Log Cabin Republicans director fights for gay rights

Cabin Fever

There is a reason why Christopher Barron, political director of the Log Cabin Republicans, failed to receive the distinction of "Most Friendly" in high school...

The award went to someone else, and when asked by a friend for his opinion of that student, Barron replied pithily: "I hate him." Somehow, Barron also failed to receive the "Most Opinionated" award.

Now, as political director of the nation's largest organization of gay Republicans, Barron, 30, said he would not get far in Washington known simply as "a great guy." Indeed, he would not. Like so many of his Log Cabin colleagues, Barron faces criticisms from nearly every political faction, including gays and fellow (but heterosexual) Republicans. To battle these criticisms requires bare teeth, not smiles, Barron said.

"In Washington, there's nothing worse that you can do than get kicked in the stomach and not kick back," said Barron, who's been kicking since he joined the organization in February.

Recent attacks on the Log Cabin Republicans stem from the open defiance Barron and his organization show toward President Bush. The Log Cabin board voted 22 to 2 in early September to withhold the group's endorsement of Bush following the president's active support for the Federal Marriage Amendment. The amendment failed despite support from Republican leadership in both the U.S. House and Senate.

Most of the organization's members have been supportive of the non-endorsement decision, Barron said. But in recent weeks, some gay Republicans said Barron and executive director Patrick Guerriero have "aided and abetted" Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry through their media criticism of the president, The Washington Blade reported.

Barron brushed off these and other criticisms, citing his tendency to "engender strong feelings [in people] one way or another."

"People either really like me or really, really don't like me," Barron said. "But there's no denying that John Kerry is 100 times better than the president on gay and lesbian issues. Anyone who argues differently is crazy."

Barron's challenge now is to secure his organization's role as a power player in the next presidential administration, be it Republican or Democratic.

"If [Bush] wins, it is going to be a very, very long four years," Barron said. "I really have faith in people, though I may be proven wrong."

Political dreams die hard

Barron knew he was a Republican before he even realized he was gay. The closeted North Carolinian served as vice president of the College Republicans and president of his fraternity while studying political science at East Carolina University. Bright, ambitious and handsome, Barron dreamt of one day holding public office to proudly represent the people of his state.

But this dream shattered - at least in Barron's eyes - during his senior year, when a fraternity brother "outed" Barron, who at the time was in a relationship with his chapter adviser. Barron moved out of the fraternity house that night, fearful of the hostile reaction his brothers might have once his secret spread.

"I probably overreacted to it more than some of my fraternity brothers did," Barron said. "I lost some friends because I was so defensive. It was a stupid decision on my part. A lot of gay people do that when they come out."

After leaving both his fraternity and the College Republicans, Barron struggled to accept not only his sexuality, but a future in politics that was no longer in the cards. In conservative, rural North Carolina, gay men didn't run for office, Barron said; they dressed his mother's hair.

"[Coming out] meant the end of my being able to work in politics," Barron said. "It sounded so ridiculous, but at the time, I sat there thinking, 'Maybe I'll just have a sham marriage.'"

Barron said his family was "fine with it" when he came out to them before graduating from college in 1997. He enrolled at Wake Forest University School of Law a few months later. As the only open homosexual on campus, Barron remained apolitical, choosing to focus mostly on his studies.

His work after law school was equally apolitical. Barron served as a consultant to a small litigation firm, where he protected the interests of cellular phone and electrical power businesses.

"I was totally obsessed with it, but I didn't care about it," Barron said. "It wasn't something that was near and dear to my heart."

Barron joined the Log Cabin Republicans as political director in February 2004, sold by the group's mission to show that Republican values do not have to conflict with a gay agenda.

"I question every decision I make now because it means so much more that I'm doing a good job here," Barron said.

Others agree that he is doing well.

"Chris demonstrates his strong character on a daily basis by making decisions based on integrity and fairness," said Patrick Sammon, communications director of Log Cabin think-tank Liberty Education Forum. "He has the courage and the conscience to stand up for what's right."

Defusing criticism in demanding job

It's hard to understand why anyone would hate Christopher Barron. He is effortlessly charming in his navy blue suit, and he flashes a warm, confident smile that says, "Vote for me." He speaks clearly and excitedly about his passions, which range from politics to the Redskins to microbrewed beer. Barron, in more ways than one, is a man's man.

But like all leaders, Barron has his critics, and they are usually as outspoken as he. A blogger by the name of "Gay Patriot" has been a thorn in Barron's side for months, attacking him and the Log Cabin Republicans on his popular conservative blog, gaypatriot.blogspot.com. In recent weeks, the Web-savvy gay Republican brought forth allegations that Barron is a secret operative for John Edwards.

"It's ridiculous," said Barron, who insisted he has never worked for Edwards. "He thinks I have a red phone in my office that connects me directly to Edwards."

Barron said he supported Edwards' 1998 Senate campaign when Edwards ran against Loach Faircloth, a notorious opponent of gay civil rights. Barron said he also submitted a written testimonial praising Edwards on a Web site when Edwards ran for president in 2003.

"It is a question of loyalty to the people who have helped the Log Cabin Republicans throughout the years," said the self-described "patriot," whose Web log attracts more than 1,500 daily readers. "I see in this vein Chris has failed."

Gay Patriot added that Barron has been "defensive and borderline rude" in recent e-mail correspondence with him and that the Log Cabin Republicans exercised a "lack of judgment" in hiring him.

"So what if Chris says good things about Edwards?" said Scott Schmidt, communications director of the Log Cabin Republicans of California and member of the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee. "What's important is that Chris is effectively advancing the organization's goals - fighting for gay rights within the context of the Republican Party."

And it seems that he is. Barron said his organization's membership has doubled after its decision to withhold an endorsement of Bush. The Log Cabin Republicans has since expanded its budget for supporting gay-friendly Republicans running for the House and Senate, according to Barron.

Barron admitted he is "compulsive" about his job and that, aside from the occasional beer at JR's or Cobalt, he rarely allows himself to "unplug." His partner of three years, an eighth-grade English teacher, has learned to look the other way when Barron wakes up at 6 a.m. each day to check his e-mail from his cell phone.

"It's a sickness, probably," Barron said. "We have so few people here doing so much work, and I don't want to be the one to drop the ball."

As for those who will continue to criticize the Log Cabin Republicans, Barron said he won't lose sleep over them.

"I want them to respect my work, but they don't have to like me personally," Barron said. "If you've never done anything to make anybody mad, then you've never done anything, period"

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