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
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
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
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
"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.
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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."