How Gay Republicans Convinced their Party to Soften its Hard Line Against Homosexuality
By Lauren McGaughy | Dallas Morning News | June 19, 2018
Marco Roberts strides across the convention hall floor. Calm and impassive, his face shows no sign he just achieved a goal that's been years in the making.
Spotting his partner, Michael Alberts, in the middle of a row of delegates, Roberts stops, his face illuminated by the red glow of the giant Ted Cruz motorhome parked in the middle of the convention center. He takes a short breath and lets it out, a grin gracing his lips, and raises his hands briefly in silent celebration.
"Two-and-a-half years of work," Roberts whispers, the convention chairman's voice booming over the speakers. "At this moment, I finally feel like I crossed the finish line."
This year, the Republican Party of Texas removed anti-LGBT language from its official platform. For most, the change is incremental, almost unnoticeable, the absence of just two sentences from a 45-page document.
But for Roberts and other gay Republicans and allies who convinced the party to take this small step, this moment provides them with some hope. Roberts looks at Alberts, the tension finally leaving his face, and says confidently, "The Republican Party of Texas no longer condemns people simply for being gay."
SOME NASTY LANGUAGE
LGBT conservatives have been politically organized for decades, at least since 1977, when they formed the Log Cabin Republicans after defeating a California proposition to bar gay teachers from the classroom. But in deep-red states like Texas, recognition for gay conservatives has been elusive.
For years, they have tried — and failed — to secure a booth at the Republican Party of Texas convention. This year, they were denied again, as were their attempts to get space in the convention program. A check the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas sent the party to run an advertisement was returned.
But the group was undeterred. Instead, it decided to double down on the party platform, a sprawling document that lays out the Texas GOP's stances on everything from marijuana to marriage.
For years, the Republican Party of Texas has condemned homosexuality in its platform. It's backed legislation to bar transgender Texans from using restrooms that match their gender identity and supported conversion therapy that claims to "cure" homosexuality.
The Log Cabin Republicans knew getting rid of this language altogether would be impossible, so they decided to take a more surgical approach this year. They'd target just one "plank" — the party's position that homosexuality is a "chosen behavior" that "must not be presented as an acceptable alternative lifestyle."
"We have tried in the past, unsuccessfully, going after the whole thing," Michael Baker, chairman of Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, told The Dallas Morning News. This time, he said, "Our goal was to get rid of some nasty language."
Marco Roberts, President of the Houston Chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans, is pictured at the 2018 Texas GOP Convention held at the Henry B. González Convention Center in downtown San Antonio, Texas on Saturday, June 16, 2018. (Luca/Staff Photographer)
Roberts, president of the Houston chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas, would be their soldier. As the first openly gay person to serve on the platform committee, he led the charge in convincing fellow conservatives they could hold on to their beliefs without condemning another's.
At first, Roberts seemed to be making headway. During negotiations Wednesday night, he convinced the committee to remove the anti-homosexuality language and replace it with something softer. But shortly before midnight, as a storm raged outside, a delegate suggested adding it back in.
As she stood at the microphone, the sound of thunder boomed through the convention hall. Some chuckled, joking that God was issuing them a warning. "The Lord has spoken," one said. "It's an absentee vote!"
Some committee members agreed, arguing they were losing young voters because of their refusal to let up on the issue.
"The majority of Americans now disagree with us. It's because we never made the case for what we are defending. Instead it just came across as, 'We hate gays,'" one man said.
Another woman agreed: "I am for traditional marriage as well, but I think we can stand for that in a positive light instead of in an attacking light toward other people.
"We need to survive."
But then the president of Texas Values stood up to speak. Jonathan Saenz, who wields significant political clout as the head of the conservative Christian organization, urged them not to back Roberts' changes and argued it would make them "no different" than the Democrats.
"To be here tonight, I'm missing my Bible study and for good reason," he told the weary committee. "Please do not embarrass the Texas Republican Party."
That night, they agreed to put the anti-homosexuality language back in the platform. Saenz had won the battle. But Roberts was not about to give up the war.
COMPROMISE & 'KUMBAYA'
On Thursday, the fight raged on, with Texas Values on one side and, on the other, a coalition that included the Log Cabin Republicans and Texas Young Republicans. They had two days to convince the committee and one weapon Roberts hadn't yet unsheathed — the trust and rapport he worked hard to build with his Republican peers.
Over hours of quiet negotiations, he worked to get the majority of the committee members back on his side. By day's end, even Texas Values had dropped its opposition. Roberts offered a new amendment to the platform, one that again softened the anti-homosexuality language, and the committee accepted it.
"It's a compromise we worked out with the approval of several organizations, including Texas Values," Roberts assured the committee. "I worked this out with Jonathan Saenz personally."
"Kumbaya!" someone in the room yelled.
Delegates watch as a sign is carried up and down the aisles in the session seating area detailing possible changes in the party plank addressing homosexuality during the 2018 Texas GOP Convention held at the Henry B. González Convention Center in downtown San Antonio. Texas on Friday, June 15, 2018. (Louis DeLuca/Staff Photographer)
Two days later, the full convention voted to approve the new 2018 platform. There was no debate on the homosexuality plank.
The Log Cabin Republicans and their coalition know the change is small, and they know some will criticize they for not pushing harder. After all, it's just a few sentences in a document that does not have the force of law. There are still other planks insisting marriage is only between one man and one woman and opposing "all efforts to validate transgender identity."
But chairman Baker said the small headway they made this year is a sign the Texas GOP is ready to become more inclusive.
"We can't do this alone," Baker said. "We're here to work together to build the party."
Both Roberts and Saenz declined to discuss the behind-the-scenes discussions that lead to the compromise.
"We are thankful that religious freedom and privacy protections are in both the Republican Party Legislative Priorities and Platform," Texas Values said in a statement to The News. "We are thankful for the strong pro-family values in the Texas Republican Party."
Roberts said: "This was a bitterly fought, three-day battle. ... We finally came to a draw and found something we could both accept."
The national arm of the Log Cabin Republicans has taken notice. President Gregory T. Angelo flew in from Washington, D.C., to attend a luncheon and happy hour hosted by the Log Cabin Republicans of Texas.
"This might look like just another convention happy hour," Angelo said, celebrating the first official LGBT gathering at a Texas GOP Convention. "But within these walls tonight is the next generation of the Republican Party of Texas.
"After four decades of fighting to make inroads, we are finding our way."
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