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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When one first hears of the Log Cabin Republicans the immediate thought
is, "What the hell is wrong with those people?" There is of course
nothing homogeneous about the homosexual community but it seems at
first to be a rather large conflict of existence to be both gay and
Republican. Wash Westmoreland begins his documentary Gay Republicans by
filming each of a group of interviewees saying the word "oxymoron".
What this remarkable film shows is that "Gay Republican" is hardly a
paradox of two words. Nor is there any reasonable generalization that
one could make about them. Westmoreland gathers a group of people
united under the banner of the Log Cabin Republicans and lets them
illustrate what they share and where they differ.
There are several excellent subjects and a couple of them are puzzling individuals. Mark Harris is a grassroots Republican activist who he says, "happens to be gay." His faith in the party supersedes any problems he might have with what the Republican leadership does in relation to gay rights. In what might be the most depressing moment of the film Harris talks about the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). "Now is not that right time for gay marriage," he says. He, along with Maurice Bonamigo, represents the segment of the LCR that will stand with the party come hell or high water. These two are what most people would think of when they think of gay Republicans. They are Republicans, not gay Republicans. If the film is accurate they don't appear to be conservatives either, at least not by the traditional Jeffersonian definition. The Log Cabin Republicans, named after Lincoln, are mostly an example of the difference between "conservative" and "Republican". While many are both, there are a great many Republicans are not conservative by any reasonable definition. They are better called the Christian Right. Theirs is a theocentric ideology espousing a Big Government of a different type acting as a morality police force. With so dominant a presence in the Republican party and so clear a position against equal rights for homosexuals what are folks like Harris and Bonamigo to do? Stand by your man apparently. Harris even states that homosexuals might one day thank Bush for helping bring the discussion of gay marriage into the spotlight. Ignoring that equal rights activists have been building a movement for gay marriage since around 1972, would Rodney King thank the LAPD for helping shine a light on the crime of police brutality? A notable achievement of Gay Republicans is that Westmoreland allows Harris and Bonamigo space to make their cases without dismissing them or labeling with a terrible term that rhymes with "elf baiting." They stand, or fall, on their own merits.
They are contrasted nicely with a group that is more representative of the LCR, conservative gays. When Barry Goldwater piped up about gays in the military he famously said, "You don't have to be straight, you just have to shoot straight." For conservatives like Goldwater homosexuality is a non-issue. It has nothing to do with state's rights, fiscal responsibility or any of the other issues that Republicans used to talk about. Former Arizona state legislator Steve May and corporate lawyer Carol Newman are much more a part of this sect. May was first a name during the Clinton administration when he was a victim of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. Newman became politically active as a libertarian but opted to join the Republican Party instead. Both have a huge problem with the Christian right and what they see as the hijacking of the Republican Party. They supported Bush in 2000 when he extended somewhat of an olive branch to the homosexual community but felt totally abandoned after Bush declared his steadfast support for the FMA. They struggle with trying to reconcile their conservative beliefs with Bush's proposal of "institutionalized discrimination."
These two polar viewpoints are filmed in public and private in the period leading up to a decision on whether or not the LCR will endorse Bush for reelection in 2004. Westmoreland has collected an impressive array of participants and scenes including gay Democrats talking about gay Republicans, Christian extremists talking about homosexuals, whether Republican or not, and a few different people talking about how rare Republican lesbians are. Good pacing and healthy doses of humor, as when Bonamigo criticizes the fashion of the Carter and Clinton administrations, help illuminate a group of people that are often not accepted by either the homosexual or Republican communities. When talking about his resentment of being forced to choose between leaving the party or supporting a candidate that does not accept him, May paraphrases Ronald Reagan to great effect in explaining the dilemma that gay Republicans face, "I did not leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me."
