During this Saturday’s Log Cabin Republicans “Summer BBQ” event, former gubernatorial candidate turned podcaster Heidi Ganahl was asked how Republicans can get more young people into the party.
“My daughter is a Young Life leader and leads a Wyld Life group, and there are some amazing organizations like the Wyld Life groups at some middle schools,” Ganahl said. “The kids just love each other and they are so close. They support each other.”
The Log Cabin Republicans are the Republican organization dedicated to representing LGBTQ conservatives, and Young Life is the Christian youth program that was featured in a 2020 Denver Post exposé that highlighted how the group bars members of the LGBTQ community from becoming leaders or working at camps, even after they’ve spent years volunteering.
“I know Young Life has some controversial views,” said Ganahl, realizing her audience. “They just love on the kids at that level. I think you’ve got to find places where young people, kids, can kind of fit into the slots and have conservative values put in front of them. You’ve got to be intentional about it, though.”
A 2021 Denver Post follow up notes that Young Life now allows “same-sex attracted, celibate people can be considered as candidates for staff and volunteer leadership,” but that leaders “pursuing same-sex romantic relationships is out of alignment with the spirit of the Sexual Conduct Policy” and calls homosexuality “an example of the distortion that results from humanity’s rejection of God.”
In some ways, Young Life’s treatment of its LGBTQ members is perhaps more nuanced than the Colorado Republican Party’s. On June 29, the Colorado GOP sent out an email with the subject “Pride is evil” which claimed, “These degenerates want to violate our children and their innocence. They want boys and girls to think they can change their biological sex and encourage them to suffer barbaric medical procedures that are irreversible.”
The email also referred to LGBTQ people as “degenerates,” “radicals,” “reprobates,” “predators” and “creeps.”
Despite their own executive director, Valdamar Archuleta, engaging in “groomer” rhetoric, The Log Cabin Republicans of Colorado responded in their own July 10 email, noting:
“The recent email dated June 29, 2023, with subject line Pride is evil sent out by the Colorado GOP, was narrow-minded and pandered to the far right. This rhetoric is an irritating splinter to the greater Colorado Republican Party & other common-sense voters in the state.
“The broad biblical offense on “pride” addressed only to the “LGBTQA+” community was catering to the game of identity politics—something most conservatives abhor. We pray it was indeed short-sighted and unintentional. As Colorado Republicans, we are better than that.
“Addressing these issues with care and refinement could have been an opportunity to reach out to young people, women, swing voters and moderate democrats growing weary of progressive politics. Instead, the presentation left many Coloradans feeling alienated.”
Despite the vitriol and attacks against LGBTQ people — largely coming from the political right — the Log Cabin Republicans support their party. “It’s important to have a religious aspect of society who can articulate their values that are different than mine,” said Clayton Crouch, the treasurer and fundraiser for the Log Cabin Republicans of Colorado. “I don’t think that the government exists for us to be able to force any kind of cohesion of sexuality throughout a society.”
Garrett Flicker, the vice chair of the Log Cabin Republicans of Colorado, doesn’t see a discrepancy between LGBTQ identity and conservative politics. “The conservative approach is many times the practical approach,” he said. “Conservative values don’t disenfranchise people. It actually helps. I think, on the contrary, it helps build communities, tighten communities together, helps produce successful, economic-producing hubs, giving people jobs and paying people good salaries, and letting people live happy lives. I’m a big believer, pretty supportive of capitalism, supportive of conservative ideas. I want to see that push forward. The LGBT community absolutely has a place in that. It doesn’t need to be one or the other. We could definitely come together and agree on things. I think that’s what we need to do.”
While the Log Cabin Republicans feel that LGBTQ people have a place within conservative politics, many conservative politicians are keen to use LGBTQ issues as a way to galvanize voters. In the Republican presidential primary, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis attacked former President Donald Trump — who enacted a ban on transgender people in the military and appointed the conservative judges who ruled in the 303 Creative decision — for being too soft on LGBTQ people. At the local level, groups like Moms for Liberty working to remove books with LGBTQ content from school libraries and using anti-LGBTQ rhetoric to push conservative policies in school districts.
“We’re a buffer between Polis and the woke legislature and our children,” said Darcy Schoening, leader of the El Paso County chapter of Moms for Liberty, during Saturday’s event. “Anything that you don’t think should be in front of your children, you have the right to say that.”
The Log Cabin Republicans view groups like Moms for Liberty as less anti-LGBTQ and more parents’ rights, the framing used by conservative education activists. “I don’t think they’re trying to push people back into the closet,” said Weston Imer, a project manager for the Colorado GOP and a member of the Republican National Committee’s Youth Advisory Council, who recently came out amid scrutiny over his sexual identity following the June 29 email. “I don’t think that they’re trying to hide it from kids. I think the reality is that kids shouldn’t be exposed to it in the first place. This is my personal opinion, and I know Dave Williams, our Colorado GOP chair, shares the same stance on the grooming. I figured everything out on my own. I wasn’t exposed to anything. I was born this way and people are born this way. It’s not a choice. It’s not an open choice that we just go and make. We don’t wake up one morning and say, ‘Oh, I’m going to sleep with a guy today. Oh, I’m going to sleep with a girl today. Oh, I feel like a woman in a man’s body,’ whatever. That’s not how we look at it, and that’s not how anyone in the LGBT community feels, is what I believe. Especially in Log Cabin Republicans, none of us feel that way. The reality behind it is that forcing this gender ideology and the conversion almost against our kids in preschool and kindergarten and first through fourth grade, that is not okay.”
Despite the marked increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation in Republican-controlled states, and concerns over the conservative Supreme Court’s stance towards precedents like Obergefell, which protects gay marriage, and Lawrence, which struck down criminal punishments for consensual sexual behavior between adults, the Log Cabin Republicans feel they are making a difference within their party.
“We’ve gone clear across the state,” said Flicker. “We’ve had meetings in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs and in Denver, and they’ve progressively driven more and more people to them. We’ve been tying in with the local Republican parties and they’ve all really liked having us. Membership over the last four years has increased dramatically. I would definitely say our message is growing. People are understanding and are accepting. I think for a lot of folks that were initially hesitant, you know, [about] gay people, lesbian people, people of that nature, I think, was just a fear thing.”