BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
Miami-Dade political activist Miriam “Mimi” Planas says it’s easier to tell her Republican friends she’s gay than to tell gay friends she’s a Republican.
“It’s got such a bad image and we’re trying to undo that,” said Planas, Miami chapter co-chair with Eddie Sierra of Log Cabin Republicans, a Washington, D.C.-based gay political group holding its national board meeting Saturday in Miami.
The meeting comes at the same time that the nation’s attention is focused on Florida’s presidential primary. Voters go to the polls Tuesday.
Log Cabin Republicans claim 22,000 members nationwide. About two dozen from 42 chapters will participate in the Miami board meeting, said national Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper, an Army veteran from Tallahassee who later worked for U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami; Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; and his brother, President George W. Bush.
Cooper affirms the difficulties of being a gay member of the GOP: “I laugh about this with fellow Republican colleagues, that walking into the Republican National Committee, I feel much more comfortable than walking into other gay organizations.”
He says gay Democrats often mock the Republicans. “The thing that is quite disturbing — they say we’re not thinking, that we’ve been lobotomized. Or we’re self-hating or self-loathing.”
Michael Emanual Rajner, legislative director of the Florida GLBT Democratic Caucus, puts it bluntly:
“If you want to identify as a gay constituency to a political party that doesn’t want you, that actually uses you as a ploy to mobilize ultra Christian conservative voters, to further marginalize us as Americans, you have to scratch your head and wonder,” Rajner said. “They’re continually outcasts and shunned in their system.”
Gay rights have been front and center this Republican presidential campaign. Front-runners Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have all enthusiastically spoken against gay marriage, adding fuel to the gay Democrats’ fire.
“That is nothing more than going after their base. I believe they are saying what needs to be said,” said Scott Herman, a gay Republican state House candidate in Broward County.
When gay Democrats attack Herman’s political affiliation, he reminds them “you have extremists on both sides in both parties.”
“We have heard of ultra conservative judges on the Democratic side and liberal judges on the Republican side,” Herman said.
Herman points out that Log Cabin Republicans sued the United States to end the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which prevented gays and lesbians from openly serving. Bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate led to the policy being repealed in 2010.
“I believe the Republican Party is showing, even today, that its being more inclusive than excluding,” said Heman, a disabled Desert Storm and Desert Shield veteran who formerly held office in Cabarrus County, N.C.
“I was the first openly gay Republican elected in North Carolina history,” said Herman, who moved to Wilton Manors just over two years ago.
Broward has had an active Log Cabin club dating back to 1991, chapter member A. Jay “Andy” Eddy said.
Eddy, a Republican for more than 40 years, said he supports the party because “I like the whole fiscal approach of the platform, the whole concept of fiscal responsibility.”
“When I've dealt with Republicans in the past I felt more attuned to ethical responsibility and accountability,” he said. “I don’t support runaway taxes. I like that you don‘t make yourself subservient to entitlements. It robs you of the riches that America has to offer.”
The Miami club is 4 years old. Planas, a former Miami-Dade Commission candidate, said she and Sierra are working hard to build membership.
“We want to reach people and let them know they don’t have to be Democrats if they’re gay,” Planas said. “I believe in what we do. And I believe that there are a lot more gay Republicans out there who don’t want it to be known they are Republicans.”
Two years ago, Planas worked a Log Cabin booth at the Miami Beach Gay Pride festival.
“We had a little interest. Not much at all. We had a few people come to the booth and ask what it was about. When they heard we were Republicans, they ran off.”
Some Log Cabin members that day reported being abused by angry gay Democrats, Planas said.
“They got spit on. They got called names,” she said. “It’s really, really rough to be a Republican.”
IF YOU GO
Log Cabin Republicans’ Florida “cocktail caucus” will be 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday at City Hall the Restaurant, 2004 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. For more information, call Miriam “Mimi” Planas at 786-443-9875.