Right-Wing Rainbows: Lincoln Republicans Club of Southern California and the Aesthetics of the Original Gay Right (No. 2)

in history •  2 years ago

This is the second installment in "Right-Wing Rainbows." The first post can be found here: Right-Wing Rainbows: The Log Cabin Republican Tradition Is Born in Reagan’s 1970s California (No. 1)

The Log Cabin Tradition has California roots, ones seeded in the 1970s—like so many individuals and groups in the post-Goldwater years who enlisted their bodies and minds to the modern US right. After they first convened on September 1, 1977, in the Westside of Los Angeles on Venice Boulevard, the Lincoln Republicans of Southern California (LRSC) began to establish what would become one of the most significant groups in the domestic (and international) gay conservative movement: the Log Cabin Republicans.

In their eyes, the Republican Party had been taken over by the Christian New Right. California state senator John Briggs, following on the heels of Anita Bryant’s recent success in overturning a Miami-Dade County gay-friendly anti-discrimination law in Florida, rode the Evangelical wave of activism as it manifested in California under Proposition 6, otherwise known as the Briggs Initiative, which Briggs introduced in the California State Assembly in 1977. At its most basic level, the Briggs Initiative would have banned gays and lesbians from California K-12 educational roles. Indeed, Briggs envisioned Prop 6 as part of a potential national child protection revolution, telling Newsweek shortly after the repeal in Florida that he expected a Save Our Children Campaign to soon open in California.


In my last post, I introduced this series on gay right-wing politics as an exploration of the political spectrum along vectors of identity, writing:

At the core of the work is an abstract concern with what a political spectrum was at the founding of modern liberal-democratic nation-states, what it became in the twentieth century “after the defeat of fascism and communism,” and now what it means as the nation-state's control over its domestic population and economy crumble in the wake of hyperspatial planes of reality augmentation.

In this post, I hope to begin to show in more detail how gay identity—when splayed over our conceptual maps of left and right spectrums of political loyalty—can be seen as one particular vector of social identity. This is old news to intersectional scholars of the right, but I contest many terms of intersectionality, in particular the abstract manner in which intersectional theory tends to overlay identity onto left-right political spectrums, rather than viewing left-right polarities as identities themselves. It is one that historically operates as a kind of 4D political object, shapeshifting as a manifold politics that was born in the era of digitization. I won’t go into this here—in later posts I will—but I suspect this politics remains alive and well because of memetic evolution, continuing now in cyberspace and “the real world” as a hyperreal object strewn across an even fuzzier left-right spectrum in the era of Trumpism (remember #TwinksforTrump?)


Logo

Source: @spectrums


At the second meeting, these gay conservatives settled on the name “Lincoln Republicans of Southern California,” after debating between a gamut of honorifics based on “great men” in the conservative tradition; ultimately, they chose “Lincoln Republicans of Southern California (LCRSC) over “Bull Elephant Republicans,” the “Calvin Coolidge Republicans,” and the “Teddy Roosevelt Republicans.” Their founding mission was to rescue the “Party of Lincoln,” the party of liberty historically, as they saw it.

And liberty is best salvaged over dinner and cocktails. About twenty gay men were present at this second meeting, and this number stayed somewhat steady for the first year of the club. While many came and went, four vital founders were present at these early meetings who would affect the Log Cabin trajectory for years: Dorr Legg, Robbie Appel, Wil Drabenstot, and Kent Manthorne.

The Faces of the Log

Dorr Legg was undoubtedly the most important founding member, occupying an ambiguous set of political coordinates. Though he was decidedly positioned on the right side of the dimorphic left-right spectrum in domestic US politics, Legg, a trained landscape architect, was originally from Michigan, and he already had a claim to fame within the gay and lesbian movement. After following his partner— Merton Bird, an African-American—to Los Angeles in the 1940s, they founded a support group for interracial gay couples at the end of the decade in the city, a seemingly unfathomable accomplishment.

He was also an active member in the early days of California’s Mattachine Society, later defecting with other Mattachine members to found ONE, Inc. in San Francisco. And more recently before the Lincoln Republicans, he had co-founded Concerned Republicans for Individual Rights (CRIR) in 1976, also in San Francisco, a gay libertarian coalition. Although he was not quite a legend like Dorr, Robbie Appel was indeed a prominent figure within Southern California gay conservative circles, and he was undoubtedly a leading voice in the gay press more broadly during his time; he edited and owned the gay conservative periodical Pacific Coast Times.

Others included an assortment of connected businessmen and white-color professionals, such as Kent Manthorne, Wil Drabenstot, Phil Worley, Milton Sanford, and Bob Truefitt. Together, these affluent gay men of Southern California were founding in electoral politics for the first time an option gay political groups in the country, perhaps influencing right-wing politics more than the more familiar gay and lesbian groups on the left. With their affluence, political and media connections, and veteran gay activist knowledge, they interfaced “gay rights” with the emergent idiom of “liberty” being made popular by the New Right.

Dorr Legg, speaking at ONE

Source: Dorr Legg speaking at ONE; from a collection of photos from ONE, Inc., courtesy of the University of Southern California.

Impetus for the Log’s Launch: The Anti-Gay Briggs Initiative, or Property Taxes?

Although the Briggs Initiative was the most explicit “call to action” for all gays and lesbians, as Dorr Legg put it, gay rights did not supersede what the LRSC saw as a greater threat to not only themselves, but American democracy and fundamental human rights: the infiltration of the GOP by the newly invigorated traditionalists of the New Christian Right. Their primary goal was a Republican intervention within the GOP, a mission reflected in their logo—original it was literally a gay Republican elephant, a smiling cartoon elephant with a lambda sign as his winking eye.

