In December of 2021, the Log Cabin Republicans held its Tri-State Christmas party at a private home in North Stamford. Decked in holiday cheer, including a massive Christmas tree, the event was more than an annual holiday party: it was also the informal launch of a Log Cabin Republicans chapter in Connecticut.
“It’s sort of like you have to come out twice — once as gay and then you have to come out again as a Republican,” said Bradley Bewkes who, together with his husband, Garrett, is managing the new Connecticut chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans (LCR), the largest Republican organization representing LGBTQ conservatives.
Neither Garrett nor Bradley are new to wielding political influence: Garrett is publisher of National Review and Bradley, an executive with the company Idealist, also maintains a seat on the City of Stamford’s Board of Representatives.
“I think LCR has been on both of our radars for a while now, mine especially while I was in Manhattan,” Bradley said in an interview, who admits that he never really felt a part of the gay community in Manhattan. “I lived there for 17 years and there were really not many conservatives in Manhattan, especially gay conservatives.”
“We kept our eye on [LCR] for a couple of years and as they sort of grew, it became clear to us that we could something in Connecticut,” Bradley said. “We figured the time was now.”
In attendance at the North Stamford Christmas party were members of the more conservative wing of the Republican Party in Connecticut, including Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich, and Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, who is currently campaigning to unseat U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney.
Connecticut GOP chairman Ben Proto gave the keynote speech in a living room packed with roughly 70 Log Cabin Republicans and their allies.
For Bradley and Garrett, LCR offers them an opportunity to bring together like-minded members of the LGBTQ community without fear of disrupting social circles or potentially losing friends over politics, a prospect they both admit has become amplified since the 2016 election as politics has infected nearly every part of social life.
“I think the [political] divide has caused even more interest in LCR because this is our group of people we relate to, who we can talk to about it openly and freely, which even furthers the divide to some extent,” Bradley said.
“We feel like just being silent and never defending our stance and never speaking up and letting these incorrect political ideologies or incorrect political statements go by, you do want to push back, but you also want to keep the situation amicable,” Garrett said.
“Being silent is uncomfortable,” Bradley added.
Despite their 40 years of existence, the idea of a Republican LGBTQ organization may strike many as a sign of progress, statistically odd, or, at worst, giving aid to the enemy in the ongoing culture wars between progressives and conservatives.
Statistically, LGBTQ Republicans are certainly in the minority among a population that, according to Gallup, is estimated to make up 5.6 percent of the population.
Of that population, 50 percent of LGBTQ individuals identified as Democrat, while only 15 percent were Republican and 22 percent Independent, according to a 2020 report by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
“There’s an assumption for anyone who is gay that they’re supposedly going to be liberal,” said Jonathan L. Wharton, professor of political science at Southern Connecticut State University. “You have to measure and see the people who might be against the grain, the antithesis, because you’re going to have people who are going to be outside the demographic considerations. It’s a reminder that there are people who are outliers.”
Wharton says some of the LGBTQ community, particularly younger people, may be unaffiliated but lean toward a Libertarian viewpoint. “There’s this frustration – and I share it with them – of exactly where they fit in, how do they fit in.” Wharton said.
“Many of them are challenging or questioning these institutions, these systems and labels and so they find they’re better off being individualistic, if you will,” Wharton said. “They might not even be part of a community, per se, even if it is LGBTQ. Certainly, it’s one thing to identify that way, but it’s quite another to operate or work with a label, whether it’s political or social.”
Garrett says the goal of the Connecticut LCR is not only to provide an organizational community for like-minded LGBTQ individuals, but also to support political candidates who they consider allies for local, state and national office.
“We are just looking for candidates who are allies to the community and just generally support the community as a whole and their ability to live a happy, healthy, prosperous life,” Garrett said. “As long as they stand for that, then we can stand to support them.”
