Fred Schein had seen this before.
The Navy veteran left a military career decades ago, after serving for six years and knowing he’d be outed as a gay many if he didn’t. That was during the Vietnam war era of the 1960s and ’70s. This era has its own wars and dividing lines, including the Trump Administration’s highly publicized ban on transgendered citizens from service in the military.
It’s a difficult political and personal moment for the lifetime conservative and chair of the regional Log Cabin Republicans, which covers Marin, Napa, Sonoma and other Northern California counties. But it’s also a moment of clarity and opportunity for the long-standing gay advocacy organization, whose statewide ranks (265 members across 10 chapters) belie its growing power and influence in the state Republican party.
Founded in San Francisco in the aftermath of an infamous push to ban gays from teaching in public schools in the late 1970s, the Log Cabin Republicans are the nation’s leading advocacy group for gay members of the GOP—and, as of last year, the only Republican gay-rights group in the country that’s been embraced (by and large) by a state party.
As of 2015, the California Log Cabin Republicans are listed as an official volunteer organization within the state party, says Schein, and the state GOP’s leadership has seen its upper ranks swelled by gay Republicans since the 2015 move.
“The focus has been to integrate ourselves into the Republican Party,” says Schein, a Mill Valley resident and retired accountant who worked 40 years for the federal government. The object has been to provide effective leadership, he says, while battling homophobia. “We’ve been successful in California but not successful elsewhere,” says the 79-year-old. “We are very active in the party, and have a number of members on the state Republican board. The vice-chairman of the state party is a member of the Silicon Valley Log Cabin Republicans; the state party’s treasurer is a member of the Ventura chapter.
“In the last few years it has become much of a bigger gay top leadership in Sacramento,” he says—all because the party agreed, in 2015, to allow for an LGBTQ volunteer committee to get voted into the party.
Schein says that 75 percent of state Republicans delegates voted that year to welcome the LCR volunteer committee into the party. He highlights twin messages from the high level of support. “One, it wasn’t 100 percent,” he says with a laugh, “which we hoped for. It did tell us that somewhere above 20 percent of the party is not comfortable with us. On the other side of that, the vote was very telling. Members of our party have a stereotype as mean-spirited, hateful people—that’s one of the bad stereotypes that are given to Republicans, who are often regarded as racists and homophobes. There’s very little opportunity to prove that it’s not true,” he adds. The party’s vote addressed the homophobia question, he says. “It was really quite a moment. And then we moved on.”
The Log Cabin Republicans moved on, he says, to address two major civil rights issues facing gays around the country: Homophobia directed at transgendered citizens and service-members, and housing and insurance discrimination directed at gays.
Donald Trump has moved to ban present and future transgendered persons from serving in the military, a move that Schein says has engendered particular upset among some members of his group. He says that between 3-5 percent of LCR members are transgendered—including the vice chairperson of Log Cabin Republicans.
The state party doesn’t currently have a formal position on transgender service in the military, or any language about tolerance toward the trans community in its platform. “However, from recent incidents and things that have been coming for some time,” he says, “we support complete acceptance of trans people in all activities, and certainly in the party.” None of that’s part of the Republican state party platform, Schein says.
The Log Cabin Republicans sprung out of Proposition 6, the so-called Briggs Initiative, a 1978 effort to ban gay people from teaching in California public schools. When it was defeated, he recalls, there was an effort to create a formal organization fighting for the rights of conservative gays in the state. Chapters sprung up in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and now the LCR is a well-funded organization with a lobbying office in Washington D.C., staff attorneys and about 30 chapters around the country. And yet with all their firepower, there is not a single openly gay Republican in the state assembly or senate. “We talk about it as Republicans,” Shein says, adding that the discussions center on overcoming stereotypes of the party as being gay-unfriendly.
Schein says that anyone who went to an LCR meeting might be surprised at what they saw and heard. “Most of the time you wouldn’t distinguish us from any other group of Republicans,” he says, except that some of the members are married to one another. They’re focused on high taxes and government pension problems in Marin County, just like the next conservative, not to mention gun rights in California. “But there were issues, and are issues that we have focused on nationally and in California,” he adds. One of the biggest ones is housing and employment discrimination against gays that’s codified in state laws (though not in California). “In 25 or 26 states,” says Schein, “you can be evicted, or fired from a job if you are gay. It can’t happen here, but it can happen in Texas.”
He says he’s seen some GOP congressmen come around on the issue of housing and employment discrimination against gays, but doesn’t expect any national legislation to come out of it. There are currently a handful of housing-and-employment discrimination cases working their way through federal courts and may wind up at the Supreme Court. “We feel strongly about this issue and have for a long time,” says Schein. “We’re waiting to see where the courts come down on it.”