Indeed, Briggs was the mechanism through which they formulated a gay conservatism that was not only libertarian, one that could be packaged as viable and distributed through Republican electoral politics by articulating it as a rescue mission of the GOP. However, beyond Prop 6’s founding propulsion of the group, it received scant attention. Even when the Briggs Initiative received notice from them, they discussed it secondarily concerning the wellbeing of the GOP itself. At the second meeting, for instance, they passed a resolution against the Briggs Initiative—understandably and predictably so. The manner in which they did it, however, was unique to their goal of infiltrating the Party and their style of working “within the system,” diplomatically, without what they termed the “histrionics of Christopher Street West, Stonewall, etc.” They articulated their opposition to the Briggs Initiative in terms of liberty, but not only on the grounds of gay rights (and those were secondary to “privacy” and “individual liberty” represented in Abraham Lincoln’s presidency more generally): they mainly discusssed the potential damage it could do to the Republican Party in California as a whole as it would, “alienate thousands of voters,” and betray the fundamental principles of liberty upon which the Republican party was—ostensibly, per the Log Cabin narrative—founded.

The Log “Had the Look”

A glimpse at one article on the group illustrates that at the time the way the group mapped onto the social and economic coordinates of Southern California was not too far from the trolling of “alt-lite” stars of the gay right now, from Milo Yiannopoulos to his odd bedfellow gal pal Ann Coulter. Their politics were largely aesthetic, which I will cover here (in another post, I will trace the memetic evolution of a memeplex I’d call “nihilistic camp,” which directly links our historical moment with the 1970s’ trippy right-wing politics directly through memetic evolution). I suggest that the Lincoln Republicans united under an avant-garde, self-styled sophistication politics, decoupling—at least in the local discourses on the right, which was predominantly concerned with property taxes in the Los Angeles area—default assumptions around sexual identity and political interests.

This was a departure from the national narrative, one that had been shaped by radical gay liberation (or, “gay lib”); they fashioned a different way in the time of “Not In My Backyard” (NIMBY) politics in LA, bringing what they considered “gay issues” to the GOP table, but in a manner whereby they could organize around more cross-constituency issues on the right, at least among white and affluent voters. Importantly these constituencies were both gay and straight people, who could all rally around property taxes, particularly if racially coded, as was the case. They all aspired to a certain SoCal lifestyle.

A sensibility based in a campy faith in the market and all things “smart”—this was the medium through which they mixed the dirty business of electoral​ politics and the politics of pleasure and “the good life.” In an​ exposé in the LA-based gay periodical Los Angeles Reader, one writer described the scene of a Lincoln barbecue in the suburbs of LA in 19:

"Everybody at this party is gay. But there's a good chance that you wouldn't figure that out on your own, even if you are yourself gay and wandered into this gathering unaware. The setting is Pasadena, in a neighborhood of single-family homes and mid-sixties vintage that looks like *Sunset *magazine's ideal of upper-middle-class living. The host leads you past comfortable-looking furniture and the usual kitchen builtins through the sliding-glass door and out into the fenced backyard where about fifty partygoers, men and women, are gathered. The average age hovers around forty, the look is California casual, the preferred fabrics are not from nature. The wine they drink comes from oversize bottles, the cheese from large rounds."

In addition to the wine and cheese, the article noted that there are “no poppers in sight.” The Lincoln Republicans' unique self-fashioning, in a vein somewhere between Judy Garland's melodramatic perseverance and the caustic intellect of Ayn Rand, manifested in everything from fundraising ideas to their actual meeting minutes—the first line of a 1978 meeting's minutes, for instance, wryly reads, “The Chair, without objection, immediately called a 15-minute recess for cocktails.”

In the early years, they hosted multiple fundraisers in hopes of becoming a non-profit. This included pool parties; an “LAPD night,” to both “honor and fraternize with” Los Angeles' men in blue; pageants, such one titled, “America the Beautiful," described as a “political satire fashion show,” drawing participants from a multitude of gay groups across the political spectrum, even including the Stonewall Democrats; casino-themed nights, like their 1980 “Monte Carlo Night,” “directed at any and all Republicans”; and disco parties “aimed,” of course, “primarily at the Southern California gay community.” These market-loving queens took libertarianism's appeal far beyond the allure of William F. Buckley's wit and the esoteric draw of the John Birch Society in Southern California: they envisioned themselves as part of a vanguard cultural force.

LRSC original logo

Source: The original LRSC logo, a meme about Lincoln​ and liberty that evolved many times over the years with the group. Sept 9, 1977 General LRSC Meeting Minutes, Frank Ricchiazzi Papers, Box 1.


They had the credibility of veteran organizers from the homophile era in the likes of Dorr Legg, and the local political scene offered a menu of political issues on which they could graft themselves as an interest group. This aligned them with the very NIMBY politics that, in LA, was one of the biggest threats to living an openly gay life (whether they be political warriors for left-leaning liberation or right-leaning liberty). The irony was not lost on them, but intentional; this was a game of memetic imitation, the original alt-lite cadets of meme warfare among gay reactionary politicos.​

In future entries on this era, I will turn to how these issues of lifestyle not only preoccupied the early years of gay electoral organizing in Southern California—in an era before the acceleration fo the Reagan Revolution and the AIDS crisis—but shaped a key alliance between themselves and the ascendant​ “law and order” politics that dominated California politics, and would come to characterize the national norms of policing and punishment.


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I had a few transmission errors trying to get this up; if anybody spots egregious errors, which I may have missed out of frustration, please do let me know!

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