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'Austin 12' divided on Bush; one feels 'Bush-whacked': Gay GOPers who met with Bush in 2000 upset over FMA push


Washington Blade - September 17, 2004

When Rebecca Maestri and 11 other gay Republicans met with candidate George W. Bush in Texas during the 2000 presidential race, she was initially skeptical about the motivation behind the meeting.

Maestri said she thought the Bush campaign, "felt compelled to do this to attract moderate voters" and that the meeting with the "Austin 12" amounted to nothing more than "political posturing," since Bush took some political heat for not meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans after the gay group endorsed Bush's Republican primary opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in early 2000.

But Maestri's initial reluctance faded and after emerging from the April 2000 meeting with Bush she said she felt, "eternally hopeful and somewhat confidant that Bush was the best we could have hoped for." "It was clear to me that hiring gay employees was not an issue for him," Maestri said. "He didn't understand what the fuss was about. We left that meeting thinking we would have an open dialogue with him and that a healthy, deliberate process would ensue." Maestri's sentiment was shared by many of the meeting's participants. Scott Hutch, a gay Republican and president of a direct mail marketing firm, said Bush at the time was upset that people thought he was apathetic on gay issues or, worse, hated gays and wanted to know how he could correct this false impression.

Another Austin 12 participant, Carl Schmid, a D.C. gay Republican activist, said he was convinced that after the meeting, Bush was "definitely comfortable with gay people and aware of most of our issues." "He was very engaged and willing to learn," Schmid said. "You do that when you are comfortable with someone I guess." After the meeting, Bush attended a news conference where he said he was a "better man" for meeting with gay people and hearing their stories. He even invited all 12 participants to stand with him during the news conference.

'Bush-whacked?' But that was four years ago and today many gay Republicans who were part of the Austin 12 meeting are critical of Bush's decision to strongly push a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage and possibly, according to legal experts, prevent states from granting any benefits or recognition to gay and lesbian couples.

The president's support of the Federal Marriage Amendment is part of a larger, grassroots effort to energize the social conservative wing of the Republican Party and turn out votes for the president on Nov. 2, many have speculated.

"My initial impressions of the meeting were more accurate; the Bush campaign people were principally concerned with getting elected," said Maestri, who is president of the Northern Virginia Log Cabin Republicans chapter and a Log Cabin national board member. "I do feel we were Bush-whacked." One of the Austin 12's most vocal critics of President Bush, D.C. Councilmember David Catania (R-At-Large), said last week he has "had it" with Bush and threw his support to Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

Others, like Schmid, were more muted in their criticism. While finding the president's position on the FMA "disappointing," Schmid said he was upset that the president failed to "grab onto gay issues and gay people in a supportive way." "He has kind of ignored us," Schmid said. "But I also think that he is a victim of circumstance and time because of this whole FMA thing. I remember at the meeting one of the first things he said when he walked into the room was that he didn't support gay marriage.

"But that was four years ago and a lot in the community has changed. Yes, [gay marriage] was on the radar screen but not as much as it is now," he said.

Schmid, who attended the Republican National Convention last month as a D.C. delegate, would not say whether he would vote for Bush on Nov. 2. Noting that he was "not proud" to be a Bush delegate, he said Vice President Dick Cheney's acknowledgement of his lesbian daughter Mary at a campaign event and public disagreement with the president on the FMA in early August, were "encouraging." Schmid said he supports Log Cabin's recent refusal to endorse the president's re-election bid, but added that, "they've been, perhaps, a little too strident" in their condemnation of Bush.

But some members of the Austin 12, like Scott Evertz, the former director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, said that while he disagrees with President Bush on the need for the FMA, he says he supports his re-election, "so that he can continue to make progress in the many other areas in which I am very supportive." "I wouldn't want to look in the eyes of those in the bush in Africa who have literally asked me to thank President Bush for helping them get medicines [to treat their HIV] and say that I did not support the president because I disagree with him on same-sex marriage," Evertz wrote in an e-mail message.

Evertz works as special assistant to Secretary of Health & Human Services Tommy Thompson, making him a Bush political appointee. He wrote in his e-mail to the Blade that Bush pointed out during the Austin 12 meeting that marriage was one area "on which we would have to agree to disagree." Maestri said she doubts she'll vote for Bush on Nov. 2.

"It would take something remarkable to change my mind at this point" to enthusiastically cast a ballot for Bush, she said. But like many lifelong gay Republicans, Maestri said she can't vote for Kerry.

Hutch agreed, noting that, "John Kerry has not earned my vote" and suggested that gays should "dissent all together this year" and not vote for either of the major candidates.

For many of the Austin 12, the damage that the president has caused is irrevocable and little can be done to regain their trust.

"There's nothing that Bush can possibly do right now to regain the support of gays and lesbians," Hutch said. "He would have to publicly go on television, repudiate his position on the amendment and acknowledge that he was wrong to get involved in the process. And he would probably have to go further than that. I just don't see it happening."


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Information in this article was accurate in September 17, 2004. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.