The Log Cabin Endorsement Is Absurd – But Reflects Deeper Worries

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On August 16, the Trump administration formally made a request of the U.S. Supreme Court, one which should surprise just about zero people who’ve paid attention to their recent record on LGBTQ rights. The headline above Dominic Holden’s excellent summary at BuzzFeed News just about says it all:

Image via screen capture, BuzzFeed News (August 16, 2019).

As Holden explained, the administration’s move was at once an expected move ahead of the fall term, which Instinct previously covered, and yet it also went further than some might have guessed.

Compounding A Rough Week for Federal LGBTQ Protections

This “latest court filing,” Holden writes, “asks the nation’s top court to establish federal case law in a potentially sweeping setback for LGBTQ rights nationwide” by requesting the court affirm earlier administration statements that “firing workers on the basis of gender identity is legal under federal law.”

The underlying case, as a reminder, concerns a trans woman in Michigan who was fired from her job after coming out. Once it goes before the Court in October, Holden explains, it will turn on “a dispute over the word ‘sex’” – that is, whether it encompasses gender identity and, therefore, encompasses trans and gender non-conforming/non-binary Americans. Under current law,

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans workplace discrimination because of sex, but the court’s justices have never decided what, precisely, the term means for LGBTQ workers.

The Justice Department’s brief on Friday contends the word refers solely to a person’s “biological sex” and, further, that the transgender discrimination isn’t addressed by a 1989 Supreme Court ruling that found Title VII bans sex stereotyping.

The Justice Department’s brief came just one day after the Trump administration rolled back Obama-era safeguards for LGBTQ Americans. As CBS News reported on August 15, the administration “intends to remove nondiscrimination protections … by adding religious exemptions to [a] 2014 executive order” forbidding such discrimination in government contracts.

CBS noted the sharp backlash from advocacy groups, who “decried” the proposed reversal “as just the latest attack on the LGBTQ community [and slammed] it as ‘taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion.’”

Damningly, this also marks another broken promise from the administration, since “President Trump [had] vowed to maintain” the rule at the outset of his term in 2017, CBS explained.

An Appalling Betrayal

One day after the contract nondiscrimination policy announcement—and the very same day as the Justice Department’s SCOTUS brief opposing trans non-discrimination protections—the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) announced their endorsement of Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

The group’s Washington Post op-ed drew a brutal denunciation from writer Amanda Kerri in The Advocate:

I think my track record as a writer has established that I firmly believe that being an LGBTQ person doesn’t mean you have to believe a certain ideology, whether it involves economics, politics, or philosophy … And then you have these Log Cabin fools.

Calling the nominally “LGBT” GOP group “fools” was one of the kinder things Kerri wrote:

They’re bigots and privileged trash. Log Cabin Republicans will sell the entire community out for a gentrified loft, an expense account, and a white neighborhood excluding the hired help.

Shifting from the endemic racism of (predominantly white, male) queer spaces—online and off—to widespread, intra-group discrimination and classism, Kerri carefully notes that the distance between the LCR and other LGBTQ political groups is vast. It’s precisely their outlier status—their acceptance of the “Muslim bans, the Nazi apologia, the concentration camps” and the white nationalist  conspiracy theories—which casts them entirely aside as worthy of opprobrium.

Fortunately, too, they’re also virtually penniless and boast no more than a few dozen “large” donors, according to 2018 Federal Election Commission figures. And, for the 2019–20 cycle to-date, literally no one has crossed the “large donor” threshold.

(Kerri’s point about it being well-heeled, urbane gay men who support the LCR seems supported by LCR’s financial disclosures. Most of the names are masculine, and many of the “large donors,” i.e., those giving at least $200 to the LCR PAC during 2017–18, live in or near major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Their professions range from attorneys—including at major firms like Mayer Brown—to government employees. The LCR’s highest fundraising totals since 2004 came for the 2012 cycle, during which the PAC received just under $40,000.)

