Bush's Betrayal: By Welcoming Gay and Lesbian Republicans into the Party, George W. Bush Earned 1 Million Gay Votes in 2000. Four Years Later, Many of Even the Most Faithful Gay Republicans Have Deserted Him

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During the 2000 presidential campaign, "a lot of us gay Republicans thought Bush would make gay issues [into] nonissues," says Steve May, a former Republican state representative from Arizona. "I thought Bush would put a muzzle on theocrats who didn't want part of America to be truly free. But Karl Rove [Bush's chief campaign strategist] deliberately decided that it was more important to win the 4 million evangelicals who didn't vote [in 2000] than the 1 million gays who did."

Four years ago, May was among a select group of gay and lesbian Republicans--known as the "Austin 12"--who met face-to-face with candidate Bush in Austin, Texas. Bush announced he was a "better man" for the meeting and the group helped deliver an estimated 1 million votes to the future president.

Bush promised the 12 that he would appoint gay men and lesbians to his administration, give a speaking slot to openly gay Arizona congressman Jim Kolbe at the 2000 Republican National Convention, continue President Clinton's executive order that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation for federal workers, and finally, keep the lines of communication open with them.

Bush delivered on the first three requests, including giving the job of AIDS czar to out Republican Scott Evertz. Even the Clinton administration's edict forbidding antigay discrimination in federal jobs remains in effect, despite a Bush appointee's aborted attempt earlier this year to halt enforcement of the policy.

But then the Bush administration began politically bashing gay Americans in order to shore up conservative votes. The line of communication between gay Republicans and the White House was disconnected long ago. (Spokespeople for the Bush-Cheney campaign have not responded to The Advocate's repeated requests for interviews or comment.)

After Bush's February announcement of support for an amendment to write antigay discrimination into the U.S. Constitution and a national convention this summer that underlined the party's opposition to any kind of equal rights for gay families, even gays and lesbians who have been loyal Republicans for decades deserted the president.

"What [the Administration is] doing is reprehensible," says Rebecca Maestri, the only woman among the Austin 12. "They have a responsibility to act and behave [in ways] that benefit a greater society. I fail to see that amending the Constitution of the United States does that."

"It looks to me as though gay rights has become firmly established as one of the primary dividers between blue [Democrat] and red [Republican]," says Larry Sabato, a political commentator and professor at the University of Virginia. "[It's] become one of the great polarizing issues of our times."

Still, some gay voters stand with the president. Carl Schmid, another of the Austin 12, says he is hurt by some Administration policies but believes there is hope. "I feel conflicted because I do support the party in so many of their positions," he says. "I'm still a Republican, but I obviously disagree with them on many things, including the constitutional amendment, their focus on abstinence-only [sex education and HIV prevention] programs, the nonrecognition of gay people and gay issues in the Administration. But what is a gay Republican to do? I choose to fight and to educate."

Schmid met with members of the Administration as recently as July and told them they had "lost the gay vote, and the votes of (their) friends and family." "There are those who protest and those who work on the inside," says Schmid, who didn't applaud during the speeches that bashed gays dining the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City. "There are good Republicans out there," he notes, citing more moderate GOP members, such as California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "I was glad they were showcased, because the right wing [of the party] gets a lot of attention. …