vote is going to count, and they cannot afford another "Buchanan Moment" at any time in the 2004 campaign. Is it true that Abe Lincoln—for whom your group was named—may have had homosexual tendencies, as a few historians allege?Probably . . . he had a beard! Speaking of beards, how has Huntington Beach Congressman Dana Rohrabacher— who married his female campaign manager in a 1997 overseas wedding—treated your group's efforts?I've never participated in lobbying Rohrabacher, so I can't speak of my own knowledge. But I have heard from individuals who've talked to him about AIDS issues that, although he listened to them, his remarks were reportedly not positive. Which cocktails best represent gay Democrats vs. gay Republicans?For gay Democrats, a Long Island Iced Tea—a mix of this and that all poured into one monochrome drink that tastes great but, when you get up the next day, leaves you with a hell of an hangover. For gay Republicans, a dry vodka martini with a twist; easily assembled but not to be gulped. The Reverend Sheldon asserts that gays deviously "recruit" unsuspecting heterosexuals into their sinful world. When do you meet, and how can an interested person contact your group?We're planning a 4 p.m. event at the Coast Inn in Laguna Beach on Sept. 28. Anyone interested in LCR can go to www.lcroc.com.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.