Backlash also came from former LCR staffers themselves. Fifteen years after starting an internship at the organization, former staffer Casey Pick, for instance, wrote a public Facebook post titled, simply, “Don’t Call Me a Log Cabin Republican.”

In the post, Pick explains difficult choices about the 2012 endorsement (in which LCR threw their support—and funds—behind Republican Mitt Romney) and other fraught debates of the last two decades, along with the LCR’s never-easy entanglements with the mainstream of the GOP. Pick writes unsparingly that LCR “ironically devolved into the worst kind of identity politics,” becoming “insular, defensive, self-pitying, and bitter,” while castigating the LCR “endorsement’s claim that ‘Trump met his commitments to LGBTQ Americans’” as “a lie from the pit of hell.”

As NewNowNext and the Washington Blade reported earlier today, Pick was joined by a former LCR D.C. Chapter President, Robert Turner, in disavowing the group via Facebook post.

All this uproar further belies two interesting facts about LCR’s embrace of Trump. The first is that the organization actually declined to endorse Trump just three years ago, during the 2016 race. It was just the second time since 2000 that LCR declined to endorse the GOP candidate, following the 2004 Bush reelection campaign, according to Politico.

The second grim fact, as the Washington Blade later reported, is that it took more than a full day for Trump’s campaign to respond to the early LCR 2020 endorsement. And when that endorsement was finally recognized, Trump officials offered only a glib, brief statement to the conservative Washington Examiner: “President Trump’s policies are working for all Americans, and this is more proof that the American people recognize his successes.”

With such a tepid, generic statement, it seems the warm feelings only go in one direction.

Gays, Through the Looking-Glass

Finally, perhaps my favorite media response to the LCR endorsement comes from Tim Teeman, writing for The Daily Beast on Saturday. Teeman’s response certainly captured the jaw-dropping bewilderment of many on social media at LCR’s Post piece, analogized to a classic of children’s literature:

The closest approximation is perhaps the world as imagined by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Alice in Wonderland: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Teeman cites an avalanche of evidence against LCR’s thin arguments for endorsing Trump, their flagrant “absurdity” laid bare. The LCR’s Post-published twaddle omits, in addition to what I mention above:

  • The LCR’s “only note of dissent,” however lackadaisical, on the transgender troop ban;
  • The pervasiveness of anti-LGBTQ staffers in the White House, to say nothing of the Vice President;
  • The “so-called ‘First Amendment Defense Act,’” which would allow numerous institutions to “ignore same-sex marriage, deny women health coverage, and fire gay people,” per The Daily Beast’s Jay Michaelson, writing over two years ago;
  • The administration’s enthusiastic “use of ‘religious liberty’” against extant LGBTQ rights; or
  • Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s  “religious liberty task force,” which followed the president’s own “religious liberty executive order.”

(Teeman cites many more issues; his full article, linked again here, deserves your time.)

The Log Cabin Endorsement Is Absurd – But Reflects Deeper Worries

I don’t expect—or even desire—readers to simply adopt my personal political views and preferences wholesale. LCR doesn’t merit wholesale condemnation just because I see their overarching views as flawed.

I have clear and passionate convictions, and I’ve written about these convictions regularly in this space, a rare opportunity for which I’m deeply grateful. My larger aim, however, is energizing debates within our communities, prompting reflection on and reevaluations of “common wisdom,” wherever it exists. 

Given that approach, I hope it’s clear I believe there’s great value in Amanda Kerri’s approach above, via The Advocate: Appreciating the complexity of different value systems and priorities among LGBTQ Americans, who are united above all in “our shared experience of being an LGBTQ person, of challenging centuries of ingrained norms about gender and sexuality.” While “discrimination” on those grounds also unites us all, “how we go about coping and overcoming” abuse and harms “differs in so many ways.”  

