Participants talk with a representatives from GOProud, an organization that represents gay conservatives and their allies, at a Conservative Political Action Conference.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

Republican gay rights group GOProud reboots

GOProud, a prominent Republican gay rights group, has announced a reboot. 

In an email to supporters Tuesday, GOProud Executive Director Matthew Bechstein promised the group would reorganize and relaunch as a grassroots group with a new name.

“The next step – ‘Phase 2’ of this effort – must focus on building and mobilizing an extensive grassroots network, one capable of influencing modern politics and helping the right leaders get elected. It doesn’t get a lot of media attention, but this work is vitally important for gay conservatives and our allies,” Bechstein said in the email.

But as the organization launches its new iteration, GOProud founders Chris Barron and Jimmy LaSalvia told msnbc Tuesday they are unsure whether there’s a place for a gay marriage movement within the GOP, which has worked to broaden its base since losing the 2012 presidential campaign. 

“Trying to fix the Republican Party so they can win a national election is a lost cause.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, a founder of GOProud
“As long as they’re willing to tolerate the small portion of the party that is not just anti-gay but intolerant of people who aren’t like them, then that’s going to hold them back and keep the party from accomplishing its mission of winning national elections,” LaSalvia said. “Trying to fix the Republican Party so they can win a national election is a lost cause.”

The Republican National Committee did not respond to msnbc’s request for comment.

Both Barron and LaSalvia left GOProud last year. Barron has officially stayed in the Republican Party, but his Twitter bio declares him a libertarian RINO, an acronym for Republican In Name Only. “I can’t figure out what to describe myself as at this point,” he said.

LaSalvia has left the party to become an Independent. 

GOProud was founded in 2009. It appeared on the conservative pundit scene with outspoken supporters like Ann Coulter. The group’s leaders went on TV to argue their views and attempted to prompt conversations on gay marriage within the GOP. The group made headlines for hosting well-attended events at the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2013 and a 600-person dance party at a gay club at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

At CPAC in 2013, organizers were told they couldn’t officially be a sponsor, but the group hosted an event anyway by renting out space nearby. GOProud’s event was packed, while a CPAC-sanctioned social values event at the same time was nearly empty. Seeing the two events, BuzzFeed declared, “At CPAC, the marriage fight is over.”

The changes within GOProud have clearly been brewing for months. This year, under the current leadership, GOProud organizers agreed to attend CPAC with restricted access – they couldn’t host a table to promote the group or sponsor the event as most groups do, a move that so enraged Barron that he formally left the organization’s board. GOProud organizers defended the move as “building bridges within the Republican Party.”

Fundraising troubles could have contributed to the group’s new direction. One significant donor, Paul Singer, who gave the group more than half a million dollars during its first three years, stopped funding the group just before the last presidential election, opting to focus on state-based marriage equality efforts, according to The Daily Beast

“There have been concerns among our members and investors about whether or not we can continue to grow and be effective without severing ourselves from past controversies,” GOProud Executive Director Matthew Bechstein told Bilerico, the site that first broke news of the group’s changes. 

Bechstein did not respond to msnbc’s request for comment.

Barron and LaSalvia rejected the notion that controversies hurt the group.

“It was controversial founding GOProud. The idea that there would be a conservative movement that cared about these issues?” Barron said. “The controversies forced the movement to have conversations about the future of the party.”

Gay Rights and Marriage Equality

Republican gay rights group GOProud reboots