Gay Republicans does not quite succeed in unearthing substantial,
palpable understanding of Log Cabin Republicans. But in simply
chronicling their support of Bush's second presidential term, which the
Texas Governor subsequently betrayed, we follow a handful of homosexual
Republicans and their reactions to their Party's exploitation of their
sexuality for the sake of evangelical voters who amass far more votes
than them. That in itself was an eye-opener for me. What we see is how
the LCRs have been led with their noses by the Bush administration, who
rubbed shoulders with them whenever they needed their votes and support
and announced the prospects of marriage amendments to rob them of their
rights as people when they found that the evangelicals were much more
advantageous for them to maintain on their side.
I suppose I am disappointed that I still don't feel I understand why a gay man who grew up repressed by the Mormonism of his background would maintain a significant penchant for the Republican Party, all throughout the Reagan years and Bush 41, in the face of how the military recruited him only to discharge him for his sexuality in order to make an example of him, or how Reagan showed remarkable disdain for the AIDS epidemic and perpetuated the myth that it was a seclusively gay disease. A down-to-earth lesbian speaks of feeling all alone at Republican Conventions, and is in a swamp of confusion and indecision between whether or not to continue supporting Bush after his betrayal of thousands of voters. These two particular subjects are the smarter ones. There is an unbearably stupid and repugnant LCR who rails against any doubt voiced by the rest of his constituency members, constantly talking over them and making fun of them, seeming intent on not hearing what they are saying as it would diminish his tightly wound delusions which he uses to justify his propaganda. Aside from the instances in which he infuriates the viewer as much as nearly every fellow homosexual, there is a moment in which I laughed out loud at his complete ignorance: He presents to the camera his collection of Bush dolls, which to him are a symbol of his idolization of the man, unaware of the fact they are products designed to mock the president's poor English and goofy facial expressions.
I do feel that I understand why a Palm Beach LCR chronicled in the film is an adamant Republican. There is not one moment in which he fails to be an unabashed snob, saying that Gay Pride Parades are so beneath him, that other LCRs who are upset by Bush's proposal to ban gay marriage should get over themselves, that you're a Republican if you're smart. He constantly praises Palm Beach for being extremely moneyed, and even tries to coerce his Moderate mother to move there for that very reason. My feeling was that perhaps his mother's Moderate position is because of him in that she may agree with some Republican views but does not want to support anti-gay legislation. If so, what irony. Clearly though, this Palm Beach walking tan is a fiscal conservative whose core concern is tax breaks for his upper-class status. He is distinct from the previously mentioned ignoramus in that he is difficult to read. There is an ulterior motive to his political views, but does he honestly believe his own crap which he lathers on top of his mission to sustain the vain privileges of his financial position?
Gay Republicans gives us the pain of being a fish out of water, reinforced hatred and inarguable deceit of the Bush administration, and frankly the strange duality of gullibility and stubbornness in these folks. And it makes you very angry. If this 62-minute doc can make me as angry as it did, I cannot imagine being a gay person watching these misinformed, perplexing and disaffecting people. The film obviously shows us that they are not all stupid, but it also seems to show us that none of them really seem that smart. Many gay Liberals, which I would imagine to be a natural redundancy, are interviewed and claim that a gay Republican is like a Jewish Nazi or a black Klansman. Well, whether a gay Republican sees it that way or not aren't they?
Shining a captivating light on gay Republicans and the conflict they
face as they struggle to define themselves - as people, as voters and
as members of a minority group - this movie follows the decision that
gay Republicans had to arrive at in 2004, on whether or not they'll
endorse Bush following his decision to support anti-gay legislation.
I thought what was interesting was that being conflicted came off as the sane stance in this movie, while all people who chose a side then dogmatically stuck by it - be it the gay Republicans who recite homophobic views to justify their ongoing support for a political party trying to rob them of their rights or gay people who advocate tolerance and acceptance of those different than themselves, yet can't possibly accept gay Republicans - came across as either hypocrites to one degree or another or blind, whether to themselves or to others.
I found this to be a wonderful look at a group of people that isn't easily - or sometimes, at all - understood by outsiders. I believe this to be quite an accomplishment and I applaud the movie makers for this.
If you're curious at all about gays, Republican gays or how does one live with a conflict, I think this movie would interest you very much.
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