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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Bright Lights, Small Tent at Homocon 2012


TAMPA, Fla. - The go-go dancers at the party for gay Republicans on Tuesday night were, by go-go dancer standards, modestly dressed in T-shirts and jeans, baring only their midriffs and arms. Their choreography, set to dance remixes of “Call Me Maybe” and other Top 40 hits, conveyed enthusiasm more than sexual enticement.

“This is the largest event hosted by a gay group at a Republican convention,” Jimmy LaSalvia, a co-founder of GOProud, an advocacy group for gay conservatives, said from the stage at a club called the Honey Pot. “Not that size matters.”

The convention's Homocon 2012 party did manage to smoothly blend straight-laced Republican mores with the lowbrow decadence that characterizes Ybor City, Tampa's nightclub district. Several hundred people listened to Mr. LaSalvia talk about the tax code and free market capitalism while standing under silky blue and magenta fabric that dangled from the ceili ng, interspersed with white paper globe lanterns. “Booze,” offered up in Mr. LaSalvia's Southern drawl, was served in clear plastic cups to the relatively young crowd, consisting mostly of neatly groomed men still in their convention-appropriate button-downs and blazers.

But, despite the triumphant speeches, the event highlighted that gay people have yet to be smoothly incorporated into a party that is still dominated by social conservatives.

As Mr. LaSalvia noted, GOProud was the only gay group to endorse the Romney-Ryan ticket (the right's other prominent gay group, the Log Cabin Republicans, has yet to sign off on a presidential candidate). However, what he did not say was that half of the gay men and lesbians on the board dissented, according to MetroWeekly.

Mr. LaSalvia said that gay marriage, the group's central disagreement with Mr. Romney, is not as important as economic issues in 2012.

“Before you can get married, you have to have a date,” he said. “And everyone knows you can't get a date without a job.”

There were other reminders that while gay people might be embracing the G.O.P., the affinity is not mutual. The hosts acknowledged Richard Grenell, a conservative foreign policy expert who was at the party. But in May, objections from social conservatives to his sexual orientation contributed to his decision to resign from the Romney campaign as a foreign policy spokesman. And GOProud itself was barred from participating in the most recent Conservative Political Action Conference.

And many in the crowd were not Republicans or Romney backers. The founders' remarks were sometimes drowned out by jeers from supporters of Representative Ron Paul and President Obama who were gathered at the back bar.

But some of the Democrats there said they would be open to the Republican Party if it changed its stance on same-sex marriage. Michael Smith and Steve G. Barth elemy have been together for 17 years and were invited to Homocon by a friend on the convention host committee. Mr. Smith is a Democrat and Mr. Barthelemy is a Republican, but their political views are not that much different. It's a matter of priorities.

“Would a marriage license change anything?” wondered Mr. Barthelemy, 50, a small-business owner and an accountant who likes the Republicans' economic policies.

“As a centrist Democrat,” Mr. Smith, 51, said, “the Republican Party posture on morality and gay civil rights is the only things standing between” him and the party.

“I've really got to make a decision in November,” added Mr. Smith, who works at the Home Shopping Network.

The gender gap that is vexing the party as a whole seems to carry through to gay Republicans. Women were a stark minority at Homocon, and after weeding out the journalists, straight guests and gay supporters of Mr. Paul and Mr. Obama, it was difficult to find any gay Republican women.