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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

LGBT Issues

Clarke Cooper, Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans
Tampa, Florida
August 28, 2012

4:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: We are ready for our next briefer. I am very pleased to introduce Clarke Cooper, who is the Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans. He was also the former alternative representative on the UN Security Council, and he’s going to talk to us today about LGBT issues and the presidential election. So without further ado, I will turn it over to Mr. Cooper.

MR. COOPER: Thank you. Good afternoon. So if some of you were wondering who the Log Cabin Republicans are, we’re the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] ancillary group of the Republican Party. We represent fellow conservatives. We stand for issues that would be known as corollary issues or common issues that many conservatives share that you may have been covering or have heard about: a smaller government, tax reform, strong national security, a robust U.S. foreign policy. Those are things that many conservatives can rally around – conservative principles of individual liberty, individual responsibility -- again, corollaries or shared principles that conservatives, regardless of one’s race, sex, orientation, we abide by or share.

That said, it is incumbent upon LGBT conservatives to be that voice within our party amongst our peers to stand for equality measures. Case in point, the last Congress in 2010, the Log Cabin Republicans were successful in securing Republican votes, conservative votes for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was a federal statute that banned gays and lesbians from serving in the U.S. military. We also forwarded a case through our federal court system, and we conducted consultative process with our defense ministry on how to implement open service.

It is our role as conservatives, as LGBT conservatives, to advance equality in the workplace as well. We advocate for the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. We also are advocating for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and in that case that would allow for full marriage equality or full marital status before the law for LGBT Americans.

So to give you a snapshot as to who we are, what we do, I’m happy to take questions about our presence here at the Republican National Committee, our presence in the state political parties at the provincial level, and our role with fellow coalition or ancillary groups such as the College Republicans, the Young Republicans, the Republican-Latino Coalition, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly, Republicans for Black Empowerment. You name it; we’re part of that diverse, big umbrella that is the conservative movement in the United States.

No questions? Okay.

QUESTION: Hi, I’m Raf Sanchez from the Daily Telegraph. Thanks very much for coming along and speaking to us today. Could you just talk a little bit about, I mean, you’ve said that you’re a conservative, you stand on various principles and the economy and foreign policy, but the thing that binds your group is your LGBT status. I mean, do you feel welcome within the Republican Party, and what do you say to people who say that gay people should be voting for the Democrats because they have more progressive positions on gay issues? Thanks.

MR. COOPER: Well, one’s orientation should not preclude them from being a part of the conservative movement. Just because I happen to be gay does not mean that I want to walk back or stand back from prioritizing U.S. interests abroad. It doesn’t mean that I should step back or walk back from a balanced budget amendment. It doesn’t mean I should step back or walk back from government reform. So my orientation is part of who I am. I’m multidimensional. It is not all of who I am.

And also, frankly, one’s orientation does not rule them out or preclude them for valuing family values. I do agree at a certain extent with Tony Perkins, a fellow conservative who does not agree with me on many issues, that the family is core to the strength of social fabric, the family is core to the strength of economic development and prosperity. But families can be also not only a mother and a father; they could be a father and a father, a mother and mother; it also could be a single parent. That’s another thing that we have to remember is that looking at the demographics not only in U.S. society but around the globe, families are of a different makeup. So yes, families are important to society, they are important to our economic prosperity and our future, but they are not limited to one particular type of family.

QUESTION: Jose Cardenas with the Mexican Daily Excelsior. I’m just curious, the Log Cabin Republicans participated last week in the drafting of the platform. However, I would like to know how much you were listened to? Were you paid attention to? Or you were just brushed aside? How was the attitude of the other delegates?

MR. COOPER: So the question was about the Log Cabin Republicans’ participation in the platform process last week, which ties back to an earlier question about us being welcome. We’re credentialed. We’re invited to be here. We’re expected to be here. In fact, we have to be here. It would be very irresponsible of Log Cabin Republicans to not participate. In fact, our invitation to participate in the drafting process back in Washington prior to the convening of the platform committee was our opportunity to provide guidance, provide points, and provide edits to language that was being drafted based on the 2008 platform document.

