GOProud Expands Mission with Message: 'We're Truly Conservatives'

Last July, the executive director of GOProud received a letter from the American Conservative Union informing the gay Republican organization that it would not be welcome "to participate in a formal role for CPAC events scheduled during the 2012 election cycle."

On Wednesday night, as conservatives were arriving in Washington from around the country for CPAC, Jimmy LaSalvia and supporters toasted the expansion of GOProud's office.

As guests chatted in the bright basement office on C Street, which was crisply decorated with political memorabilia, LaSalvia sat down with PJM to talk about his group's headline-making journey with the Conservative Political Action Conference that began right after the group's founding.

"One of the first things we did was sign up for CPAC in 2010 and there was a little bit of controversy around that," he said. "But by 2011 everyone had heard about us, and certainly last CPAC was, well, everyone knows."

The boycott by various conservative groups in the wake of GOProud's co-sponsorship "really turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to us," he said.

"We were a small, smart-up organization and the attention that we got last year when people like Andrew Breitbart and Donald Trump and just hundreds of -- Ann Coulter -- high-profile conservatives standing up for us helped to launch our organization," LaSalvia said.

The July letter from Gregg Keller, national executive director of the ACU, invited GOProud members "to attend as individual registrants." LaSalvia is passing on the offer.

"There are many people who are going to CPAC who are unhappy with the decision," he said. "We're just growing. The proof is in our success. People all over the country and across the conservative movement have stood up for us and realized that we're an important part of the conservative movement.

"And so that's what our focus will be on this year," he said. "It won't be at CPAC, but CPAC doesn't get to decide who's conservative and who's not. They may think they do, but they don't."

Does LaSalvia consider bigotry to be behind the CPAC brush-off?

"I know that for two and a half years there were forces on the ACU board and at outside organizations that didn't want us at CPAC because we're gay -- and for no other reason but that we're gay," he said. "And I know that that's the truth, that's the reality."

Among the decorations in the new office was a jar into which staffers have to drop a buck if they say the words CPAC, Cleta or Log Cabin (LaSalvia and co-founder Christopher R. Barron used to work there before breaking off to found a gay Republican group further to the right). There were two dollar bills floating in the clear glass container.

Among the guests at the beer-and-wine soiree was Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist -- a member of the ACU's board of directors.

When asked about the contention of some conservatives that groups such as his push a "gay agenda," LaSalvia said that his group's mission is really about picking up where the right hasn't done a great job: communicating why conservative principles are good for different constituencies.