Signs of Progress: In 2012 an Event for Republicans at a Gay Bar Is No Big Deal

The advocacy group GOProud says its Tuesday party was the largest ever gay gathering at a Republican convention.
 
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On the main strip in Ybor City, a few miles from the venue where the Republican National Convention is being held, several hundred people gathered Tuesday in a gay bar, The Honey Pot, for an event dubbed Homocon. The most notable thing about the event? It almost seemed normal.

What I mean is that there were no protests, or attendees a bit nervous about being seen entering, or a no photograph policy. "The event was impressively busy, with perhaps 250 people at its peak," says Josh Barro, who wrote about attending. "That included more straight men than I have ever seen in a gay bar, a good sign for gay acceptance at the RNC, though the Alex P. Keaton-style attire favored by RNC attendees of all sexual orientations jammed my gaydar."

It also included staffers from a lot of conservative magazines and Web sites.

The most political part of the evening came when GOProud co-founder Jimmy LaSalvia took the stage to thank everyone for coming. He argued that gay Republicans who favor marriage rights should make that fight subservient to issues that have a bigger impact on their lives, like the economy. "As most of you know I support civil marriage for gay couples. And marriage is important," he said. "But before you get married, you need a date, and everybody knows you can't get a date without a job."

A couple of counterarguments spring to mind. Lots of people date while unemployed! And a president doesn't have a ton of control over the national economy, never mind whether a particular individual has a job. In contrast, his signature or veto on the right legislation could have a tremendous, certain impact on marriage rights. Still, papering over political differences with the Republican Party while hosting its politicos at a gay bar with free booze and go-go dancers is going to normalize homosexuality among conservatives a lot faster than policy arguments. 

And the more quickly homosexuality is normalized, the faster gays will get marriage rights. That isn't because opponents of gay marriage are all motivated by bigotry. Some have a principled commitment to marriage as a procreative institution. For many, though, it is about a general desire to keep the gay lifestyle marginalized and stigmatized. Once that impulse fades, there won't be enough principled advocates for procreative marriage on the other side of the fight to win. The conservative case for gay marriage is strong enough that, in a world without anti-gay prejudice, it would easily persuade enough people on the right to overwhelm traditionalists.

Said Barro, at the end of his piece, "it is likely that Homocon will be back and bigger than ever in 2016. You could look to the Republican platform that year to see if there has been success in getting the party to soften its anti-gay stances. But a better indicator might be whether the go-go boys are allowed to take their shirts off."

A non-traditional metric, to be sure, but perhaps a good one.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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