“What we’ve found in Connecticut is that candidates are so welcoming of our community, they’re coming out of the woodwork to support us,” Bradley said. “It’s good for us to hear that.”
The Connecticut chapter is part of a nationwide expansion of LCR, bolstered by an influx of funding as part of their campaign to re-elect President Donald Trump in 2020.
According to Log Cabin Republicans President Charles Moran, the organization has now expanded to 80 chapters nationwide, and has launched its own media platform called OUTspoken, which publishes news and commentary from a gay conservative perspective.
“We have had a pretty aggressive expansion over the last year, year and a half and a lot of that is attributable to the work we did in the 2020 elections, which really did raise the profile of the organization but was also the most high-profile and aggressive national visibility opportunity we’ve had in recent times,” Moran said in an interview.
The Log Cabin Republicans declined to support Donald Trump during the 2016 election but did an about-face in 2020, throwing their support behind President Trump for re-election.
Moran says Trump’s push to eradicate HIV/AIDS, support for gay rights internationally and his appointment of Richard Grenell as U.S. Ambassador to Germany and then as Acting Director of National Intelligence cemented LCR’s endorsement for the 2020 election. Grenell recently spoke at the Connecticut GOP convention at Foxwoods.
Their support came at a price, however, reportedly causing a shakeup within the organization as several high-ranking officials, including the executive director, quickly resigned and then took to the media to criticize LCR’s endorsement.
Despite losing the election, Trump captured 28 percent of the LGBTQ vote, the highest since President George W. Bush in 2000, according to exit polls published in November of 2020. LCR’s campaign stance brought in support and enabled their expansion.
“We have the content, the means to deliver it and the ability to target the people who are really looking for it and we’ve done it in a way we’ve never done it before,” Moran said. “It resulted in the near doubling the size of our organization, it quintoupled the size of our email signups and this is over the course of eight months.”
For many, however, the Republican Party was and remains the political party that has worked to impose silence on the LGBTQ community, opposing gay marriage and, more recently, transgender rights, and despite shifting attitudes within the party, continues to harbor a base hostile to the LGBTQ community.
GLAAD, one the largest organizations representing the LGBTQ interests, listed 150 actions by the Trump administration they saw as hostile toward the LGBTQ community, including rescinding Title IV protections for trans students and appointing government officials with histories of opposing gay and trans rights.
According to 2021 Gallup poll, only 55 percent of Republicans now support gay marriage, up from 16 percent in 1996, as opposed to 83 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Independents.
“Historically, the Democratic Party has done a better job articulating a commitment to LGBTQ freedoms and issues, vis-a-vie engagement of the government in people’s lives,” Moran said, adding that the LGBTQ equality movement has been the fastest moving civil rights movement in history. “The Democratic rhetoric around diversity and inclusion was something that was important in the 90s and into the 2000s.”
“When society finally caught up, the question needed to be asked, was now that a lot of our equality issues have been solved, where, as a movement, do we go?” Moran said.
According to Moran, the LGBTQ movement and the Democratic Party turned toward “intersectionality,” a concept that posits all systems of oppression are linked, so each marginalized group should fight on behalf of other marginalized groups and their policy goals, as well.
[Like the debate over critical race theory, intersectionality has morphed into a variety of definitions, depending on context and speaker. For a summation of the origins and definition, please click here]
“We fundamentally reject that,” Moran said. “That’s exactly what the Democratic Party was doing, they’re like if you do not agree to all these tenants, you’re out… and you’re a bad gay.”
“One of the biggest problems gay Democrats have is that there is an intolerance of diversity of ideas,” Moran said.
Garrett says he finds it “offensive” that people believe his sexuality should dictate his political beliefs.
“You really think I can’t have a mind for myself?” Garrett says. “I can think independently, I know what I believe, I know what’s best for me, I know what I believe is best for my community, my state, my country.”
Moran says LCR’s message reaches beyond the LGBTQ community, noting that during their 2020 campaign one of the largest demographic groups consuming their message was college-educated suburban women, the “Achilles heel of the Republican Party,” as Moran put it.
