When the Metropolitan Republican Club unveiled an upcoming panel discussion on “The Gay Right: LGBT Conservatives, Libertarians and Beyond!”, the first thing many critics noted was the lack of L, B, or T representation in the makeup of its panel on LGBT conservatism.
At the century-old organization’s Upper East Side clubhouse on Thursday night, the panel’s moderator attempted to preemptively neutralize that criticism of the panel’s “four white guys” with a soupçon of trans-bashing.
“Listen, I'm not gonna assume any of their genders, first of all,” said Jeff Goolsby, a real estate agent who moonlights as the Metropolitan Republican Club’s secretary. Goolsby said that he had reached out to trans reality star Caitlyn Jenner, but “she can’t do it until after the operation.”
The apparent joke—which, to the audience’s credit, was met mostly with pursed lips—was the first of many instances of casual sneering at trans identity on Thursday, an unusual feature at an LGBT event marketed as a discussion on “why the Right, with its emphasis on Individual Liberty, is their natural Home in the Trump Era and Beyond!”
But more conspicuous than the tone-deaf jokes about gender or the predictable invocation of Ronald Reagan as a closet supporter of gay rights was the chasmic divide between the gay Republican old guard and the social media-driven stars of the queer right wing.
Being gay and conservative used to be an idiosyncratic curiosity, like being gay with a bad haircut—now, when accompanied by campy vulgarity and ain’t-I-a-stinker insouciance, it’s a way to get favs and followers. The question of whether the fervency of the right’s “new blood” members is worth the headaches caused by their antics, however, remained unanswered at the panel’s conclusion.
Goolsby’s introduction of the panel discussion—which also featured jokes about Lena Dunham being naked and Suze Orman—addressed the (pink) elephant in the room. “If you're gay and you’re a Republican, the first thing people might ask you is: what the hell is wrong with you? This is insane—what are you thinking?”
On the (literal, not figurative) left side of the panelists’ table sat Fred Karger and Gregory T. Angelo, both members of the professional Republican political class with combined decades of experiences in Republican politics. On the right (literally and, depending on your views of the alt-right, figuratively) sat Chadwick Moore and Lucian Wintrich, both ostensible journalists with Slytherin names who have discovered newfound fame as ideologues and shitstirrers.
Members of the Metropolitan Republican Club told The Daily Beast that the audience skewed younger than the average attendees of the club’s speaker series, and more numerous. It was mostly an after-work crowd, clad in jackets and slacks, largely (but not entirely) white and largely (but not entirely) male. There were two “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” hats in sight—one worn by Goolsby—as well as two people with visible arm-sleeve tattoos.
If the more stereotypical attendees of the discussion—Upper East Siders in bobs and Burberry—were put off by the injection of youthful vitality to the organization’s ballroom, they didn’t show it.
“Millennials aren’t so much into labels,” William Rutledge, a thirtysomething architect attending a Metropolitan Republican Club event for the first time, told The Daily Beast. “They’re more European.”
“Republicans might not agree with everything, but we have spirited discussions on these issues,” Angelo said, of the schisms between the party mainstream and its LGBT members—and between its LGBT members themselves. “It’s a movement that values plurality of thought, that values people of different opinions, that values people of all sexual orientations and different gender identities.”
By the end of the event, however, members of the Metropolitan Republican Club might have left with the impression that a “big tent” approach to conservatism just enabled the clowns to take over the circus.
Generational differences of opinion would become the predominant theme of the night. After a heated discussion on the assimilationist aspects of same-sex marriage, one panelist compared the organization of the speaker’s table to a poorly planned dinner-party seating chart.
Karger, a former shaving-cream commercial actor turned political consultant who mounted a Quixotic quest for the 2012 Republican nomination as an “anti-Romney” candidate, introduced himself as “the first openly gay candidate to ever run for president from a major political party.” (James Buchanan, mercifully, doesn’t count.) A cheery documentary about his run, entitled Fred, featured a scene where Karger trollishly mugged for a photo with noted scatological neologism and occasional presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Angelo is the president of the Log Cabin Republicans, the oldest national conservative organization for gays. The group was founded in opposition to the 1978 Briggs Initiative, which aimed to ban gay men and women from teaching in California public schools.
