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Can Republicans Finally Accept Gay Conservatives?

Alex Wong / Getty Images

Gregory T. Angelo sat in the middle of a crowded hotel bar on a Thursday afternoon at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Statistically speaking, a little over half of the fellow conservatives around him opposed what he's spent the past few years fighting for: same-sex marriage. 

“There's this feeling among many gay people that gay and conservative is not compatible, just as there are some here at CPAC that feel that gay and conservative is not compatible,” Angelo said. “The fact that we exist shows that those people are wrong.”

The “we” in question is Log Cabin Republicans, the largest organization in the U.S. for gay and lesbian conservatives. Angelo has been executive director since 2013, and spoke Saturday afternoon on a panel about Putin’s Russia. Angelo said he is honored by the opportunity to speak about human rights abuses of the LGBT community in Russia; however, gaining the stage at home as a leader of the LGBT community was a battle itself.

Log Cabin Republicans made headlines weeks before CPAC after expressing frustration from what they say were ignored attempts to become a CPAC sponsor. After some back-and-forth between Log Cabin and the event organizers, Log Cabin Republicans were denied a full sponsorship role, but Angelo was invited to speak on the Russia panel.  “At the end of the day, there was confusion to some degree on both sides,” Angelo said. “We ended up coming to a détente at the eleventh hour.”

Angelo, who worked in PR before becoming involved in Log Cabin Republicans, said he hopes his visibility at CPAC this year will show fellow conservatives that LGBT Republicans are more than single-issue voters, and that they can help advance conservative values from a unique perspective.

"While people are sometimes quick to jump to the incorrect conclusion that we are exclusively the 'gay marriage Republicans,' the fact is we engage on a full spectrum of issues,” Angelo said. This includes supporting healthcare reform and the repeal of Obamacare, tax reform, second amendment rights, and of course gay rights: basically, Log Cabin Republican advance any issue where there is an LGBT case to be made, Angelo said. This doesn’t, however, include abortion, another hot-button social and political issue. Angelo, who is pro-life, sees the case for marriage equality and the abortion issue as two topics that have little to do with one another.

Angelo is hesitant to be too harsh against those in his party who do not support gay marriage. “Some conservatives could do a better job on the messaging front when it comes to gay issues and expressing a greater sensitivity to gay Americans and the reality that same-sex marriage exists in this country,” he said. “None of the doom and gloom that was predicted by opponents of marriage equality has come to pass.”

In fact, Angelo said he believes that there has been good progress the past few years for the LGBT community within the GOP. He points out Senator Rob Portman, who reversed his stance against gay marriage in 2013 after learning that his son is gay. “There's more support for these issues among Republicans than the general narrative gives them credit for,” Angelo said. “There's also less political risk in supporting those things that I think most Republicans are willing to believe.”

Angelo thinks that Republicans could become leaders abroad for gay rights issues. “There's a way for conservatives to express—even though there might be divisions, philosophical differences on something like marriage—we should be able to coalesce around the notion that someone should not be targeted for death just because of their sexual orientation,” he said. He hopes his panel on the abuses of the LGBT community in Russia will spur fellow conservatives to gay rights causes abroad.

As the millennial generation begins to dominate the voting population—a majority of which supports gay marriage—perhaps Angelo and Log Cabin Republicans will have more time to take their fight overseas without the distraction of the fight at home. In the meantime, Angelo said Log Cabin Republicans will work towards full sponsorship at the next CPAC.