“We can take that back to the Republican Party and say look, the playbook of hate on the gays, traditional family values, that only gets you so far. We believe in traditional family values, but that includes our families, too,” Moran said. “And a more inclusive nature in your campaigning means you can be conservative, but it doesn’t mean you have to be exclusionary of people, particularly the LGBTQ community.”
While controversies of the past such as gay marriage have largely been put to bed and now enjoy mainstream acceptance, hotly contested issues surrounding the transgender community have risen to the forefront of national debate, including in Connecticut.
In 2020, three Connecticut high school girls filed a federal lawsuit to prevent two transgender athletes, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, from competing in girls track competitions. The students argued the trans athletes had a natural physical advantage over the other girls.
The lawsuit was eventually dismissed by a federal court and the plaintiffs have filed an appeal, but issues involving sports and bathroom and locker room usage by trans-persons have continued to spark debate, with Republicans, nationally, largely arguing that such matters should be decided based on biological sex.
Indeed, much of the backlash against Trump and LCR’s endorsement centered on his policies regarding transgender individuals, including banning trans people from military service and the Trump Administration arguing at the Supreme Court against protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.
As an organization that advocates for the LGBTQ community, representing the T part of that community could leave the Log Cabin Republicans in a bit of a bind.
Moran says that no one should be denied employment or healthcare because they’re trans. “That’s just basic equality,” Moran says. “That said, we’ve seen huge mission creep over the last couple years about what the concept of gender is.”
“We, as gay conservatives, are not looking to redefine gender in society, and that is one of the things that we see as a dangerous creep,” Moran said. “We stand with people like Caitlyn Jenner who have said biological men should not be playing sports against biological women. There is an absolute difference.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Connecticut, which joined in the lawsuit on behalf of Miller and Yearwood, said in a press release that the lawsuit and attempts to keep Miller and Yearwood from competing “is a dangerous distortion of both law and science in the service of excluding trans youth from public life.”
“Additionally, the language of the complaint, which deliberately misgenders transgender youth and demands that high school athletics be organized by chromosomes, is an assault on the basic dignity and humanity of transgender people and a threat to the privacy and equality of all student,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project.
“We fight for trans rights at Log Cabin Republicans, but this redefinition and elimination of gender in society is absolutely nothing we can get on board with as conservatives and most mainstream voters and people in this country won’t either,” Moran said.
Garrett and Bradley Bewkes, however, leave statements regarding national issues, like transgender bathrooms and sports teams, to the national LCR organization and say they are focusing on Connecticut and getting allies elected to state office.
“The broader mission from the chapter level, which is the level we’re overseeing, is mainly just ensure that we’re getting candidates to run for office, making sure we get those candidates the support they need to be elected, so long as they maintain an open mind and are a welcoming ally to the LGBT community,” Garrett says.
The Connecticut Log Cabin Republicans will probably have no shortage of success when it comes to Republican candidates courting their endorsement. This is the Northeast, after all, and the debate over gay marriage was over in Connecticut seven years before the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.
Most Republicans in office or seeking office tend toward moderate Republicanism, more content to debate state fiscal policy and let the South and Middle America battle it out over some of these larger cultural issues.
But in this highly polarized political atmosphere where national politics hold tremendous sway over state and local politics – and especially in deep blue Northeast – the Republican party affiliation may be a difficult sell for the LGBTQ community.
As Bradley said, it’s like coming out twice, and coming out once is hard enough.
“It’s almost like two separate causes, if you will, and how do you combine the two?” Wharton said. “I don’t think that everybody is going to come to terms with being in that place or feeling that they will be able to fit in one or the other. It’s two very different buckets.”
“They have to be comfortable with themselves,” Wharton said. “And that’s challenging for anyone but, in this environment now, that would just be almost impossible. It’s a group within a group.”