Fifteen or 20 years ago, the LCR could have made at least some reasoned argument for a conservative approach to achieving LGBTQ rights, vindicating centuries-long fights against marginalization and state-enabled discrimination. I would’ve found that argument weak, ignorant of both the empirics and the optics of a polarizing U.S. political milieu, and I would’ve argued against it on moral and strategic grounds. But there would be some clear room for that back-and-forth to take place.

In 2019, the LCR’s approach has reached tragi-comic absurdity. Opposing the LCR and others who endorse a self-sabotaging alliance with bigots is not a matter of “moral and strategic” disagreement; it’s a moral imperative, and it’s necessary to many LGBTQ Americans’ literal survival.

One of the highlights of Teeman’s piece reads like a warning to gay Americans — and I underline white gay men intentionally, here, along with anyone else who might otherwise think themselves somehow beyond the fray.

Trump, claim the [LCR], has removed “gay rights as a wedge issue from the old Republican playbook.” This is, pace Carroll, absurdist nonsense, and in contravention of everything Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have done; from the trans ban to such sundries as ordering American embassies to take down their Pride flags this summer, the current administration has made their animus to LGBTQ people abundantly clear.

I can (and do) write seemingly endlessly on these subjects – and on various acts of violence and ostracism inflicted on LGBTQ Americans, more specifically. And, in reading the Post endorsement from LCR, initially I had a similar reaction as Teeman, below, concludes in his piece in The Daily Beast:

Reaching the end of this odd, upside-down piece of writing in the Washington Post, the question in the reader’s mind becomes less “why are you doing this?,” than “how on earth did you get to this point as LGBTQ people?” In this, the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Riots, what happened to your gay pride?

But in thinking about the weight of all the violence and all the vicious demonization that has either remained or escalated under Trump, all I’ve written in just the last three months, now I see LCR’s endorsement less as shrinking away from the spirit of “gay pride” and more as an indictment of the comfortable in our era altogether.

The resounding alarm of so many—women, QPOC and trans communities, especially, throughout America—is met with silence by so many others, after all.

The LCR are a nearly laughable sideshow, helmed by charlatans and sellouts, those willing to throw millions under the bus for tax cuts and empty flattery, But those LCR leaders, regardless of their pitiful fundraising efforts, reflect a real divide among LGBTQ Americans, one which must be bridged. Too many—and too many of the white gay men I know, frankly—echo LCR’s hallucinatory detachment from reality.

Even if the latter would never pen an endorsement of our ruling extremists, by name, there’s some shared DNA between the LCR and the “Both sides!” contingent of our community, or other communities under duress. 

Rights are being stripped and legal causes of action meant to vindicate our rights are being defanged; the pace of trans Americans’ killings barrels onward, year after year, if not escalating; women and racial, ethnic and religious minorities are placed at risk under demeaning and sometimes literally deadly policies. Although LCR likely will be a footnote in the dustbin of history regardless of their overt endorsement of this regime, everyday Americans, LGBTQ or not, still must dare to stand up en masse and in force.

Silence, in other words, is a quieter form of the same complicity. You needn’t be a radical, but all ought to keep in mind how history remembers the milquetoast accommodationists of earlier eras.

The Next Fifteen Months and Beyond

Opposing politicians who traffic in homophobic and transphobic nonsense is the first step. Financial and economic resistance, too, must be part of any opposition movement which truly unites LGBTQ Americans in a time of perilous uncertainty and global upheavals.

The entire corporate ecosystem sustaining this administration, certainly including advertisers on such programs, deserves scrutiny / via Twitter (August 19, 2019)

If morality and ethics aren’t enough, hopefully bare interest in self-preservation can lay a foundation for maximally broad solidarity with all marginalized, at-risk groups. The LCR’s craven Trump endorsement is an embarrassing episode, but it’s not as big a deal as those gay Americans who don’t see what all the fuss is about, anyway.

Election Day 2020 is just 15 months away, and it’s not going to get any easier from here.

This is the opinion of one of the contributing writers of Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of other writers or the magazine.

Correction: An earlier draft misspelled Amanda Kerri’s name. The post has been updated throughout.

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