Evolving sense of direction for GOProud, GetEQUAL -- gay groups on right and left

ON THE FENCE: Service members including Lt. Dan Choi, second from left, handcuffed themselves to the White House fence as part of a GetEQUAL operation in April.
ON THE FENCE: Service members including Lt. Dan Choi, second from left, handcuffed themselves to the White House fence as part of a GetEQUAL operation in April. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/associated Press)
By Dan Zak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 24, 2010

Under a portrait of a smiling Dick Cheney, the new gay right digs in its heels.

(Not gay rights. Gay right. As in gay conservatives. As in homocons -- their word, not ours.)

The portrait hangs in the English basement of a townhouse off Stanton Park in Capitol Hill. Obscuring the opposite wall is a gigantic yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, the ubiquitous emblem of federaphobia. Between Cheney -- "freedom is freedom for everyone," he said last year, referencing his own lesbian daughter -- and the flag's coiled serpent is Christopher Barron, in khakis, polo and navy blazer. He lives in Georgetown and married his boyfriend, Shawn, on St. Patrick's Day. The grooms wore black suits and matching green ties.

"Look, marriage is important to me," says Barron, 36, chairman of GOProud, an advocacy group for gay conservatives. "I support marriage equality. But it's a state issue, and states ought to be able to work through this process. And we're winning. The left seems hellbent on pulling defeat from the jaws of victory by focusing on this courts-only strategy. It's a complete and total turnoff to a huge segment of the voting population."

Everything's a turnoff these days. The right for the left, the left for the right. Conservative gays got nitpicky with the language in Judge Vaughn Walker's Prop. 8 decision. Liberal gays slapped their foreheads after agreeing to hinge "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on a Pentagon troop survey.

It's been a big, loud gay year, and a pair of young gay rights groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum have tried to be heard above the noise in Washington: GOProud, from its basement office in Capitol Hill, and GetEQUAL, a nationwide, direct-action network of activists co-captained by Managing Director Heather Cronk, 32, who lives in Maryland. The groups are not analogous in size, strategy or mission, but each aspires to commandeer the causes championed by the establishment -- embodied by the Human Rights Campaign on the left and the Log Cabin Republicans on the right.

"We intend to agitate from the outside," says Cronk, who joined the protest group four months ago. "Not just because we're angry but because agitation will give the people at the table more power. They'll be able to say, 'Hey you've got all these angry people outside the White House.' "

It's been a busy gay week, too. On Tuesday, Democrats failed to break a Republican filibuster of the defense authorization bill, which included a repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Both GetEQUAL and GOProud support repeal, but they reacted differently to defeat.

GOProud ripped Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for refusing to extend debate on the bill, then headed to New York for Homocon, a $250-to-$2,500-a-plate dinner at the home of billionaire and GOProud donor Peter Thiel, the libertarian co-founder of PayPal, with conservative instigator Ann Coulter as the group's keynote speaker.

GetEQUAL retrenched by pulling 80 people onto a conference call Wednesday night, soliciting the tactical ideas of supporters from Montana to Arkansas to Connecticut. Suggestions mirrored the actions that have already garnered publicity: sit-ins, walkouts and traffic blockades.

On April 20, Lt. Dan Choi and five other service members handcuffed themselves to the White House fence as part of a GetEQUAL operation. The day before, members organized an interruption of President Obama's speech at a fundraiser for Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). The goal is to convey crisis, to make demands, to create iconic moments, says co-founder Robin McGehee, who lives in Fresno, Calif. And GOProud banks on winning hearts and minds by respecting a conservative philosophy that's strict but also inseparable from equality in marriage and the military.

GOProud co-sponsored the Conservative Political Action Conference in February and was assigned a booth near the National Organization for Marriage, which opposes same-sex unions.

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