Yes, there’s something a bit ironic about California gay conservatives fighting for housing and employment rights in a state where California GOP congressmen such as Dana Rohrabacher tells the Washington Post that it’s OK to not sell someone a house because they are gay (Rohrabacher said just that last May).
And even though Gov. Gavin Newsom was lead champion for marriage-equality rights as mayor of San Francisco, GOP challenger John Cox’s support for gay marriage and other issues supported by LCR was enough for Cox to get the organization’s endorsement for governor last year. “Unfortunately, he did not win,” says Schein.
Schein’s tuned in to what some may seen as ironic: Being a gay Republican in the era of Trump, given the administration’s hostility toward trans service-members.
But he says he’s with Trump. “I don’t believe he is homophobic,” he says.
Even as the president has banned trans members from the military, Schein notes that Trump’s ambassador to Germany is a gay man. And, he says that when people ask him, “How can you possibly be gay and a conservative,” his standard response is, “Well, how can you not.” He points out that a lot of LGBT members of LCR are in small business and have to face the same taxes and regulations that other Californians deal with.
And then there’s Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley founder of PayPal who is also gay and an out-front Trump supporter. “We don’t know about Peter,” he says with a laugh. “Peter’s a little quirky. When you’re a multi-billionaire, you can be a little quirky,” he adds as he recounts Thiel (and Ann Coulter’s) short-lived political-action-committee called GOProud. “They’re gone,” he says. “They did cause trouble because they would sometimes side with anti-gay people.”
That’s not the LCR’s game, he notes. By way of demonstration, Schein explains his organization’s posture toward a recent proposed reform of the 1964 federal Fair Housing Act to include sexual orientation as a class of banned discrimination.
The LCR opposed the Democrat-sponsored bill, he says. “There’s problems with it as written. Many members, myself included, feel it’s counterproductive to the LGBT community because of possible quotas. . . . It’s a flawed bill, but the idea of eliminating housing and employment restrictions is something that we support.”
Schein says the LCR doesn’t take a position on an issue unless it directly affects its members. It didn’t, for example, support or oppose cannabis legalization in the state though Schein suspects it’s not an issue with much purchase among his members.
Guns, on the other hand, are another story. “That is a big issue for us,” he says. “Without hesitation, the Log Cabin Republicans are big-time Second Amendment people.” He says this is a big concern among college Republicans he talks to—that California is already too restrictive on gun control. “Several members are very active on this. I get invited by students to Santa Cruz shooting ranges. I can tell you that Young Republicans in college can shoot—at Berkeley, Davis, Sonoma State. We might even be tighter on gun control than the general party.”
Along with talks to college Republicans, Schein’s given presentations in high schools and at community groups. His organization has worked with P-Flag, he says, a liberal-leaning civil rights group that fights for the rights of gay and lesbian parents—but its efforts are generally mocked or discounted by traditional and left-leaning gay-rights groups, he says, especially in San Francisco. But he says the LCR has been vociferous there, and anywhere there’s been bias crimes committed against gays and lesbians. Gay-friendly Guerneville’s been subjected to a rash of anti-gay crimes over the past year and Schein says he supports hate crime laws to address the crimes.
“We deplore it,” he says of bias crimes, “particularly if it was an LGBT population” such as exists in the Russian River population. “We would certainly focus on that—we’ve done that in San Francisco if we thought they weren’t prosecuted. We are ordinary Republicans and ordinary citizens, and no one would find that acceptable no matter what, whether it’s sexual or racial or whatever.”
Even though they’ve been welcome in the state Republican Party, Schein notes that the welcome mat hasn’t been extended from the traditional LGBT community. “There’s an ingrown understanding in the larger LGBT community is politically liberal. And that’s just not true,” he notes, citing data that shows that 20 to 25 percent of gays vote conservative. “A lot of our LGBT people are in small business and understand small business very well,” he says by way of explaining the support.
College Republicans, he says, have been dealing with their own hostility during the Trump era, at Berkeley and at other college campuses where the likes of Coulter have been met with vociferous if not violent counter-protest. He compares college Republicans at Berkeley to LCR members who deal with trans-intolerant elements of their own party. It’s a tough spot to be in. He’s seen how intolerance plays out in the military, first hand. “I thought of making the Navy a career and I think I might have, but I realized at some point I would have been outed,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to put in 12 years just to be thrown out—people were trying to out me. And I did see young sailors have their lives disrupted or destroyed. It really angered me a lot. I can still get angry at it.”
He’s angry about the Trump-driven transgender ban, but Schein is sticking with the GOP. “I talk to the county committees, I travel around the state,” he says. “I like to support the party.”