That said, are we happy with what resulted with the final outcome? No, we’re not. Many peers in the party are not happy with it. I actually would align myself with the remarks of our most senior elected conservative to date here, Speaker John Boehner, our Speaker of the House, when he said it could have been a much more simple, more concise, on-message document. I would agree with that summation or that paraphrase in the sense that what was created this time was heavily detailed and not representative of the party, not representative of my party.

QUESTION: Were you listened to?

MR. COOPER: Yes, we were. In fact -- the question about if we were listened to -- there was a robust debate not only in the subcommittee level but in the full committee level where there were amendments offered by actual platform drafting delegates to strike DOMA, or the Defense of Marriage Act language, from the platform document. There was an amendment offered on the central committee floor for civil unions, to recognize the legal status of civil unions in the platform language. So that went back and forth.

Some minor successes that we did have were that we took out old language that said that homosexuality was incompatible or not compatible with military service. That was taken out and removed from previous drafts. We also succeeded in making sure that an earlier draft that said nonpolitical refugees could not seek asylum in the United States -- well, as we know, as the Bush government knew and as the current government was aware, some refugees seek asylum to the United States not based on political or dissident status; they seek it sometimes because their life may be endangered due to their orientation. So that was preserved, so we were able to make sure that nonpolitical status [for asylum] was allowed as well.

Some minor wins – the biggest takeaway from those discussions where there was a healthy debate – it was a manifestation of the generational shift within the conservative movement. It was also a manifestation of some of the geographic or regional differences in the United States and within the Republican Party, because those debates, those amendments, were offered by delegates that tended to be under 40 years old or from a western state or from a northeastern state.

QUESTION: Hello, I’m from Asahi Shimbun. Two questions. First of all, what are your views on Mitt Romney’s evolving view against, well, basically gay marriage and gay rights in general?

And the second question is, as you mentioned, you’re part of the ancillary groups, and not only with gay issues of LGBT. This is that more or less the Republican Party seems to be moving towards or more conservative movement altogether. How do you view that issue altogether, and what does it mean for various ancillary groups?

MR. COOPER: Sure. So the first question was about the candidate Governor Romney. He has been very clear on his position on marriage. He and I obviously disagree with that. We had that conversation in February when he spoke as a keynote at the American Conservative Union Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which is a popular conclave in Washington annually. And he gave a terrific speech on restoration of economic prosperity but made a comment about – there was a coda in there about traditional marriage. And I said to him – I was sitting in the front row, walked up after the speech, and said, “Wonderful speech, Governor, but obviously we have a different perspective on the issue of marriage, as other conservatives may or do have.” And he said, “Yes, we do.” He said, “But we do agree on the broader perspective of that economic restoration.”

That said, he does have a record as governor and as a private employer of employment nondiscrimination. This is not unique for many Republicans. My previous principal, President Bush, was on record as a governor in Texas and then was on record when he was President on employment nondiscrimination and workplace hire. Governor Romney has made similar statements. It is something that we would like to see said in a more robust fashion and more articulated.

As to your question about the shift in the party, there’s a colloquial term in the U.S. military referred to as push/pull, and it’s when you have a dynamic of converging viewpoints that are developing within an organization. Again, I go back to the earlier point the gentleman from Mexico asked about, which was a definite generational shift in the conservative movement. The younger the Republican, the more likely they’re agnostic or supportive of gay rights. And that is data that cannot be ignored by party leadership.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m from L’Unita. Is this part of the platform talking about gay rights in Africa and the State Department pushing for a gay agenda, or gay rights agenda, in Africa still there? And don’t you feel, I don’t know, offended by --

PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: Yeah, a statement like that in your party agenda?

