Pro-gay rights panel invades CPAC [Updated]

A sponsor for the upcoming CPAC gathering, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, will use a room assigned to the free-market conservative think tank to conduct a pro-gay rights panel titled, “A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet.” CEI spokesman Brian McNicoll says via e-mail, “As a sponsor, CEI gets use of a room for two hours.” For the “Rainbow on the Right” panel, McNicoll tells me that Fred Smith, a CEI head, is moderating. Liz Mair, Jonah Goldberg, Margaret Hoover and Jimmy LaSalvia of GOProud are all confirmed.

In addition, I  am pleased to announce I will be acting as a moderator for a separate session.

House Speaker John Boehner at CPAC 2012-J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

CEI did not disguise its intentions from the CPAC organizers, who have been roundly criticized for excluding prominent conservatives such as Govs. Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie, as well as GOProud. McNicoll says, “We turned in the name [of the panel] and chose it so there could be no doubt what we were trying to do.” He says that there was “complete radio silence,” and the session was put on the schedule.

This is the revolt of a new generation of conservatives who are more inclusive and more media savvy. They understand that gay rights (I would say not unlike immigration reform) is increasingly a “gateway” issue for voters. If politicians are perceived as intolerant and unwelcoming on this issue, many voters, including those the GOP must attract in greater numbers (women, minorities, younger voters, moderate urbanites), won’t listen to them on other issues. Next year, perhaps this array of groups and individuals will run a new CPAC-type confab, maybe even giving the old CPAC team a room to demonstrate the purpose of such a gathering is to increase, and not diminish, the movement’s appeal.

This post has been updated to correct the affiliation of Fred Smith and add the status of invited speakers.

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