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Gay Republicans hopeful about party’s new chair
Washington, D.C.--The new Republican National Committee chair is seen by gay Republicans as an improvement over past party leadership.
Former Maryland Lt. Governor Michael Steele was elected to head the GOP on January 30 in the sixth round of balloting, making him the first African-American head of the party.
Though Steele’s records on civil rights and LGBT equality are mixed and nuanced, he is arguably the most LGBT-affirming among the five who sought the position, including former Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell.
According to a statement by the gay and lesbian Log Cabin Republicans, Steele mentioned the importance of reaching out to Log Cabin and other GOP groups as the party looks to chart a future course.
“Michael Steele understands you win elections by addition, not subtraction,” said Log Cabin president Patrick Sammon. “He understands we must focus on what unites us, not what divides us as Republicans.”
Steele, the most socially moderate of the choices, was gay-baited by rivals during the struggle for the position. An unknown person attempted to smear him by sending out an email with a 13page attached file highlighting his friendliness to the Log Cabin Republicans and to former New Jersey governor Christie Todd Whitman, who is founder of the socially moderate Republican Leadership Council.
Former Ohio Republican Party Chair Robert Bennett endorsed and voted for the outgoing GOP chair, Mike Duncan, whose campaign was marred in December when a staffer sent a recording of a song called “Barack the Magic Negro” to the people voting for party leader.
Bennett did not, however, back his friend and fellow Ohioan, Ken Blackwell, but the religious conservative wing of the party did.
Blackwell, a noted gay basher, ran unsuccessfully for Ohio governor in 2006, then became senior fellow for family empowerment with the anti-gay Family Research Council.
Blackwell co-chaired Bush’s Ohio campaign in 2004 and campaigned vigorously that year for the Ohio marriage ban amendment. At a campaign stop in a Toledo church, Blackwell compared gay and lesbian couples to barnyard animals.
Blackwell finished last in the first four rounds of voting for the GOP chair, and was out of the running in the final two.
Steele does not have an unblemished record on LGBT rights.
The Baltimore Sun reported in July 2002 that, “Steele balked when asked about gay rights, saying he has trouble with the concept if not precisely defined. ‘There’s a lot of rights that already protect white gay men,’ he said.”
The Maryland Gazette reported in August 2001 that Steele, then chair of Maryland’s Republican Party, answered a question,:“Unless you’re gay, you could care less about gay rights,” he said. “Unless you’re a homosexual or a lesbian, it’s not going to rise up on your radar screen. I’m focused on other things. You can talk about gay rights all you want, but it doesn’t mean crap if you don’t have a job.”
In 2005, Steele spoke at a rally in front of the Maryland statehouse supporting the state’s constitutional marriage ban amendment. In 2004, he called for a federal constitutional ban on marriage equality.
Steele campaigned against same-sex marriage as an unsuccessful Senate candidate in 2006.
Log Cabin’s Sammon told out Detroit News columnist Deb Price that Steele’s election means the Republican Party has reached a “fork in the road” and made a smart choice.
“I feel so positive that the party knows it needs to go in a different direction,” he said.
Log Cabin Republicans are waiting to see if Steele can get past his opposition to marriage equality, or at least not mention it. The party’s platform calls for a federal marriage ban amendment.
“While we do not agree with Chairman Steele on every issue, we look forward to working with him to help rebuild the GOP,” said Sammon. “Republicans got wiped out in November with non-white voters, young voters and self-described moderates. Michael Steele understands the base doesn’t equal a majority.”
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