MR. COOPER: Sure. The question was about that particular piece. So where there was strong language about assistance to Africa and HIV and malaria assistance as well as development assistance to the continent, there was language in there regarding rights – equal rights, dissident rights – in places like Uganda, as you mentioned. It is unfortunate language. Again, many Republicans – you don’t have to be a Log Cabin Republican to be dissatisfied with that platform. It is why, in the history of the Republican Party, no nominee, no candidate, no Republican president has ever used the platform as a governing document. It is not statute. It’s not binding. It is not a governing document. It has less weight than a resolution coming out of the UN General Assembly. It is a piece of paper. It is why Bob Dole, Senator Dole, in 1996, when asked by your peers, have you read the platform, he said, “I have not. I don’t intend to.” So that said, it was worth our effort to be present, but it is not a binding document to the candidate, nor the party.

QUESTION: I’m from a German daily. I have two questions. Is today’s Republican Party more anti-LGBT than, for example, the Republican Party under President Bush? And you were talking about facts that cannot be ignored by the party leaders. How long do you expect them to ignore these facts?

MR. COOPER: Well, party leaders are very cognizant and very aware of where the voters and where our voters are going. Haley Barbour – he’s the provincial Governor of Mississippi, he’s the Governor of Mississippi, he’s a former party chairman – last year at a leadership conference, he said purity is the enemy of victory. The reason why he made that comment was there is a recognition, regardless on principle or pragmatism, that the party cannot be exclusionary or seen as divisive because that is a potential loss for new votes. So while every – any organization, any political party wants to maintain a base, you need to grow because politics is about addition, not subtraction.

So as far as comparative analysis is to our presence, if I look at the 1992 convention, our presence was absolutely not welcome in 1992. Fast forward to 20 years later, not only are we welcome here again, we’re expected. Our entire organization was credentialed. We have openly LGBT delegates to their state parties who are here. Our presence has been very welcome by party leadership. In fact, we are expected to work on down-ticket races as we always do, more so this cycle than last cycle. Why am I mentioning that? In 2010, our organization worked on 17 Congressional races. The expectation now is that we work on at least 30 this cycle.

So if we weren’t seen as invested in for GOTV, which means get out the vote, or doing actual campaigning and canvassing for constituencies, we wouldn’t be here. That said, it is respected that we have a difference of opinion on issues that matter to us regarding the equality portfolio – portfolio, excuse me.

Last week during the platform process, the Republican National Committee had us put our collateral, our information, out on the same table at delegate check-in next to the Family Research Council material. That would not have happened in a previous convention. There’s no way. So again, there’s a recognition for the need for our presence, place, and participation, or else we wouldn’t be having – I wouldn’t be – we wouldn’t have this conversation today and we wouldn’t be here.

MODERATOR: We only have time for one more question. Any other final questions?

Well, please join me in thanking Mr. Cooper. He will be around for a few minutes if anyone would like to do a couple of one-on-one interviews. Thank you.

MR. COOPER: And we have two events. Obviously, everyone’s winding down their convention events. Our next event is tomorrow. It’s Wednesday. It’s Log Cabin Republicans and the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry event. It’s a brunch we’re doing. My friends Margaret Hoover, who served in the Bush government with me, and Andrew Lange from the Institute of Liberty are our keynote speakers. That’s tomorrow.

And then on Thursday, we’re doing our Log Cabin Republicans Political Action Committee, and we have members of Congress who will be speaking at that event. These are known as pro-equality members of Congress. Some of the members who are featured to be speaking at that include Mary Bono Mack of California, Judy Biggert of Illinois, Bob Dold of Illinois, and Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, and I have forgotten who else. One of the other speakers, my former boss and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who’s not here at convention but was scheduled to be there. However, Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen will be our keynote speaker in Washington September 20th for our Spirit of Lincoln Dinner, where we’ll be honoring a fellow conservative, pro-equality conservative, Ted Olson, who was solicitor general in the Bush government.

So thank you very much. (Applause.)

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