The New Face of Gay Conservatives: Republicans Control the White House, the House of Representatives, and a Majority of Governorships. Now a New Wave of Openly Gay Conservatives Wants to Put Gay Rights on the Agenda in George Bush's America. (Cover Story)

Article excerpt

Growing up in the middle-class Boston suburb of Melrose, Mass., Patrick Guerriero feared that his sexual orientation would thwart his political ambitions, especially as a budding young Republican. But unlike generations of gay and lesbian conservatives before him, he refused to stay in the closet.

Much to his surprise and relief, Guerriero's candor actually may have played to his advantage. Not long after coming out to family and friends in 1990 at age 22, he was twice elected mayor of his hometown. Voters then sent him to three consecutive terms in the state legislature. This January, Guerriero achieved his greatest measure of political acceptance yet when Massachusetts's acting governor, Republican Jane Swift--no doubt noting his perfect record in elections--named him her running mate for lieutenant governor. At press time Swift had pulled out of the race, but Guerriero is soldiering on with his candidacy. After her announcement, Swift recommended that Mitt Romney, the Mormon conservative who served as chief of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and who now is expected to win the Republican nomination for Massachusetts governor, stick with Guerriero as his running mate.

Instead of receiving fire and brimstone from the right wing, Guerriero has been greeted as the political equivalent of a rock star. As he has crisscrossed the state campaigning, audiences have swooned over his charisma and his youthfulness. A columnist in the conservative Boston Herald rhapsodized about his "dimples" and called him "breathtakingly adorable." The only carping came from a predictable source, his Republican opponent, James Rappaport, who dismissed the 34-year-old as little more than a "nice young man."

"The people of Melrose got to know me as a decent athlete and active citizen volunteer who fought for improvements in civil life," Guerriero tells The Advocate. "They judged me by my character and my record. I think that voters today are a lot less concerned about the sexual orientation of their leaders than they used to be, and this is true not just in my state but across the country. They want to know where I stand on the issues. There is no question this a good thing for this country."

No one would ever dare say, "As Massachusetts goes, so goes the nation." Democrats outnumber Republicans nearly 3 to 1 in the state and control its entire congressional delegation. Republicans here break the mold. In 1967, Massachusetts Republican Edward Brooke became the first African-American U.S. senator since Reconstruction. Swift's Republican predecessors, Paul Cellucci and William Weld, earned reputations as staunch gay rights supporters. (Weld appeared on a 1993 cover of The Advocate as "Hetero Hero.") Now, 20 years after sending to Congress two representatives who would become the first to come out in office, Barney Frank and Gerry Studds, the state is on the verge of another breakthrough.

"Guerriero's race is really a battle of wills in the [GOP]," says Brian Bond, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C. political group. "Patrick represents inclusion and the future of the GOP. But even in liberal Massachusetts he's going to have to defeat the naysayers and lingering homophobia within the party structure. Whether he wins the nomination will tell us a lot."

Bond says gay and lesbian progress in the party is primarily a function of geography. "We are seeing Republican progress for inclusion in New England, the entire East Coast, as well as the more libertarian West," he added. "The challenge is the entire midsection of the country, from the Midwest through the Bible Belt and all the way down to the Gulf. These areas are still not inclined to gay candidates, and there is a lot of resistance."

Guerriero is just the highest-profile of droves of gay conservatives coming out and running for office, challenging a party that just one decade ago featured a procession of right-wing speakers declaring "culture war" against homosexuality at its national convention in Houston. …

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