At the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, gay Republicans were buoyant, holding several major events for the first time ever at a GOP convention.
Four years later, their mood at the convention in New York was decidedly downbeat, amid a flurry of anti-gay-marriage ballot initiatives and an attempt by Congressional Republicans to outlaw gay marriage.
This year, as perhaps 150 gay Republicans and supporters met amid the marble columns and crystal chandeliers of St. Pauls University Club, the mood was far more upbeat.
For the first time in recent elections, the Log Cabin Board endorsed the GOP nominee during the convention, rather than afterward a sharp break from 2004, when it issued a nonendorsement to President Bush.
Even more strikingly, a senior aide to presumptive GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) national political director Mike DuHaime came to accept the endorsement in person, the first time that has happened.
This is very helpful to us, DuHaime said in an interview after the event. Its going to be close, and every single vote will count. He dismissed any backlash stemming from the endorsement, or the campaigns welcoming of it, among social conservatives who are unfriendly to gay rights.
Jimmy LaSalvia, Log Cabins director of programs and policy, said, Its very apparent that John McCain is not George Bush. The party is entering a new phase.
The 2008 convention is full of firsts for the group.
The Republican National Committee gave us space for events, a hotel room block, credentials for members all unprecedented for Log Cabin, the groups president, Patrick Sammon, said in an interview. We have a booth in the exhibition hall where delegates can go throughout the week. Its a very significant increase in presence for us.
On Tuesday, the group met for its Big Tent luncheon at the University Club, one of three major events that Log Cabin is holding here this week. Log Cabin officials say there are at least two dozen gay delegates here, though exact numbers are elusive because party officials dont track the sexual orientation of the delegates.
Attendees at the lunch heard comments from DuHaime; anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist, who said that freedom of sexual orientation fits into his notion of leave us alone Republicanism; and former Rep. Jim Kolbe (Ariz.), who was the only openly gay Republican in Congress when he was serving.
Two other Republican moderates Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (Ill.) had logistical difficulties that kept them from attending.
Kolbe gave a heartfelt testimonial for
McCain, his fellow Arizonan and someone who had stumped for him from early in his career. Kolbe told the audience that McCain was the first politician he confided in about his sexuality, shortly before he knew he was going to be outed as gay in a magazine article.
I drew him aside after leaving a breakfast of the Arizona delegation, Kolbe told the audience. I said that some personal information was about to come out that I need you to know about. He put up his hands and said, Jim, it doesnt make any difference obviously, he already knew.