Historically, Log Cabin has been the red-headed stepchild of red politics—Bob Dole returned a donation check made to his campaign by the group in 1996, but still earned their endorsement, as did every Republican nominee for president until Donald Trump, a decision that Angelo explained was made on “very narrow” grounds that Trump had never served in government before.
(Although the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed George W. Bush in 2000, the group withheld its endorsement in 2004 when he advocated for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.)
Despite Angelo’s remarks that he has been “very pleased” with the Trump administration’s treatment of LGBT issues so far, the group’s relationship with the president has been fractious. On the same day that Angelo remarked that “preservation of LGBT rights and support for the LGBT community were a hallmark” of Trump’s campaign, the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era guidance on transgender students’ rights.
Moore—a Hillary Clinton voter who turned conservative after the internet was mean to him about a fawning OUT Magazine profile of internet troll-slash-pedophilia apologist Milo Yiannopoulos—sparked the first intra-panel conflict of the evening by casually declaring “I don’t care about gay marriage, I never really have.”
After Karger and Angelo, who had been working in favor of marriage equality since Moore was in short pants, pushed back on the idea that “assimilation” into the typical nuclear-family paradigm was bad for gays, Wintrich dismissed their concerns as “anti-liberty.”
“Straight couples, growing up, I personally, as a faggot, find them relatively boring,” said Wintrich, to a few barked laughs and a few more raised eyebrows, which was clearly his objective. “Just be them when I grew up? The cute, bouncy couple that move to Fox Chapel?... You go to Panera Bread once a day? That's not what I'm gonna do.”
“I hate that system,” Wintrich continued. “I think it's very anti-liberty, it’s very anti-culture.”
Wintrich—who has no professional training or experience in journalism but did launch a gallery show featuring photographs of lithe twentysomethings wearing “Make America Great Again” hats called “Twinks 4 Trump”—is a White House correspondent for Gateway Pundit, a hard-right blog that peddles in conspiracism which he described as “the largest political website based out of the Midwest.”
Part of a new cohort of day-pass-carrying trolls placed in the White House briefing room to antagonize members of the legitimate press, Wintrich has called himself “the youngest, gayest correspondent in the White House in history!” (This is one of the many instances where Wintrich appeared either unaware that he was mistaken or didn’t care that he was lying—Chris Johnson, the White House correspondent for the gay Washington Blade, has been covering the White House since he was 25.)
The kind of kid whose media profiles always begin depicting him chainsmoking cigarettes and nursing either white wine or a hangover, Wintrich is perhaps known best for meaningless Twitter flamewars and harassing Malia Obama at a SoHo nightclub. The latest in a long line of young conservative personalities who have risen to prominence by pissing on Ann Coulter’s fire hydrant, Wintrich’s biggest contributions to Thursday night’s panel were weirdly specific lies and saying “fuck you!” to an audience member with a question.
Both Karger and Angelo grew increasingly uncomfortable during Wintrich’s rants, with Angelo’s knuckles visibly whitening when Wintrich accused President Barack Obama of hiring “the most unattractive tranny” to serve as LGBT liaison only months before the end of his second term.
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, whom Wintrich said he would “begrudgingly call ‘she,’” was the first openly transgender person to serve in the White House.
(Despite Wintrich dismissing the position as having been created only “four or five months” before Obama left office, the position of White House LGBT liaison has existed since the Clinton administration, and Obama maintained an LGBT liaison in the White House Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs for the entirety of his time in office.)
Angelo, who had opened his remarks by lauding the conservative movement as one that “values people of all sexual orientations and different gender identities,” remained silent. Karger, too, held his tongue behind a rigor mortis smile. When an audience member asked how Wintrich, as an ostensible member of the press, could be taken seriously when he used the words “unattractive tranny” to describe a White House official, he dismissed the question as having too many parts to merit an answer.
Wintrich and Moore’s shtick eventually wore thin with many audience members—about a third of whom eventually migrated to the bar in search of a stiff drink while the panel was still ongoing—but for the most vocal element of the crowd, it was the reason they attended in the first place.
“Fuck yeah!” muttered one gentleman in a patchy beard and blue blazer when Wintrich called Democrats the party of fascism.
“It’s hard to lump 45 million Republicans together,” said Karger, wearily. "We are as diverse as the country, and the Democrats the same.”
If the panel was any indication, it’s hard to lump even four Republicans together—no matter what their orientation.