The Conservative Political Action Conference, scheduled for March 14 in National Harbor, Maryland, will host a gay rights panel — but not in the way you might think. Two years after GOProud was evicted as a CPAC sponsor, the gay conservative group's president, Jimmy LaSalvia, has been invited to speak on a "pro-gay rights" panel at CPAC hosted. The invitation was made by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (dedicated to promoting "free markets and limited government"), and reported by the Washington Post's conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin, who will also be on the panel along with libertarian political consultant Liz Mair, and the National Review's Jonah Goldberg. The name of the panel is very straightforward: "A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet."
CPAC has been under considerable criticism for snubbing gay conservatives from both parties. The liberal MSNBC host Chris Hayes turned down his invitation, as did his conservative colleague S.E. Cupp.*
GOProud's inclusion at CPAC (as a panelist at least) is a bit of a turnabout for the group as well. For the past few years, GOProud has pursued the bizarre strategy of completely shrouding its policy objectives — most centrally, the legal recognition of gay couples — in order to win favor from the GOP's base. At the last conference they sponsored in 2011, conservative columnist Ann Coulter openly bragged that she had persuaded the group to stop stumping for marriage equality; in 2012, the group endorsed Mitt Romney, who opposed the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. It's been difficult to tell, at times, what GOProud actually cares about. The strongly worded title of the CEI panel — described by Rubin as "the revolt of a new generation of conservatives who are more inclusive and more media savvy" — seems to reverse their formula for persuading other conservatives.