ABOVE: Carly Fiorina speaks at the Log Cabin Republicans Spirit of Lincoln Dinner at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 27, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)
The nation’s premier organization for LGBT Republicans held its annual dinner for the first time at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. — but not once did any speaker on stage mention President Trump.
Keynoting the Log Cabin Republican dinner Wednesday was 2016 Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who delivered a heavily autobiographical speech on moving from being a secretary to CEO that sought to inspire leadership goals among those at the dinner.
“A leader challenges the status quo,” Fiorina said. “A leader never accepts the way things are. That’s why there’s so many leaders here in this room.”
Fiorina mostly avoided LGBT issues before the estimated 250 attendees, although she alluded to advances made in LGBT rights without explicitly mentioning them and credited the “community” for making progress.
Among her vignettes was a story about an openly gay worker she knew in 1981 and identified as “Bill,” whom she said was forced to take service jobs when he’d rather serve in a sales position.
“Bill refused to be someone other than who he was,” Fiorina said. “And because he was open about who he was, the corporation had no idea what to do with Bill.”
Although Fiorina said Bill was initially denied employment in his preferred capacity, she said he later shined when given the opportunity to work in a sales position “and he went and sold his socks off.”
“Everyone has to be free to be who they are,” Fiorina said.
Taking a knock at Washington for having too much concentrated power, Fiorina also emphasized the importance of affording localities the authority to solve problems.
“Actually most of the Constitution is about preventing the concentration of the abuse of power, and a whole bunch of the Constitution is about making sure that people locally have the opportunity to solve their problems,” Fiorina said.
Founded in 1977 in California to thwart the Briggs Initiative, a measure opposed by soon-to-be President Ronald Reagan that would have banned gay teachers from schools, Log Cabin celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2017 — a milestone that was emphasized at the Trump International Hotel event.
Log Cabin held the dinner at the Trump International Hotel as the president faces criticism for refusing to put his assets in a blind trust amid suspicions wealthy and foreign interests would conduct business at his properties to influence public policy.
But not once during the entire celebration did Fiorina or anyone else on stage mention Trump or his policies. Among his administration’s actions to undermine LGBT rights: revoking Obama-era guidance assuring transgender students restroom access in schools, ordering the U.S. military to ban transgender service members and staffing a Justice Department with attorneys arguing against legal protections for gays before the federal judiciary.
Attendees offered a nuanced assessment of the president and whether his approach to LGBT issues should be celebrated at the event.
New Hampshire State Sen. Dan Ennis, among those in attendance, said “we shouldn’t be crying” over Trump’s record on LGBT rights at the dinner even if they’re not cause for celebration.
“He’s done some positive things for our community, but again, the more he gets to know us, I think the more he’ll see that we can be very important to him and the Republican Party — and we are,” Ennis said.
Ennis added, “I think one of the nice things is that we have a seat at the table at the White House — something we haven’t had in a long, long time.”
Jim Driscoll, a gay Nevada-based HIV activist who supported Trump in the election, took issue with Trump’s ban on transgender service in the U.S. military.
“I think it was a mistake on his part, and I think he’s being pressured by the Mueller probe, and he wants to do anything to get the evangelical base totally aligned with him as protection,” Driscoll said. “I think that’s why he did it rather than he thinks there was something that needed to be. I think it’s a political move on his part, and if we didn’t have the Mueller probe and all these problems, probably advice from Jared and Ivanka would have prevailed and he would have done nothing.”
Gregory Angelo, president of Log Cabin Republicans, said the celebration was focused on the 40th anniversary of the organization when asked why no mention of Trump was made at the dinner.
“I don’t think that’s out of the ordinary,” Angelo said. “We certainly don’t shy away from talking about him. We have an event in the hotel that bears his name tonight, so the focus of tonight was two things: It was Carly Fiorina, and it was Log Cabin Republicans’ 40th anniversary. That’s it. And that’s what was driving the messaging tonight.”
Asked if Trump’s approach to LGBT rights should be celebrated at the dinner, Angelo replied, “We’ve gone on the record in the past praising Trump when he needs to be praised and we’ve criticized him when criticism was due.”
“This was not about stoking more divisions within the GOP, or even amongst our members,” Angelo said. “It was about being unified in celebration of our four decades, and I think that’s what we saw here tonight.”